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Caturday Night Fever: Tony Gonsolin Emerges as a Star

Dominant Breaking Pitches Have Made Tony Gonsolin One Cool Cat.

C-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y 

Maybe it’s because the last few years felt like a decade, but it feels like Tony Gonsolin has been around for a while.  However, the 6’3″ right-handed Dodgers pitcher has only amassed 175.1 major league innings since his 2019 debut.   Thanks to a season shortened by Covid and a couple of IL stints related to shoulder soreness in 2021, he has pitched about as many innings as one would expect from a traditional starter over a single MLB season.  Over those 175.1 innings, split between 34 starts and eight relief appearances, the former 9th-round pick has racked up a solid, if unspectacular 178 strikeouts versus 71 walks.  Much more impressively, he’s carried an ERA of just 2.62 and a WHIP of 1.078 over his 3+ year career so far.  So what does Gonsolin do that has led his elite numbers?

Meow Mix

Gonsolin’s repertoire has consisted of a four-seamer sitting a tad below 94 MPH combined with a Reagan-era splitter and 87 MPH slider with just a dash of a diving curveball thrown in during his first three seasons. His mix had been four-seam heavy, but the offering still sat at under 50% of pitches thrown. This year though, Gonsolin has thrown more of his breaking pitches leading to a more even mix.  He’s using his four-seamer about ten percent less often than he has in previous seasons while using all three of his breaking and off-speed pitches more often than he did in 2021.

 

And there is a very good reason why Gonsolin has been throwing his splitter on almost 30% of his pitches.  He’s generating more vertical movement on it than ever before.  The table below details just how dramatically his splitter has improved in terms of vertical movement since he entered the league.

Vertical Movement of Tony Gonolin’s Splitter (Inches)
That’s basically an entire foot worth a drop gained since 2019.  So far this season that splitter gets two more inches of drop than the average for that pitch across the majors.  Gonsolin’s splitter has already been credited with eight runs saved and opponents are hitting just .130 against it this year.  And that’s not even been his best pitch in that regard.  Opposing batters have hit just .065 versus his slider, and have not managed even a single hit off of Gonsolin’s curveball through the middle of May!  Those pitches have also generated whiff rates of 38.9% and 37.5% respectively. Those numbers would make any kitty purr.
Not So Fast
His fastball has not been quite as effective though.  Thus far, opponents are batting .344 and slugging a robust .625, against the four-seamer.  It’s obviously been his least effective offering so far, but he only uses it about a third of the time and has been going to it less and less often.  It is also worth noting that despite such strong whiff rates on his breaking pitches, Gonsolin does rank in the bottom half (44th percentile) of the league in overall whiff rate, in large part to his poor 8.6% whiff rate on that four-seam fastball. He fares slightly better in overall strikeout rate, placing in the 52nd percentile. His only other glaring flaw is his walk rate which sits at 11.4 %, placing him just inside the bottom quartile of MLB pitchers.  That stat does include a strange four free-pass start against the Pirates that feels like an aberration.
Cat-Bird Seat
Tony Gonsolin famously loves cats.  He refers to Saturday as “Caturday” and has worn fantastic cat cleats during games, that were later auctioned off for charity.  And this season he’s been inducing contact as soft as kitten fur. His average exit velocity allowed sits at 87.1 mph, which ranks 24th among starting pitchers and places in the top quartile.  He’s 3rd among qualified starters with just 1.5 barrels/PA%.  Even better, he’s tops in all of Major League Baseball when it comes to hard-hit percentage, allowing hard hits on just 23.3 percent of batted balls.  The 20 balls hit 95 mph or harder he’s allowed is the lowest total among starting pitchers, easily beating out Zach Eflin (24) and Max Scherzer (28) who rank 2nd and 3rd.
Fantasy Takeaway
Obviously, Gonsolin has been fantastic this season.  His average draft slot was around 265th overall, which would have made him a final-round flier in standard mixed leagues, and placed him outside the top 80 starting pitchers.  Thus far he’s been the 17th most valuable starter in standard 5×5 scoring.  Even with the return of the dead-ball era, it’s a lot to ask for a pitcher to maintain an ERA under two runs per game, and Gonsolin probably won’t because it’s unlikely that any pitcher will.  But his performance this season can not be attributed to luck.  He’s near the top ten percentile of the league in most metrics that measure how well he’s able to limit damage.  He throws a nice even mix of pitches with tons of movement and induces some of the softest contact in the league.
I’d like to see that walk rate come down some, and he’s only pitched more than five innings twice in seven starts so quality starts may not be too common.  Also, his CSW% is a bit underwhelming at just 27.3%  However, he plays for an excellent team.  He has job security thanks in part to MLB finally maybe taking a serious stand with regards to off-the-field allegations.  And most importantly he appears to be healthy.  He’s also a really fun player to watch and an easy guy to root for.  I think it’s important to roster players you genuinely like in real life and Gonsolin really seems like a likable player.  I mean, check these out:
Gonsolin is currently scheduled to make his next start this coming Caturday, May 21st at the Phillies.  It’s a great early-season test against a powerful Philly offense.  Take the opportunity to see Gonsolin with your own eyes and maybe check out some fine feline footwear while you enjoy the game.
Graphic by Tina Covelli @visual_endgame

Sam Lutz

A Pittsburgh native and long suffering Pirate fan, Sam turned to fantasy baseball to give him a reason to follow the sport after July.

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