Yesterday, the Washington Nationals traded three minor league players to the Chicago Cubs for Tom Gorzelanny, a 28-year old left-handed pitcher. For the last two seasons, Gorzelanny has been shuttled between the starting rotation and the bullpen by the Cubs. The pitching-starved Pittsburgh Pirates, where he was a former second round draft pick and had his best season in 2007 going 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA in 32 starts, sent him to the minors before trading him to the Cubs.
He hasn't come close to matching the performance of his breakout year over a full season since.
Last year, Gorzy made 29 appearances, 23 as a starter. He was relegated to the pen in June after nine starts, going 2-5 while racking up a 3.66 ERA over 51.2 IP. He walked 20 and struck out 53 in those nine starts. He regained a starting job at the end of June and fared much worse than his earlier stint, going 5-4, but with an ERA of 4.60, with 42 BBs and 59 Ks in 78.1 IPs.
It's amazing how much some Major League player evaluators still look at won-loss record. Gorzy lost his job with a 2-5 record early on despite pitching pretty well, but stayed in the rotation later in the season because his team was winning games behind him despite his crummy pitching.
This is the enigma that Tom Gorzelanny is.
In his six-year career, he has walked 4.1 per nine innings. That's lousy. His inability to throw strikes has kept him from becoming the "dependable" starter he's going to be billed as coming to the Nationals. He's anything but.
Here's the weird thing: his strikeout rate has widely fluctuated throughout his career. Here are his K rates since 2006: 5.8, 6.0, 5.7, 9.0, 7.9. It works out to a career average of 6.6. Not great, but not Lannan-esque.
So which pitcher is he? The nine per nine, or the six per nine? It makes a big difference, since he walks so many.
In 2009 and 2010 -- the two years he posted his best K rates -- he spent a lot of time in the bullpen. But I was surprised about his K rate breakdown though. In 2009, his K rate was higher as as starter (10.2) than as a reliever (6.5). In 2010, it wasn't that pronounced (7.8 as starter, 9.9 as reliever).
So if his K rate is actually getting better as it seems to be, why is he still posting such atrocious ERAs? Since his breakout year of 2007, his ERAs have been 6.66, 5.55 and 4.09. Those numbers are trending down as his K rate has increased, but the bottom line is he walks too many and gives up too many hits. It's not a difficult formula.
Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com published on this very subject yesterday, in his article "What Is Tom Gorzelanny?". He's as confused as anyone else.
In total, we have a guy who has had good ERAs with bad peripherals and bad ERAs with good peripherals, and in the only year that his process and results lined up, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball. Despite good minor league results, his stuff is just alright, and he’s not the kind of pitcher who looks to have significant untapped upside. With his repertoire, throwing strikes should be a key, except he got his career back on track in a season where his walk rate was 113th out of 115 major league pitchers who threw at least 130 innings.
If you look at his ratios, they are all in line with MLB averages, except for the walks. This seems to be the case of Nats GM Mike Rizzo thinking he can fix this player, reducing his walks and turning him into a solid, middle of the rotation pitcher. Two teams have failed at it so far.
The prospects that the Nats sent away aren't really the big problem with this trade. My point, which I took a bit of debate on yesterday when discussing the deal on twitter and other message boards, was that this player isn't really the type of player to be trading any assets away for.
The Cubs traded for Matt Garza, another object of Rizzo's affection, making Gorzy expendable. It's evident Cubs GM Jim Hendry didn't even want Gorzy in his bullpen, doing the player a "solid" by trading him to a team that will keep him as a starter, the players preferred role.
It's entirely possible Gorzelanny might even have been waived during spring training.
Trading young players for old is a strategy that contending teams can employ to shore up holes where necessary in order to compete. The only thing the Nationals will compete for this season is avoiding last place and 100 losses again, and while Tom Gorzelanny MIGHT help them accomplish that, it's hard to envision any other benefit.
Tom Gorzelanny is not a key part of a rotation of a contending team, he's a modern day swingman. But he'll be billed as a veteran, dependable starter in his press conference.
The good thing is he's not expensive. He's still arbitration-eligible, but with last year's base salary of $800,000, he'll only be due a modest raise even if it goes to a hearing.
The biggest loser in all this: Ross Detwiler. Trading for a veteran left-handed starter, to go along with incumbant John Lannan, will make his job of cracking the rotation next to impossible.
The other thing that NatsTown should take away from this: Stop Overvaluing Nats Prospects. The critics of this trade are dwelling on the wrong things. Burgess, Morris and Hicks are all flawed prospects. Burgess has too big of a swing, Morris' fastball is too flat, and Hicks hasn't grown into his frame (yet, he's only 20).
None are can't miss prospects. Burgess and Morris were just barely in the Nats' Top 20 prospects by Baseball America, and Hicks didn't even make the list.
But Burgess has been billed by the organization as a "building block" since he was drafted (even mentioned by name in the infamous "Letter to the Fans of the Washington Nationals" after the firing of former manager Manny Acta in July of 2009). And Morris and Hicks were both touted Rizzo draft picks.
I suppose when all the news about these players is coming from Nationals management, fans can't help but get excited about the younger players. But you have to look past the press releases and read some independent analysis before making judgments about player value.
|Michael Burgess lunges at an outside pitch last July as a member of the Potomac Nationals. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|