Dave Nichols: Is Gorzelanny’s strong start sustainable?

In Monday night’s 2-0 win over the defending world champion San Francisco Giants, starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny pitched a heck of a game, limiting the Giants to three hits over eight innings while striking out four. Most importantly for him, he didn’t walk anyone, which has always been what has hindered him in his career and kept him from being a truly dependable starter in the league. After five starts for the Washington Nationals, Gorzelanny is 1-2 with a 2.93 ERA. Pretty impressive.

I was as critical as anyone of the trade that brought Gorzelanny to the Washington Nationals. Here’s what I wrote at the time: “The prospects that the Nats sent away aren’t really the big problem with this trade. My point ... was that this player isn’t really the type of player to be trading any assets away for.” That wasn’t all. I concluded, “Tom Gorzelanny is not a key part of a rotation of a contending team, he’s a modern day swingman.”


So far, Gorzelanny is making me eat a heaping helping of crow. But I wasn’t the only one questioning the move, or Gorzelanny’s track record. The most excellent Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com wrote an appropriately quizzically titled article, “What is Tom Gorzelanny?”, on the day of the trade. Cameron’s evaluation? “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.”

True enough, Gorzelanny’s peripherals and ratios are all in line with major league average or better, except for his walk rate, which has been 20 percent higher than big league average. This season, he’s limiting his walks enough to be just below average instead of drastically below and he’s upped his strikeout rate by almost a full strikeout per nine innings. Those are both really good things. But the biggest difference in his performance is that he’s also gotten extremely lucky, as he’s only given up 6.4 hits per nine innings, as opposed to his career mark of 9.2 per nine. That’s placed solely on his good fortune thus far on his batting average on balls in play (BABiP).

BABiP tells us when a hitter or pitcher has been, well, lucky. Effectively, the number tells us the percentage of batted balls turned into outs. The average for pitchers every year is around .299 or so. So far this season, it’s right on that mark. Interestingly enough, Gorzelanny’s career BABiP is exactly .299. This season? His BABiP was .203 through four games, and will be even lower after Monday’s performance. That number isn’t sustainable of the course of a season, and as more balls fall in for hits, more runs will score. It will happen.

Five games is an incredibly low sample size, but roster decisions have been made on less. Right now, Gorzelanny is living on slight improvement in his walk and strikeout ratio and extreme luck on batted balls finding fielder’s gloves. He’s had a very good run and should be applauded. But his hit ratio, and therefor his ERA, just aren’t sustainable. Enjoy Monday’s shutout while you can and hope Gorzelanny continues to be lucky. He’s got five more months to prove me wrong.

Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nats News Network. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations as MASNsports.com begins a season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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