What Is Tom Gorzelanny?

After picking up Matt Garza from Tampa Bay, the Cubs were widely expected to trade Tom Gorzelanny in order to free up a spot in the rotation for their newly acquired starter. Today, that expectation became reality, as they shipped Gorzelanny to the Nationals for a trio of prospects. What are the Nationals getting in Gorzelanny?

To be honest, I have no idea. He’s one of the most confusing pitchers in the game.

Coming up through Pittsburgh’s system, he established himself as one of their better pitching prospects by racking up a good amount of strikeouts in spite of average stuff. His command was never top notch, but he limited the walks enough to go along with elite strikeout and home run rates. Both his strikeout and walk rates fell as he climbed the ladder, but he maintained a quality 3:1 ratio even in the highest levels of the minor leagues.

Upon arriving in the big leagues, he showed little of the skills that had made him an interesting prospect. His walks were too high and his strikeouts too low, but thanks to a .260 BABIP, he posted a 3.79 ERA in his rookie year. He took what looked like a legitimate step forward in 2007, getting his K/BB ratio back up to 1.99 and surviving the expected BABIP regression, but he completely fell apart in 2008. The walks shot back up, and after being stingy with the home runs in his first two seasons, he developed a nasty case of gopheritis.

He was legitimately one of the worst starters in baseball over a half season that year, but reverted to being a quality starter in Triple-A upon his demotion back to the minors. The walks dropped, the strikeouts returned, and most importantly, the ball stopped flying out of the park. Not impressed enough, the Pirates shipped him to the Cubs the following spring.

There, Gorzelanny pulled the exact opposite trick of his days in Pittsburgh – the peripherals were pretty good (3.73 xFIP, by far a career best) but his ERA was a lousy 5.63, as he couldn’t strand a runner to save his life. The decent secondary marks convinced the Cubs to keep him around, and in 2010, his ERA did fall, but his peripherals again went the wrong way. The walks went back up and the strikeouts back down, and his success was mostly due to keeping his flyballs in the park – essentially, he had his 2007 season all over again.

In total, we have a guy who has had good ERAs with bad peripherals and bad ERAs with good peripherals, and in the only year that his process and results lined up, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball. Despite good minor league results, his stuff is just alright, and he’s not the kind of pitcher who looks to have significant untapped upside. With his repertoire, throwing strikes should be a key, except he got his career back on track in a season where his walk rate was 113th out of 115 major league pitchers who threw at least 130 innings.

In the end, all this wild inconsistency has led to a pitcher whose career ERA (4.68) is not that much different than his FIP (4.54), and both marks suggest he could be a decent back-end starting pitcher, but given how his career has gone so far, I wouldn’t exactly bet the farm on any particular level of production from Gorzelanny. So far, all he’s produced is 558 innings of confusion.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

31 Responses to “What Is Tom Gorzelanny?”

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  1. DL80 says:

    I used to have him in my fantasy league, and he does have pretty average stuff (even for a lefty). He hides the ball pretty well, though, from what I’ve seen. When his control is on, as it was for much of 2010, he’s a good pitcher. Before the All-Star break, he allowed 68 hits and 34 walks in 72 innings for a mediocre 1.40 WHIP, but he also had 74 K’s. For whatever reason (regression to the mean, luck, exhaustion) he fell apart after the break and allowed a lot more hits with a lot fewer K’s.

    Low risk, medium reward type trade depending on the prospects.

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  2. John says:

    Why trade him though? Isn’t he a perfect insurance policy in the bullpen, like he was last year? Do we think this move is a (really) minor Cliff Lee/Ruben Amaro/Aumont sort of thing? That is, get a good starter and ship off another competent starter for small pieces because you feel guilty about your minor league system?

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    • mike says:

      Zambrano, Dempster, Garza, Wells should be 1-4 in the Cubs starting rotation.

      That left Gorzelanny fighting over the last spot with 6 other guys. Cubs have plenty of back end options for pitching depth… Silva, Cashner, Diamond, Samardzija, Casey Coleman & Russell (LH option for all you who think a LH is a necessity).

      Plus there are options in the minors who will be ready at some time this year like Jay Jackson, McNutt, or Carpenter

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    • joser says:

      You don’t “feel guilty about your minor league system”; your minor league system is your future, and you feel guilty about mortgaging it for the present. You feel guilty about leaving your pipeline bereft of talent. You feel guilty about not having any chips to trade that aren’t already on your 25 man roster.

      Now, I’m completely ignorant of the cubs minor league system, so I have no idea how thin it might have been, or not, but there’s always something to be said for stockpiling young talent… especially if you can do so by trading away a surplus.

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      • johng says:

        Since you’re ignorant of the Cubs’ system, I will inform you that it definitely is one to feel guilty about. Read up on it, and you will agree.

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      • Dann M says:

        The Cubs system was ranked as high as #8 and as low as [paraphrase] distinctly middle of the pack before the Garza trade. And the previous #8 fell to an 18, if I remember correctly. Do you remember the George Carlin joke about how he never banged a 10, but one night, he had five 2′s? That’s largely how the Cubs system is seen, chock full of future #3 starters, #6 hitters, and catchers who can start on bad teams or back up good ones. Plenty of players who project as big leaguers, but not really any surefire star-caliber talent. Of course, that’s to be expected when you draft up the middle. Projectable star is basically synonymous with prodigious power, and those guys play the corners.

        Now, the three players the Cubs are getting back for Gorzo are a 2009 4th rounder, a 2008 4th rounder, and a 2007 supplemental first rounder. The lefty Hicks has good three true outcomes numbers, but he’s given up a lot of hits in his 2+ years. He’s 6’5″, though, and is just about to turn 21. The righty Morris is 24 and has decent overall numbers in 2 pro seasons, but he is a little old for High A ball. And the outfielder Burgess is 22 with 4 years under his belt. He’s a lefty with a .257/.349/.813 overall line. He hits for power and did have a jump, actually, in OPS when he earned a late season promotion to AA. Considering Gorzelanny was essentially an arb-eligible spare part, this has to be considered a pretty decent return for the Cubs, even if none of the three are name prospects.

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  3. Paul says:

    I had him when he first came up and he was good. Consistent, and had good stuff with a fastball that he would challenge good hitters with. Pittsburgh fans would know, but I believe he had injury and conditioning problems. They just couldn’t ever get him back on track, but from what I can tell some of the velo is back. I like this deal for Washington, but also for the Cubs. If you’re comparing what they gave up to get Garza versus this haul, they traded a free swinging 4th outfielder (and a Stanford econ major) for a young guy with legit lefty power. If they can get Burgess to shorten his swing, this is a really nice deal for the Cubs. He’s a plus defender in RF.

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    • Souldrummer says:

      Nats fans have been saying “if they can get Burgess to shorten his swing” now for 3 years. This deal was also the great “purge Bowden high schoolers”. Burgess is a sandwich pick toolsy high schooler who had a bad attitude at first but started to show maturity this year. He still hasn’t shown he can hit at AA let alone the bigs. I’m rooting for him, and I actually like him more than the more ballyhooed (but equally disappointing) Chris Marrero, it’s just that Burgess is blocked and Marrero isn’t.

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      • Dann M says:

        Actually, Burgess did hit AA pitching (in a small sample) at season’s end. He got promoted for the Harrisburg stretch run and posted a 1+ OPS. The long swing fits right in to the Cubs system M.O. (see Hoffpauir, Micah and Fox, Jake). And again, he is just 22.

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  4. Daniel says:

    The Cubs didn’t need him as an insurance policy. They have their 5 guys, then they have Cashner, Thomas Diamond, and Casey Coleman to sweep up. This almost guarantees that Cashner will be in the rotation at some point (Carlos Silva is not pitching 200 innings) so it’s very positive from that point of view. Gorzo was good for a long time last season but I think realistically he is a long relief guy. As a starter, he’s just likely to get exposed, particularly if his control deserts him, as it seemed to do in the second half last season.

    Getting two of the Nationals’ Top 20 guys for a borderline back-end starter? It’s not a blockbuster but I’ll take it. Burgess in particular could be interesting. Left handed, power potential, good fielder in right apparently. Maybe the strikeouts will stop him ever making it but, hey, maybe not.

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  5. Jack Nugent says:

    Gorzelanny is gonna kill it for the Nats. Seriously, I think this was a great buy-low move by them. Check it out:

    65 starts as a Pirate: 5.89 K/9 4.13 BB/9 1.01 HR/9 4.73 ERA 4.85 FIP

    30 starts as a Cub: 8.24 K/9 4.01 BB/9 0.84 BB/9 4.45 ERA 3.85 FIP

    That is a freakin’ huge jump in his strikeout rate. 30 starts– I know, say what you will about sample size, but Gorzelanny just isn’t the same pitcher he was in Pittsburgh, and the one he’s been in Chicago is a pretty damn good.

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  6. While Gorzelanny has been frustrating in his seemingly wild swings from above average to wildly below average, a lot of his struggles came after Jim Tracy pushed Gorzelanny to 200 innings in 2007. Assuming he keeps his walks in check, I think the Nats found themselves a decent midrotation option for the next few years.

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  7. Kyle says:

    A mediocre pitcher who bears an unfortunate resemblance to Sloth of “The Goonies” fame.

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  8. Souldrummer says:

    Isn’t he John Lannan the sequel? Another man who baffles the good souls at Fangraphs?

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  9. Thunder says:

    Gorzelanny’s disastrous 2008 was likely due to Tracy burning out his arm at the end of the 2007 season. He would fit the Verducci effect very well. In 2006, at the age of 23, he threw 161 innings at AAA and Pittsburgh combined. In September 2007, with the Pirates hopelessly out of the race, Jim Tracy decided to try and get Gorzo his 15th win (like that was a major accomplishment that would win a CYA or ROY award). He’d already thrown 185 innings…and had missed a start due to a sore elbow at the beginning of August. So Tracy started him 3 times in the last 11 days of the season…and had him throw 107 pitches in 5 innings…117 pitches in 5 2/3 innings, and 90 pitches in 6 innings to finish with 201 2/3 innings…and raised his ERA almost a half a run in the process.

    He showed up for spring training in 2008 with a sore elbow…and reportedly out of shape. He tried pitching through the elbow problem and got hammered.
    Missed one start in early May, then banished to Indy in early July. Back in mid-August and got short started for 4 starts…his last 4 starts as a Pirate.

    Spring training 2009…got optioned to Indy…where he put up a 2.48 ERA and 1.184 WHIP in 87 innings. Called up in early May and made 9 relief appearances (after pitching out of the BP one time previously in his career) and sent back down to Indy. Traded at the deadline to the Cubs.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      I suspect that a lot of things we call “luck” and “regression” actually have an explanation. The line between stardom and failure in baseball is very thin. Things like nagging injuries, fatigue and off-the-field issues that never come to light have a much greater impact on the numbers than we imagine.

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    • hk says:

      If this explanation is accurate – and I have no reason to doubt it – and we exclude 2008 as an injury-induced or fatigue-induced outlier, Gorzelanny has actually produced pretty consistent FIP’s of 4.18 in 2006, 4.24 in 2007, 3.91 in 2009 and 3.92 last year. After trading a significant package to get Garza, giving up Gorzelanny for a lesser package doesn’t really make sense. In other words, it seems as though the downgrade in prospects > the upgrade in starting pitchers.

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  10. mister_rob says:

    Good article….except the part about him being shipped to the Cubs in the spring. They got him in a deadline deal along with Grabow

    As far as what he is, he is a guy that shouldnt be counted on being more than a 5th starter. sometimes he pitches like a #2 starter. But most times, he pitches like a #5

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  11. Tony says:

    I think this is the sort of deal that made sense for both clubs. On the Nationals side, they give up 3 minor assets to get a possible guy to plug in their rotation in 2011. It’s a good gamble. Burgess has been inconsistent with his swing, Morris is basically a dime a dozen righty middle relief arm. Hicks is a raw lefty far away.

    As a Cubs fan, I like the deal. Gorzelanny was an inconsistent spare part for us. With Demp/Garza/Z/Wells, the Cubs have 4 starters that could potentially give them 180-200 innings. The Cubs have enough options at the 5th starter spot, and if dealing Gorzelanny gives Cashner a greater chance at the rotation, awesome. To get three semi-intriguing parts for Gorzelanny was just icing on the cake. Burgess is a good gamble – the system lacks raw power, so might as well give it a spin. Morris looks like a polished arm that could help, if he could break through the Cubs righty middle relief mix. I am really fascinated with Hicks. Cubs do a solid job of scouting low level pitching, and Hicks looks to be a kid with good upside, a good frame, and decent enough raw stuff.

    All in all, I think both teams should be relatively happy with the deal.

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  12. Scout Finch says:

    He’s a bit like a poor man’s Ted Lilly. No?

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    • Dann M says:

      No, not really. I see the comparison if we’re looking at Lilly’s three years pitching for the Blue Jays, though:
      89 GS, 1.411 WHIP, 8.6 H/9, 1.4 HR/9, 4.1 BB/9, 7.6 K/9, 1.86 K/BB

      Since moving from the AL East to the National League four seasons ago, Ted has done this:
      125 GS, 1.129 WHIP, 7.9 H/9, 1.3 HR/9, 2.3 BB/9, 7.8 K/9, 3.39 K/BB

      Gorzo’s career numbers as a starter look like this:
      95 GS, 1.500 WHIP, 9.4 H/9, 0.96 HR/9, 4.1 BB/9, 6.6 K/9, 1.61 K/BB

      Tom’s also more or less an even fly ball/ground ball pitcher, while Lilly’s numbers are about 44/36 in favor of flies. They have similar HR/FB numbers. But a big difference is that Lilly has a career 2:1 strike-to-ball thrown ratio, while Gorzelanny is closer to just a 3:2 ratio. Some of the zone/contact numbers are similar, but the real difference is that Lilly pounds the zone with his mediocre stuff while Gorzo tends to nibble and have zero confidence in what can be pretty good stuff.

      So Gorzelanny is just another frustrating back-end starter with a whole lot of “if only”s hounding him. If only he’d trust his fastball. If only he’d stop being lazy with his mechanics and stop flying wide open, leaving the ball high and left over and over and over again. If only he could pitch to everyone like he does cleanup hitters (one of the oddest splits I’ve seen – #4 hitters have little hope, while all others like their odds).

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    • John Franco says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Lefty starters have a tendency to take forever to figure it out. Gorzo had it figured out until the Pirates destroyed his arm, but I think he’ll re-figure it out soon.

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  13. TexasRanger says:

    He is a chipmunk faced little turd

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  14. HoustonAstro says:

    i read this as “what is a Gorzelanny?”

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