Gonzalez leads the NL with 21 wins this year
Gio Gonzalez has provided the Nationals with everything they had hoped after trading four minor league prospects for him last December. His performance in 2012 might just be good enough for a National League Cy Young Award.
Gonzalez still has one more start left in the regular season on Tuesday against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park. But his numbers will put him firmly in contention with other top candidates like the New York Mets' R.A. Dickey, the Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Cueto and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. The award is voted on by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"Pitching is the main thing in baseball, and when you can win 20, that's the mark of Cy Young," manager Davey Johnson said last Saturday after Gonzalez allowed no earned runs in seven innings against the Milwaukee Brewers and earned his 20th victory of the season.
After 32 starts, Gonzalez has a 2.89 ERA. He may have lost some ground on Thursday, however, when Dickey had a phenomenal 13-strikeout performance in 72Ú3 innings for the Mets against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Gonzalez, meanwhile, labored through a three-walk first inning in Philadelphia and gave up a three-run double. But he settled down and kept his team close. The Phillies didn't score another run.
That showed some moxie, but that alone doesn't win a pitcher a Cy Young. On numbers, Gonzalez ranks close to Dickey and Kershaw. He is 21-8, the first Washington pitcher to top 20 wins in a season since 1953. His 207 strikeouts were fourth in the league behind Dickey (222), Kershaw (211) and Philadelphia's Cole Hamels (208) entering the weekend. But Gonzalez topped all of them in strikeouts per nine innings (9.35). Only teammate Stephen Strasburg was better (11.13).
Gonzalez has allowed 1.13 walks and hits per inning (WHIP). Both Kershaw (league-best 1.04) and Dickey (1.05) are slightly better. In Baseball Reference's ERA+ stat, which adjusts for the home ballpark of a pitcher, Cueto leads with a 149 ERA+ for his work in cozy Great American Ball Park with Kershaw (143) and Dickey (142) right behind. Gonzalez is fifth in that statistical category (139).
In the end, he may not have quite enough to convince voters to go away from Dickey, a 37-year-old knuckleballer who had a career year. But whether he wins or not, Gonzalez has been plenty good enough to justify the Nats trading for the 27-year-old left-hander and almost immediately signing him to a contract extension with team options through 2018.
"We knew [Gonzalez] was good, obviously, but he's young. It takes a while to figure out who you are as a pitcher and become consistent," teammate Ryan Zimmerman said. "I guess in his earlier days he was a little more wild, and he's toned that down a lot this year. But he's always had the stuff. When you have that kind of stuff, if you can throw more strikes like he has this year, you're going to have a chance to do something special."