2015 Phillies Report Card: Severino Gonzalez
There’s an admirable naivete to the rhetoric we use when discussing a rebuild. “Let the kids play,” we say. Or, “Let’s see what we’ve got in these young unknowns.” It’s the benevolent side of the “Every unknown player has potential” coin that, so many years ago, led Phillies fans to believe that a 26-year-old AA first baseman could one day hit cleanup for a contender.
As someone who isn’t ordinarily given to optimism, I enjoy thinking this way. It captures the allure of prospects, which allows us to peek into the future and wonder at the wonderful futures they could have, but combines it with a sense of wonder at the mundane. Every minor league reliever is a velocity spike or a new breaking pitch away from becoming Matt Harvey–that sort of thing.
It’s a capital-R Romantic way of looking at baseball.
Giving the kids a shot is, of course, what a rebuilding team ought to do–better to find out about the devil you don’t know than be damned to the second division because you stuck with the devil you do. Or something like that. Teams pretty routinely find useful players among castoffs and afterthoughts, and sure enough, the Phillies have to be encouraged by Jerad Eickhoff and Odubel Herrera, among others.
But the Romantic approach to baseball buts up against the most immutable truth of prospects: The modal outcome is failure. Sometimes–most of the time, even–you decide to find out what you’ve got in an overlooked player and the answer is, “Nothing.”
Which turned out to be the case with Severino Gonzalez.
Gonzalez looks like a decent enough fellow, but nothing in his seven big league starts suggests he’ll be even a replacement-level pitcher in the future, nor is there anything in his minor league track record or his physical attributes that would suggest that the player we saw for 30 2/3 innings would be materially different than the likely future Severino Gonzalez.
Gonzalez posted a 7.92 ERA, and while his 8.22 K/9 ratio and 4.50 FIP would give cause for at least some optimism, it would serve us well to remember Blanton’s Corollary to DiPS Theory: FIP doesn’t work if you’re really, really bad; a righthander who doesn’t average 90 mph probably will give up a true talent BABIP of .394 to major league hitters unless he’s got two or three other elite pitching skills.
Consider: Out of 223 big league starters who threw at least 30 innings this year, Gonzalez’s 8.22 K/9 ranks 56th, which is not bad at all. But when you’re allowing a lot of baserunners, and therefore facing more batters per inning, per-9 inning numbers are deceiving. So on a per-plate appearance basis, Gonzalez’s 19.6 K% (which is still higher than what he posted in either of the past two seasons in the high minors) is only 94th.
At age 23, Gonzalez is still pretty young, and he could conceivably put on a little weight, add a tick or two to the fastball, or pick up a new breaking pitch–in which case feel free to revisit this piece and mock me. In fact, that possibility makes him worth keeping around–in addition to the fact that, as always, Someone’s Gotta Pitch These Innings and I’m tired of David Buchanan.
But for now, we’ve seen what Severino Gonzalez can do, and it’s not that good. That’s fine–send him back to Lehigh Valley and call up the next guy.