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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.