What is wrong with Marco Gonzales so far in 2021?

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 08: Marco Gonzales #7 of the Seattle Mariners delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the home opening game at Target Field on April 8, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 08: Marco Gonzales #7 of the Seattle Mariners delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the home opening game at Target Field on April 8, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /
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Heading into the start of the 2021 season, most Mariners fans felt pretty confident that we were going to have a solid pitcher at the top of our rotation. Not necessarily an ace, but definitely a number one. Through two starts, Marco Gonzales has looked nothing like that.

He threw 69.2 innings in 2020 and gave up eight home runs. Back in 2019, he threw 203 innings and gave up 23 home runs. Each season, he averaged about 1.0 per nine innings pitched. So far in 2021, and yes I know that it is a small sample size, he has already given up five home runs in just 10.1 innings pitched, and after two starts he has an ERA of 10.45, with a FIP of 9.71. Both terrible numbers. Against the San Francisco Giants he gave up three home runs, two against the Minnesota Twins.

He actually leads all of baseball in home runs given up, along with hits (17) and earned runs (12). A large part of this stems from his accuracy issues. Last year, he was one of the most accurate pitchers in all of baseball, walking 0.9 batters per nine innings, which actually led all of baseball. So far this year, he has walked five batters already, for a rate of 4.4. Last year, he only walked seven batters all year.

You could see it in his first start, as he was barely missing all day, especially during the first batter. Now, maybe if he had Angel Hernandez as an umpire he would’ve been fine, but not everybody can be that lucky.

You can look at all the standard stats for Marco Gonzales like I’ve mentioned above, and maybe you think that it’s just bad luck. Unfortunately, once you start looking even deeper, you can see that there are problems across the board.

The batters he is facing are finding better contact, and way more often. From 2018-2020, batters only found a barrel rate of 5.65%. So far in 2021, that number is at 18.4%. You can correctly guess that the exit velocity on swings has jumped as well because of that. This year it is at 92.3 MPH, five miles an hour faster than the last three years combined. The harder you hit the ball, the more often you get a hit.

This is why the XBA (expected batting average) of his outings is .360, the XSLG is .799, and the hard-hit rate is 47.4%. Last year… .241/.425/34.2%. It’s like you are seeing a completely different pitcher out there.

Part of that comes from falling behind in the count at a much higher rate. His first-pitch strike rate is down 13%, to 51.9%. Now, it can be okay to throw out of the zone, but not when people are keeping the bat on their shoulder, which is also happening. His chase rate on pitches is down from 30.4% to 22.4%. You can’t miss early, and then not have people chase after that.

When you don’t throw hard, you cannot afford to miss your spots. You need to stay aggressive, sit ahead in the counts, and be in charge of each match-up. Marco Gonzales hasn’t done any of these yet. He will look to get back on track late next week in the finale against the Baltimore Orioles, a great matchup to try and fix what has ailed him so far this season.

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