By now, most of us know about the big trade the Atlanta Braves made with the Seattle Mariners. Jarred Kelenic was obviously headliner coming back to the Braves, being a consensus top six prospect pre-2021 with tremendous upside.
Marco Gonzales and Evan White have generally been looked at as salary dump attachments to the deal in order to bring in Kelenic without giving up much prospect capital.
With White, there should be no argument that was certainly a salary dump. He has so far hit .165/.235/.308 in parts of two major league seasons after signing a 6 yrs/$24M contract that goes through the 2025 season.
There have been reports that the Braves plan to trade Marco Gonzales, but what if they didn’t?
There is no sugar coating it, his 2023 was bad. In 50.0 innings over ten starts he had a 5.22 ERA, 1.460 WHIP and his SO/W ratio was a measly 1.89. His XSTATS from Statcast do not paint a brighter picture with an xERA of 5.27.
However, there is a case to be made that the Braves keep Gonzales around. Of course, a lot can still happen between now and the start of the season, but as of now, it does make sense to give him a shot.
The Braves seriously dealt with depth issues in their rotation last year that was masked by a top tier bullpen and historic offense. Only three starters started more than fourteen games, and those three were the only ones that pitched at least 78.0 innings (in the starting role, Tonkin had more).
Of course, there is no set in stone rule that every rotation must include five members. Some teams opt to have a six-man rotation, use depth to run a sixth man out every other time through the rotation, use openers periodically, etc. However, these strategies require depth to deploy.
Using the “five-man rotation” as a parameter, we see that the Braves had twelve different pitchers fill that back end spot in the rotation. When these pitchers were on the mound, the Braves had an ERA of 6.20. This includes the 6.2 innings in which Jesse Chavez, Collin McHugh, and Dylan Lee were openers and gave up a combined zero earned runs.
Of those twelve pitchers, half of them are no longer in the Braves’ organization. Further, Bryce Elder really struggled in the second half of the season. Starting in July through the rest of the season in which he made fifteen of his thirty-one starts, Elder had a 5.49 ERA, and hitters had a slash line of .264/.340/.442 against him.
The key here is that the Braves lacked for depth in the back end of the rotation in 2023, and still do up to this point. Last season when they filled the hole, it resulted in overall bad results.
Marco Gonzales, although not a splashy acquisition, could go a long way in helping fill this depth hole. Sure, his 2023 was bad. But, it was not 6.20 ERA bad. Plus, he is already on the team now. The Braves do not need to give anything to go get him.
Outside of 2023, in which he was dealing with a nerve issue in his forearm, he had a solid stretch of five seasons. From 2018-2022 he pitched 765.2 innings, which is an average of 175.1 innings per full length season (2020 was a shortened season).
During that stretch he had solid run prevention numbers with an ERA of 3.94, which by measurements of ERA+ is 4.0 percent better than league average during that span. His 1.237 WHIP during that time is not elite by any means, but it is palatable for a fifth starter who can eat innings.
He also has some intriguing peripherals as well. Although his xERA in his 2018-2022 were higher than his on-field results at 4.09, 4.26, 3.82, 5.02, and 4.59 respectively, there interesting areas that any team would be happy with from a fifth starter.
As can be seen in the chart below, his chase rate has consistently been good.
His 31.8 percent was among the top 19.0 percent of MLB pitchers last season, and in the past six years his rate has never dropped below 28.3 percent.
He also prevents quality contact at a decent clip as well. His 6.7 percent barrel rate was among the best 27.0 percent of pitchers this past season and outside of 2021 it has stayed around the same rate or better over the past six seasons.
Before this season, he has also shown that he does not walk many batters. His 8.4 percent walk rate was right at league average this past year (in 50.0 IP), with being in the bottom 49.0 percent, but his rate this past year was the highest of his career. He began being a full time starter in 2018. From 2018-2022 his walk rates were 4.7, 6.5, 2.5, 7.2, and 6.2 percent respectively. In 2020 he had the best walk rate in MLB and in 2018 was in the top 6.0 percent.
He does struggle with strikeouts. Although hitters to not make very good solid contact, the do not strikeout against him much. In 2022 his 13.2 strikeout rate was in the bottom 1.0 percent of MLB, and in 2023 his 15.8 was in the bottom 6.0 percent. However, he has shown signs that it can be decent. In 2018 he had a 21.1 percent strikeout rate, and in 2020 he had a 23.1 percent rate.
His profile results in hitters having a high batting average against him, but it is manageable when you factor in the entire slash line. From 2018-2022 hitters slashed .257/.306/.431 against him. Is that elite? Of course not. Is it a slash line that a team with a historic offense and solid bullpen would be okay with as a fifth starter? That is the real question.
With the lack of depth the Braves currently have in their rotation, it is virtually certain that having Marco Gonzales in the mix (if healthy) makes a ton of sense. Even in his worst season as a starter last season in his 50.0 innings in which he ultimately had an injury, his results were better than what the Braves had every fifth game.