Results tagged ‘ Cy Young ’
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today we break down the remarkable first season of the heart and soul of the Nationals pitching staff, Gio Gonzalez.
When the Nationals sent four prospects to the west coast on December 23, 2011 in exchange for an All-Star but relatively unknown pitcher, some Washington fans were troubled. They had watched their team build steadily through the draft, relying on developing prospects to pull them to the brink of a potential breakout year. If there were any doubts as to the validity of the deal, EVP of Baseball Operations & GM Mike Rizzo put them to bed as best he could just two days later, showing the utmost confidence in his new left-hander by signing him to a five-year extension with options for two more seasons. Soon, the rest of the fan base would come to understand that they had not just acquired a promising young left-hander – they had just landed Gio Gonzalez.
Armed with a lively, mid-90s fastball, arguably the best left-handed curveball in the game, and one of the sport’s biggest personalities, Gonzalez turned out to be just what the talented young Nationals team needed. Slotting into the rotation as a southpaw presence between right-handed flamethrowers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez immediately gave Washington one of the best young staffs in the game for years to come. And from his sparkling D.C. debut in the home opener (7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K) to a formidable stretch run that saw him win five of his final six games with a 1.35 ERA and notch his first career shutout, the 27 year-old anchored the best staff in the National League. He finished the year with more wins than any pitcher in the game (as well as the lowest home run rate and OPS against), and was squeezed out for second place in the National League Cy Young race.
Gonzalez is signed through the 2016 season, with a team option for 2017 and a vesting option for 2018 that will kick in should he reach 180 innings the year prior. We’ve already written plenty about Gio this season, so relive his memorable 2012 campaign in the articles below, and allow yourself to dream of what may come in the rest of his Nationals tenure.
For better or for worse, Major League Baseball’s top pitching and player awards are not determined the same way. Critics hem and haw over what exactly “most valuable” means when it comes to determining the league MVPs each year. But the Cy Young is simply given to the pitcher considered, objectively, to be the best overall. There is no such thing as the Most Valuable Pitcher Award. For the Nationals in 2012, that’s a shame, as no pitcher was more valuable in the National League than Gio Gonzalez.
We here at Curly W Live are fully aware that wins should hardly be the decisive metric in determining a pitcher’s value, but Gonzalez’s totals were, nonetheless, impressive. The southpaw was the first pitcher in baseball to 20 wins this season, finishing with a Major League-best 21 victories. In so doing, he became the first D.C. lefty to win at least 20 games since Earl Whitehill in 1933, 79 years ago.
But let’s dive into the statistics that really set Gonzalez apart. The Hialeah, Florida native led all qualifying pitchers in either league with a .206 batting average against. He also struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings pitched, the highest rate of any pitcher to throw as many innings (199.1) as Gonzalez did. The 27 year-old lefty allowed just nine home runs all season, for a league-leading rate of just 0.4 per nine innings pitched. Considering that he pitched half his games in the 14th-highest ranked offensive ballpark by Park Factor, those numbers are all the more impressive next to Mets ace R.A. Dickey’s (Citi Field, ranked 23rd) and Clayton Kershaw’s (Dodger Stadium, 25th).
Gonzalez was particularly strong in August and September as well, when the team needed him to step into the role of the top pitcher in the rotation. After earning his second consecutive All-Star bid, Gonzalez led the Nationals pitching staff down the stretch. He won eight of his final 10 starts while fashioning a 2.00 ERA over that span to help Washington win its first-ever NL East crown. He was even stronger in his final six regular season outings, going 5-1 with a 1.35 ERA (6 ER/40.0 IP) holding opponents to a .171 average.
While Gonzalez won’t be able to celebrate with any official hardware like Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper and Manager of the Year Davey Johnson, he’ll no doubt take solace in the fact that he led his team to the playoffs, something to which neither of his fellow Cy Young finalists can lay claim.
“What did I tell you?”
It was less of a question than an expression of joy, of mutual appreciation for a plan well-thought and well-executed, celebrated by one of a thousand hugs in a night of jubilation in the clubhouse, on the field, and again in the clubhouse as the Nationals clinched their first-ever National League East title. The words were spoken by Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo to Max Gonzalez, father to Gio, the left-handed ace of the staff who, immediately after coming to Washington in a late-December trade, signed a five-year extension with his new ballclub, lending a mutual security to both parties for the foreseeable future.
It was a contract Rizzo was happy to finalize, locking up a proven, All-Star southpaw to complement righties Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann in the Washington rotation. But even Rizzo was probably taken off-guard by just how good Gonzalez has been in his debut season in the Nation’s Capital.
The first pitcher in baseball to 20 wins, he finished the year 21-8, surpassing his previous career-best mark by five victories. He did so by pairing his mid-90’s fastball with one of the best curveballs in the game, occasionally mixing in his changeup to keep hitters off-balance. In so doing, he limited opponents to a .206 batting average, the lowest in either league among qualifying starters. He also struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings, the highest rate in the league of anyone who completed as many innings as Gonzalez (199.1). However, he has some competition in the NL for the rank of top arm and the Cy Young Award that comes with it, namely Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
Dickey’s is a great story, and he has turned in a remarkable season for any pitcher, much less one who has undergone the trials and tribulations that have led up to this point in his life. But he is not the best pitcher on the best team, nor is he the most unhittable. Those titles belong to Gonzalez, whose left arm accounted directly for 21 of his team’s Major League-leading 98 victories. The Nationals went 3-0 in the only games that Gonzalez started and did not receive a decision, finishing 24-8 overall in his outings.
Gonzalez also allowed a meager nine home runs all season long, three fewer than the next closest pitcher who surpassed the 170-inning mark. Dickey, meanwhile, surrendered 24 longballs, nearly two-and-a-half times the rate at which Gonzalez allowed them.
Gio also finished strong, going 8-2 with an even 2.00 ERA (15 ER/67.1 IP) over his final 10 starts to lead his club into the playoffs as the top seed. Dickey, meanwhile, was solid but unspectacular over his last five outings (2-2, 3.28 ERA) and was beaten by Gonzalez head-to-head in New York on September 11.
Sometimes overlooked, thanks to the collective dominance of the staff – owners of the lowest ERA in the National League – Gonzalez has become the leader of the rotation and has more than earned his spot as Washington’s Game One starter for the NLDS. While the lefty is always happy to deflect the credit to his catcher, his offense, and his defense behind him – and while the Nationals have bigger goals in front of them – the Cy Young Award would be an appropriate honor for the breakout season of the league’s best pitcher.
It was as perfect a day at the ballpark as any baseball fan could have asked for. On a gorgeous, sunny fall afternoon, the Nationals offense was peppering balls all around the yard while Gio Gonzalez methodically shut down a potent lineup on his way to an historic 20th victory in front of a packed house. And then, suddenly, time stood still as the entire fan base, both present and at home, held its collective breath, watching their ace tumble off the mound, lying motionless for a second, face first on the grass.
As it turned out, Gonzalez had just caught his cleat and stumbled, not actually hurt himself. He remained on the ground for the extra beat simply out of embarrassment, but obviously took the events in stride, as whatever he said behind his mitt as the infield, coaches and trainers gathered on the mound caused Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche to break out in laughter. He then doffed his cap to the crowd, bringing an uproarious reaction, then stepped back on the mound and threw a hard breaking ball, inducing a check-swing third strike from Martin Maldonado.
It was a moment befitting Gio’s personality, his wide smile and gregarious nature often at odds with his devastating arsenal of power pitches and fierce competitiveness. By the end of the day, he had the crowd chanting “GI-O,” over his post-game interview, as he gave his thoughts on becoming the first Major Leaguer to win 20 games this season.
His accomplishment was more impressive than just that, though. He became just the second left-hander in D.C. baseball history to win 20, and the first since Earl Whitehill in 1933. When he blew a 95 mile-per-hour, letter-high fastball past Jean Segura in the top of the fifth, he became the first District hurler to fan more than 200 batters in a season since the legendary Walter Johnson in 1916, 96 years ago. With top-five rankings in the National League in wins (20, first), ERA (2.84, tied-fourth), strikeouts (201, fourth), and opponents batting average (.204, first), he has positioned himself as a top contender for the National League Cy Young award.
Meanwhile, the offense showed up in a big way, as Zimmerman, LaRoche and Ian Desmond all went deep in the 10-4 rout. LaRoche’s blast in the sixth capped the scoring for the day and also matched his career high as his 32nd longball of the season. But his blast broke another record, largely overlooked in the moment. It gave the Nationals 179 home runs for the season, breaking the all-time Expos/Nationals franchise record set back in 2000, making this the most powerful team in club history with 11 games still to play.
With the victory, the Nationals also continued to add to their most impressive team statistic of this remarkable rise. Following the 2009 season in which they went just 59-103, the Nats won 69 games, an improvement of 10 wins in ’10. Last season, Washington won 80 games, giving them 11 more wins in 2011 than the year prior. And with their 92nd win of the 2012 season yesterday, they have added 12 wins and counting in 2012, a stunning march from the bottom of the pack to the top, where they currently sit with the best record in the Major Leagues.
They owe much of that success this season to both Gonzalez and LaRoche, so it was only fitting that the two of them delivered the record-setting strikeout, win and home run.