Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
During the offseason, the Nationals had one goal, to improve their starting pitching. After a year of starting pitchers getting lit up by mediocre offenses, the Nationals had seen enough. Gio Gonzalez, a 26 year-old lefty who’s on the brink of entering the prime of his pitching career, couldn’t have been a better pickup by the Nationals front office.
In nine starts this year, Gonzalez has a 6-1 record to go along with a sub-par ERA of 1.98. His fellow teammate, Stephen Strasburg has been brilliant in his own regards, but the former Athletic has easily been the National’s most consistent and dominant starting pitcher through the quarter mark of the season. And by dominant I mean nasty, real nasty. In 54.2 innings pitched, Gio has struck out 69 batters and he’s doing by way of his lightening quick fastball. The young lefty is throwing his fastball 68 percent of the time, and the average speed of the four-seamer has topped out at 93 MPH according to Fangraphs.com. His 11.36 K/9 rate really tells the whole story, though. That average is a National League best by a wide margin.
It was just a matter of time before this young gun put it all together and started dominating games. Last year, A’s fans saw flashes of brilliance from the fire-baller, but from start to start, he lacked consistency. This year has been a different story, however. Gio had one hiccup against the Cubs in his first start in a Nationals uniform, but since then, he’s been lights out which is why the Cy Young award is not out of reach for Gonzalez.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
The reigning Cy Young award winner has also been excellent through his first nine starts. His most recent performance came against the best offense in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals, and boy did he rise up for a marquee matchup. Kershaw breezed his way to a shutout of the Cards, striking out four on six hits and no walks. A dominant performance against a great offense was vital for Kershaw because in his previous eight starts, he had faced some pretty weak hitting teams. It’s not like anyone was doubting his talents before the masterpiece he threw, but fans were still anxious to see the young left-hander matchup with elite offensive team to see how he would handle a real test. After further review, the Dodgers ace passed the test in my grade book.
After winning the pitching crown last year, Kershaw is back at it again this season. His 1.90 ERA ranks third in the National League, and after going the distance Saturday night, his innings pitched total rose to 61.2 which currently ranks second in the National League.
Kershaw’s K/9 rate is down a bit this year, however. In 2011, Kershaw struck out 247 batters which was good enough for a 9.57 K/9 rate, but in 61.2 innings pitched this year he has struck out 51 batters which is good enough for a 7.44 K/9 average, which is still fairly good considering how effective he has been. As the season progresses I wouldn’t be surprised to see that rate quietly approach 9.00 because batters are swinging and missing on his pitches 10.4 percent of the time, but it’s just not translating into strikeouts.
Gio Gonzalez and Clayton Kershaw share a few different aspects of pitching. First off, when they are dealing, they are unhittable. Both of these young left-handers have extrememly live arms with fastballs that jump on hitters, and they have off speed pitches to back the heaters. Gonzalez has been absolutely nasty this season, while Kershaw has been very efficient, but both of these guys have 230+ strikeout potential. Lastly, both of these fire-ballers go deep into games. Kershaw has this down a bit more than Gonzalez, but Gio has pitched at least six innings in all but two starts this year, an impressive line.
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