When it comes to pitching, the Orioles and White Sox stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. Baltimore has a pretty messy history with their prospects on the mound. A combination of injury and general awfulness, exacerbated by seemingly every coach and executive to come through the organization, has tanked the squad's arms. As the director of pitching development, Rick Peterson was supposed to turn things around, but to this point he's fallen short.
Chicago, by contrast, employs one of the best pitching coaches in the majors in Don Cooper. He's worked his magic on countless hurlers during his tenure with the club, and the results speak for themselves: Since 2003, Cooper's first full season in the role, the team has the second-best ERA- and the best FIP- in the American League. Compared to the ineptitude of the Orioles — who rank last and next-to-last, respectively, in those regards — the White Sox have excelled.
Enter Miguel Gonzalez. At one time an intriguing young pitcher in the Angels system, he looked like a washout after the Red Sox cut him in 2011. That offseason, the Orioles picked him up, and he rewarded them — at first. During the 2012 and 2013 campaigns, he accumulated 276.2 innings of 94-DRA-, 102-cFIP ball. Once his 30th birthday rolled around, though, his ability dissolved: He stumbled his way to a 110 DRA- and 117 cFIP over 303.2 innings in 2014 and 2015. Following an equally unsatisfying spring training, Gonzalez found himself adrift on the waiver wire.
Looking for a back-end starter to fill out their rotation, the White Sox decided to take a flyer on Gonzalez. He quickly got a shot when Erik Johnson and Mat Latos flopped, and so far, he's prospered. Across 75.2 frames, he's tallied a 96 DRA- and 96 cFIP. Since semi-new acquisition James Shields has fared even worse in the Cell than he did in Petco (shocking, I know), Chicago sorely needs a stabilizing presence in its rotation, which Gonzalez has delivered.
As a member of the White Sox, Gonzalez has tweaked a couple of minor things. He's relied on his splitter more often, increasing its presence to 20.7 percent of his pitches. Simultaneously, he's moved away from his slider, which has accounted for just 3.9 percent of his pitches this season. The splitter has always fooled hitters, to a greater extent than anything else in his repertoire; despite its recent improvements, the slider just can't stack up to that.
The return of his velocity has aided Gonzalez as well. When the Orioles cut ties with the righty in March, Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs observed that his spring training velocity fell far short of his career standards. Four months later, that looks like a mirage — Gonzalez has thrown as hard as ever. He certainly values his velocity, telling the Chicago Sun-Times's Daryl Van Schouwen that it "makes a big difference, especially for a pitcher like me."
But the biggest change may have come with Gonzalez's hard pitch mix. The new offering he's incorporated shouldn't surprise fans of the Orioles or the White Sox:
If the Orioles have a messy history with pitchers, they have a downright awful one with the cut fastball. Peterson, along with G.M. Dan Duquette, is a sworn enemy of the pitch. The two of them have tried to stamp it out from their system, particularly among younger pitchers. "The more you throw that cutter, you can become dependent on it and you start to overuse it," Peterson explained in 2012. "It takes away [from] the development of the fastball and it becomes a crutch."
In addition to lacking much basis in reality, Peterson's cutter aversion also sank one of the most talented pitchers to ever come through Baltimore. BtBS's Randy Holt noted in 2014 that, after going to the Cubs, Jake Arrieta started throwing his cutter a lot more often. That pitch — a slider-cutter hybrid, or "slutter" — eventually became one of the most powerful weapons in baseball. While Gonzalez clearly isn't Arrieta, his cut fastball has done pretty well for itself thus far:
Averages are out of pitchers with at least 50 cutters thrown in 2016 and are weighted.
And unlike Peterson, Cooper has long loved the cutter. Esteban Loaiza, John Danks, and countless others have benefited from Cooper's teachings. The cutter isn't a one-size-fits-all fix — just ask Jeff Samardzija, who upped his usage of the pitch last year and subsequently melted down. For the most part, however, it's worked out, as illustrated by the aforementioned success of the White Sox staff under Cooper.
Through 14 games, Gonzalez looks like another success story for Chicago. The cutter, together with his splitter and overall velocity, has pumped up his strikeout rate to a career-best 17.7 percent, while keeping his walks in check at 8.9 percent and depressing his home run rate to 2.2 percent. Even though his BABIP has risen for the third straight year, Gonzalez has still regained the sheen that he lost as his time in Baltimore wound down.
In a few hours, Gonzalez will take the hill against the Mariners, hoping to turn around his team's recent skid. Meanwhile, the Orioles will continue to run out Dylan Bundy, Yovani Gallardo, and Lord knows who else, hoping one of them can replicate what the club lost in Gonzalez. His case encapsulates the difference between the two organizations, and the men who have led their pitchers in recent years.
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All statistics as of Wednesday, July 20th.