Southpaw Tom Gorzelanny is undoubtedly one of the most important arms for the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers. After two above average seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates at ages 23 and 24, Gorzelanny worked through several tough seasons before reemerging as a serviceable starter with the Chicago Cubs at age 27. Since that 2010 campaign, Gorzelanny evolved into a swingman for the Washington Nationals, and the Brewers signed the lefty to serve in their bullpen. However, with injuries throughout the starting rotation, as well as some ineffective stretches by organizational arms, Gorzelanny stepped into the starting role for the Brewers. In this regard, the lefty has served as one of the stabilizing forces of the rotation, until his last few starts. In three starts from August 16 to August 28, Gorzelanny allowed 16 runs in 13.7 innings, spurred in part by five homers and four walks.
|April 2 to July 4||40.7||11||38||19||5|
|July 7 to August 10||31||13||30||7||2|
|August 16 to August 28||13.7||16||15||5||4|
In the table above, I divided Gorzelanny’s season into three distinct stretches. While it is clear that he can be judged as a reliever, as well as a starter, it may be more instructive to focus on (1) his success as a reliever/swingman (with one start on June 8), (2) his first month as a regular starter (in which he was average or better for the Brewers), and (3) his last three starts. By focusing on these areas, we can see, first and foremost, that Gorzelanny improved his walk and home run rates during his first stretch as a starter, but those areas have lately changed course.
One of the interesting aspects of Gorzelanny’s season is his use of the slider. According to FanGraphs, three of Gorzelanny’s offerings are above average (in terms of runs prevented with the pitch) in 2013: a secondary fastball, his slider, and his change up. However, one reason to focus on his slider is that he selected the offering as his primary pitch in the early months of the season. One of the reasons this is interesting is because Ron Roenicke did not specifically use Gorzelanny as a lefty-specitalist; 25 of his relief appearances were at least one inning long, which means that he was not simply employed to retire one lefty batter and hit the showers. This means that Gorzelanny could not simply use a slider to sweep away from lefties, but also needed to use the pitch in situations where it would break in against righties.
As a reliever, Gorzelanny selected his slider nearly 33% of his offerings, compared to approximately 27% during his first month starting, and 28% in his last three starts. Earlier in the season, according to TexasLeaguers, Gorzelanny’s slider “rose” approximately 0.20″ (compared to a spinless pitch at the same speed). By contrast, his slider has dropped much more as a starter. More importantly, his “relief” slider broke in on righties much more than his starting sliders, which resulted in fewer strikes for the pitches (but more swings-and-misses, relative to the percentage of strikes thrown). One of the results of throwing the slider less frequently, of course, is that Gorzelanny focuses more on his fastballs as primary pitches. Not surprisingly, Gorzelanny’s “primary” fastball is his least valuable pitch (according to FanGraphs), but also his most frequent pitch selection over his last three starts.
Furthermore, Gorzelanny’s position on the mound has shifted as a starter, which results in release points that inch closer to right-handed batters. It stands to reason that if his slider is landing for more strikes, and is not breaking in on righties as much, batters have less pressure to make a decision on a pitch that might slice out of the strike zone. Similarly, one might question whether shifting his mound position or release point as a starter results in easier visibility for batters. As a starter, for instance, Gorzelanny’s percentage of batted balls in play has jumped to 67% from 61% as a reliever, which raises questions about the visibility of his release points, as well as the effectiveness of breaking pitches that sit around the zone. (Would higher visibility of release points result in more batted balls in play?).
Ultimately, Gorzelanny’s value to the Brewers is contingent on his ability to shift between pitching roles, roles that might have been unexpected when the season began. In this regard, it is unquestionable whether Gorzelanny has been an asset to the club; if Gorzelanny doesn’t stabilize the rotation through injuries and ineffectiveness, it is unclear who the Brewers would have called on to fill the rotation. However, Gorzelanny also has his work cut out for him to close the season, should he continue to have an opportunity to showcase his ability to start in the big leagues. One might argue that Gorzelanny’s key areas to watch for the close of the season are his slider selections, as well as his release point. Adjusting those areas of his approach could help Gorzelanny to regain his effectiveness, and kickstart a competitive stretch run by the Brewers.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2013.
GIF constructed with TexasLeaguers images, Trip Somers, 2009-2013.
Gorzelanny (AP): http://www.timesunion.com/sports/article/Gorzelanny-struggles-Brewers-fall-to-Pirates-7-1-4769978.php