The Milwaukee Brewers improved their bullpen this week with the addition of Mike Gonzalez. Yes, he is one of those left-handed specialists that is able to pitch in Major League Baseball well into their nineties. The deal calls for Gonzalez to get $2.25 million with incentives. Gonzalez will be 35 in May and has pitched for the Pirates, Braves, Orioles, Rangers and Nationals. Gonzalez pitched to a grand total of 151 batters last season in just under 36 innings. Doesn't that seem like a lot of money for so little pitching?
If you go by the WAR proposition, Gonzalez was worth 0.5 fWAR in 2012 which makes him slightly overpaid based on WAR. But relievers really cannot be judged by WAR like other players. But it just seems funny that the guy will be paid $14,900 per batter if he has the exact same season in 2013. Just for comparison, if Kershaw pitches his normal season, he will get paid about $12,200 per batter in 2013. Gonzalez is worth more per batter than Kershaw? You wouldn't think so. But then again, Cliff Lee made about $32,000 per batter last year, so there is always that.
Gonzalez is the lefty who comes out of the bullpen to get lefty batters out. He has been doing it since 2003. And he has been good at it. For his career, Gonzalez has faced 591 lefty batters (which still doesn't seem like much) and has allowed a slash line of .206/.278/.327. Yeah, that's pretty darned effective. His career against right handed batters has a .674 OPS against and that is nothing to sneeze at either. He has faced 1,076 of those.
Gonzalez has lost a mile off of his fastball velocity and two miles per hour off of his slider since his younger days and he is no longer quite as effective against right handed batters. But he still gasses those lefties. They had a .566 OPS against him and a .240 wOBA. Woof. That is futility he is causing right there. But there is something else to consider about Gonzalez. If you need a big out, he will give it to you.
In high leverage situations, Gonzalez allowed a .578 OPS. With men on base, he allowed a .472 OPS. With runners in scoring position, he allowed a .536 OPS. That is impressive. And those numbers are only slightly lower than his career numbers in those same situations.
Consider also that Gonzalez has had positive WPA figures in every season he has pitched except the first one when he was up getting a cup of coffee. His clutch number is well into the positive as well.
It will always be difficult to justify in the mind a value of a LOOGY that on many occasions will only pitch to one batter in a game. But some pitchers are better at it than others and Gonzalez is one of those. And when you also consider the circus that was the Brewers' bullpen in 2012, you can understand that team wanting a pitcher with a proven formula for getting guys out.