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Is It Legit? Marco Gonzales' Breakout

We're back with another edition of "Is It Legit?" to discuss another surprising breakout performer from the 2018 MLB season in order to assess his value heading into 2019.

With so many players seemingly becoming fantasy baseball darlings overnight, it can be challenging to sift through the multiple hype trains and determine which players are actually expected to produce similar, or even better, numbers the following year.

Mariners left-hander Marco Gonzales posted a 4.00 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 2018, his first full season as a big league starter. He got off to a blistering start, with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in the first half. He fell off quite a bit in the second half, however, posting a 5.23 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP. This time around, will fantasy owners get the Marco of the first half, or should they be wary of his second-half collapse?

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Can Gonzales Repeat in 2019?

To answer the question in short form: yes. In fact, it's possible Marco will be even better in 2019, as evidenced by his 3.43 FIP, 3.59 xFIP and 3.81 SIERA - all which are better than his 4.00 ERA.

A first-round pick way back in 2013, a series of injuries limited Gonzales to just 77.1 big league innings between 2014-2017. In that time, Gonzales pitched to a 5.47 ERA (5.03 FIP) with a 7.4 K/9 and a 1.69 WHIP. There's a good reason he was ignored heading into fantasy drafts last season, even though he had a rotation spot locked down in Seattle.

However, Gonzales responded by jumping out to a really hot start, posting a 3.41 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP, a 7.78 K/9 and a very tidy 1.75 BB/9 through his first 113 1/3 innings. His numbers were supported by a 3.29 FIP and a 3.51 xFIP, along with pretty stable .310 BABIP and 74.8% LOB rate.

Even those his second-half numbers fell apart (5.23 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) his underlying numbers don't look nearly as bad. His second-half FIP was 3.72, with a 3.75 xFIP. In fact, his K and BB ratios actually improved slightly, with a 7.93 K/9 and a 1.69 BB/9. His BABIP jumped up to .337 and his LOB rate dropped to 66.5%, which heavily contributed to his elevated second half numbers.

So, we are looking at a pitcher who threw 166.2 innings of 4.00 ball that could easily have been 3.43 ball - according to his FIP. His strikeout numbers will probably never be elite, thanks to a fastball that barely scrapes 90. However, there's no reason he can't maintain a K/9 ratio just under 8, which over a 180 inning season would still give fantasy owners roughly 150 strikeouts.


A New Repertoire

Looking deeper, Gonzales was able to supplement his already excellent changeup (ranked one of the best in the bigs) with a rapidly improving curveball and a new cutter - which produced a .274 xwOBA, the lowest of any of his pitches.

Gonzales now has three plus pitches; a cutter a curveball and an elite changeup, which makes him a weapon against both left and right-handers. His slippage in the second half is due primarily to bad luck, although fatigue no doubt set in as well with his velocity dropping roughly one mile per hour on each of his pitches as the season wore on. A full season under his belt and a healthy offseason should eliminate those fatigue issues heading into 2019.

That, coupled with his newfound confidence in his curve and a new cutter, make Marco a borderline top-75 starter next season, and one you should consider near the end of all 12-team leagues.

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