One of the best strategies that I adhere here every year during my fantasy baseball drafts is to go very heavy on the hitters early and than go for my starting pitchers during the middle andlate portions of my draft. Typically my first 5 or 6 picks of a given draft are all for hitters due to the fact they are the much more “safe” and stable fantasy baseball stock. I than grab a lower end number 1 starter like a Cole Hamels or a Jon Lester in round 6 or 7 and than go back to hitters. As such I pluck more starters along the way who fit the cirteria of having a high K-rate with a solid ERA. Or someone who has decent upside or a pitcher who has a history of being very good but has seen their price dip due to injury or a bad year the season before. This method has helped me to win BOTH of my money leagues two years running and its something I am certain about. The other day I wrote a feature on the Baltimore Orioles’ Brian Matusz as a guy who had upside that can be a cheap asset for 2011. Another such guy is the Oakland A’s Gio Gonzalez.
Not many people realize this, but Gonzalez was one of the better starting pitchers in all of fantasy baseball last season as he went 15-9 with a 3.23 ERA and 1 71 strikeouts. Of course he also had a 1.31 WHIP which I will get to in a second but lets look at his overall line to start. Like I said Gonzalez was one of the most underappreicated players in fantasy baseball last season and he was actually a free agent off an off the entire year in both of my money leagues. How can this be so after seeing those numbers? Allow me to explain.
The first reason Gonzalez elicited yawns from the fantasy baseball community is his very ugly past as a major league starter. In fact Gonzalez was truly AWFUL during his first two years in the majors when he put up a 7.68 ERA in 2008 and a 5.75 WHIP in 2009. Horrendous all around. The biggest culprit was an insane walk rate which blew up his WHIP as a result and really made him someone you really had no right to own. The one alluring aspect of Gonzalez during this time however was a fantastic K-rate which always gets the juices flowing from fantasy baseball owners. Gonazlez had 143 K’s in only 132 innings whcich is top level efficiency in that regard. Still the overall numbers destroyed his allure and so when 2010 came around, no one payed any attention to the guy and rightly so.
What Gonzalez did in 2010 however was incredibly impressive as he finally showed the potential that many predicted would arrive and he began to reign in his repertoire and make it work for him. Specifically speaking, Gonzalez took some miles off his electrifying fastball which kept it from going in straight on a line to the hitter and so he surrendered only 171 hits in over 200 innings. The strikeouts declined as a result but it benefited his overall body of work. This is very comparable to what happened with the Atlanta Braves’ Tommy Hanson last season as he too took something off his fastball which lowered his hit rate and thus produced very good overall digits with a decrease in strikeouts.
The one caveat here is that Gonzalez still has work to do on his control as he still wound up walking 92 batters last season but at only 26 years old, he still has plenty of time to sort that out. I do think Gonzalez will struggle some with walks this season but I also believe he will lower the total as he becomes even more efficient as he adds more expertience to his ledger. The strikeouts could even come back some this year and we the ERA should be solid in the friendly confines of Oakland’s stadium. All in all Gonzalez wont wow you by any means but this is a young starter who still had upside and who has the tools to be a very cheap and helpful fantasy baseball starter for your club.
PROJECTION: 15-6 3.54 ERA 185 K 1.29 WHIP