The 2020 World Series Champions (Los Angeles Dodgers) have plenty of pitchers to focus on, now including Trevor Bauer. In 2020, one pitcher on this team was an MLB leader (99th or 100th percentile) in 8 of the 15 major statistical categories on Baseball Savant. This pitcher was not Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, or Brusdar Graterol. Instead, it is a lesser-known pitcher who was an unsung hero of the 2020 team: Victor Gonzalez.
If this name doesn’t ring a bell to you, you probably will remember this play during the world series last year:
Below is a visual made with BallR showing his pitch arsenal: four-seam fastball, slider, sinker.
He is a leader in 8 categories on Baseball Savant: Barrels allowed (Brl), Barrel rate (Brl%), Expected Isolated Power (xISO), Walk percentage (BB%), Expected ERA (xERA), Expected On Base Percentage (xOBP), Expected Slugging Percentage (xSLG), and Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA). Below you can see his percentile ranking in each of the Savant categories. If you are unsure of the definitions of any of these metrics, please view the Terminology page I created to clear things up.
Looking at his 80 batters faced, it is remarkable that he only gave up 2 extra bases (both doubles). He also and had the 2nd highest K/BB rate (11.5), only trailing Liam Hendriks (12.3). Furthermore, he is one of just 3 relievers who had a sub 2 FIP and ERA. The other two led their respective leagues in Cy Young votes for relievers.
In addition to a tremendous rookie regular season, the 24-year-old Gonzalez was dominant in the playoffs as well. In 6 ⅔ playoff innings, he only gave up 2 runs. He also got into 4 of the 6 World Series games and held a 2.45 ERA and seemed unfazed by the big moment.
It is clear that horizontal movement is a strength of his as he ranks 2nd in horizontal movement for his 4-seam fastball (16.5 inches). For his sinker, he ranks 12th in horizontal movement (17.9 inches of movement). He plays to this strength by having a lower arm slot than the traditional pitcher with an average release height of 4.9 feet. His fastball and sinker both have a spin direction of 10:00 which can explain how he gets more horizontal movement than vertical movement. The fact that he is able to maintain an average velocity of 95mph with that lower arm slot is what really makes him an outlier. In comparison, Tim Hill is the only pitcher who has more run on his four-seamer than Gonzalez, but he only averages 91mph on his heater.
It is easy to get caught talking about all the other phenomenal pitchers the Dodgers have. From the three Cy Young Award winners (Kershaw, Bauer, and Price), the young ace (Buehler), to the established relievers like Kenley Jansen and Blake Treinen. Victor Gonzalez flew under the radar last year, but is too special to continue to go unnoticed. His combination of a low arm slot with elite velocity is something that is very unique and has shown to be very effective in his first MLB season. With the 2021 season around the corner, watch out for #81 in the white and blue as his recognition is well overdue.