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Every Miguel Gonzalez start in August is an audition

Veteran looks like the only White Sox trade candidate during the revocable waiver period

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MLB: Cleveland Indians at Chicago White Sox Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, Miguel Gonzalez takes the mound against the Red Sox ...

... aka his FUTURE TEAM???

Probably not, but Gonzalez has a chance of pitching elsewhere before the end of the season.

Gonzalez looks like the White Sox’ only August trade candidate, with Derek Holland having an outside shot if a team wants to try him in the bullpen. The Houston Astros traded for a similarly struggling lefty starter, Francisco Liriano, with designs on using him in the bullpen, and Holland’s numbers against lefties are similar:

  • Liriano: .230/.254/.361 over 63 PA
  • Holland: .215/.270/.344 over 100 PA

The result suggest Liriano’s approach has more of a putaway/power feel in a LOOGY role ...

  • Liriano: 1 BB, 17 K over 63 PA
  • Holland: 6 BB, 17 K over 100 PA

... so I wouldn’t count on Holland being moved.

Gonzalez, however, is back to his brand of quiet competence in the White Sox rotation. He’s thrown thrown quality starts in each of his three appearances since coming off the disabled list, and the remaining money (<$2 million) is considerable enough to not claim on a whim, but small enough for easier haggling.

The hangup is that his usually underwhelming peripherals have taken another step in the wrong direction, even during this successful three-start stretch:

1-1, 2.33 ERA, 19.1 IP, 18 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 11 BB, 12 K, .257/.365/.343 allowed

He has a career-low strikeout percentage (13.1 percent) and a career-high walk rate (8.5 percent) in 2017. That enables him to return to his Baltimore form by beating his FIP (4.93 FIP), but it no longer leads to an impressive ERA (4.59).

I imagine it’s hard for a team to acquire Gonzalez because they might not know what kind of pitcher they’re getting. His annual trip to the disabled list was due to shoulder inflammation. The good news is that he dealt with the same in 2015, but the bad news is that he’s dealt with it before.

He’s also using a new pitch mix. Four-seam fastballs and splitters used to be the foundation of his approach, but he shifted to sinkers and breaking balls in July. The good news is that his velocity trended upward, but not in a way that yielded more swing and misses.

This isn’t automatically bad, because Gonzalez has spent most of his career confounding the analysis and pitching better than he looks. It just makes him hard to trade, because when the bad starts pile up, it’s easy to think he’s cooked. The White Sox acquired him on a minor league contract because the Orioles didn’t believe in his ability to bounce back from his first period of extended struggles. Granted, the Orioles are 1) weird, and 2) especially with pitchers, but Gonzalez is 1) now 33 and 2) striking out fewer batters than ever, so I imagine it’s hard to whip up a sales job with real conviction.

That said, the Red Sox are a team that could theoretically use a competent starter for $2 million or less, because David Price went on the disabled list with a recurrence of elbow inflammation. The White Sox can help themselves by exposing a further flaw or two in the rotation. Boston will throw Eduardo Rodriguez on Friday*, and he hasn’t been able to complete six innings since suffering a knee injury in June. Sunday, the Red Sox will turn to Doug Fister, who’d been roughed up in starts and long-relief outings until throwing a randomly great start against Cleveland on Monday.

(*This paragraph has been updated to reflect changes in Boston’s probable pitchers after a rainout on Wednesday. The rotation will be pushed back a day, meaning Chris Sale will not pitch in the series.)

Gonzalez is under a similar kind of start-to-start microscope. In order to get moved to contender, he’ll probably have to show signs of strength every time out. That means creating more space between his walks and strikeouts, and also looking a little tougher a third time through the lineup (although I imagine the team acquiring him wouldn’t get greedy in that regard).

If I had to bet, I’d wager tonight is the first of three more starts in a White Sox uniform, but no one number seems especially likely. It doesn’t take much to change the calculus, whether due to injury on either side, or an impulsive team on waivers. If he goes unclaimed and unmoved, the White Sox can use the veteran ballast, at least assuming the Sox ever call up a pitching prospect whose volatility requires the counterweight.