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Article: Solving Stephen Gonsalves

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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 07 January 2019 - 09:15 PM

When I posted my series ranking the Top 20 Minnesota Twins assets over the past couple of weeks, there were plenty of quibbles and disagreements expressed, serving to me as a good gauge of how TD's community at large is feeling about various players.

One asset that many people seem to be down on is Stephen Gonsalves, which isn't too surprising. But to me, he seems like a player worthy of a closer look.In his final three appearances for the Twins in 2018 – all coming in relief of an "opener" – Gonsalves threw 12 1/3 innings, faced 50 batters, and allowed four hits. All singles. That's a .098 batting average and a .098 slugging percentage. While it was a small sample, and more than offset by the .414 AVG and .621 SLG he allowed in his first four starts, this unhittable stretch was still noteworthy.

It's noteworthy because it mirrors the formula that brought Gonsalves immense success at every level of the minors. The left-hander has a fairly rare strength working in his favor, and it was on display during an otherwise rough MLB debut: He is very, very hard to square up. And while other aspects of his game may need a lot of work, that's not a bad foundation.

***

It's important to keep this in mind: Gonsalves has lots of development ahead of him yet. What we saw in 2018 was (hopefully) not the finished product. He's still only 24 and has two options remaining, so through next year, the Twins can shuttle him to Triple-A as needed to work with Rochester pitching coach Stu Cliburn on the flaws that are holding back his game.

In many ways, Gonsalves is the prototype for a pitcher who takes extra time to reach his potential – tall, long and gangly, with inconsistent mechanics that require extensive refinement. I'm not saying that means he will reach his potential, only that he has those makings.

Control has been an issue for Gonsalves all along, and his wildness came to roost in Minnesota, where he issued 22 walks in 24 2/3 innings of work. In Triple-A his 13.4% BB-rate was the highest out of 35 pitchers to throw 100+ innings. When Gonsalves is outside of the zone, he doesn't really get people to chase, and when he's in the zone he doesn't really get people to miss.

Gonsalves allows quite a bit of contact. But he doesn't allow much loud contact. In 23 outings between Double-A and Triple-A before his call-up in 2018, he held opponents to a .184 average and .283 slugging percentage. He had a six-start stretch from June to July in Rochester where he didn't allow a single extra-base hit. Despite being a heavy fly ball pitcher, he has the same minuscule HR/9 rate in the minors as ground ball specialist extraordinaire Kohl Stewart.

Even though he got knocked around in his first exposure to the majors, yielding a 6.57 ERA and 2.03 WHIP in seven total appearances, Gonsalves allowed just two homers and seven total XBHs while facing 122 total batters. His track record tells us there's nothing fluky about that.

***

At present, the Twins have an open vacancy in their rotation behind Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. There are a number of candidates to fill it, and Gonsalves isn't at the front of the line. He's not as good as Fernando Romero and he doesn't have Adalberto Mejia's out-of-options impetus. So, barring injuries, I'd say Gonsalves' chances of winning a job out of camp are very low, even if the Twins don't sign another starter.

But that's just fine. The Twins' mission for the next two seasons – between Wes Johnson, Jeremy Hefner, Cliburn, Mike McCarthy, and the rest of the pitching braintrust – is to iron out the kinks in Gonsalves' game and turning him into a quality option for the back half of the rotation.

The southpaw's weaknesses are evident, but don't sleep on the strengths that carried him to a 2.46 ERA and 6.4 H/9 rate in 600 minor-league innings – as well as a stunningly strong finish in his first big-league season.

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#2 D.C Twins

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Posted 07 January 2019 - 09:53 PM

"Control has been an issue for Gonsalves all along, and his wildness came to roost in Minnesota, where he issued 22 walks in 24 2/3 innings of work. In Triple-A his 13.4% BB-rate was the highest out of 35 pitchers to throw 100+ innings. When Gonsalves is outside of the zone, he doesn't really get people to chase, and when he's in the zone he doesn't really get people to miss." 

 

This. All of This. More of This. And, uh....This.

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#3 DocBauer

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Posted 07 January 2019 - 10:45 PM

I remain very high on Gonsalves for all the reasons stated in the OP. His BB jumped in 2018 to be sure. But if I may quote directly from the 2019 Handbook: "He pitched masterfully in his first two starts for the Red Wings and only gave up two walks. Over his next nine starts, however, he battled command issues and walked 36 batters over a 38-inning stretch. As soon as the calendar flipped to July, Gonsalves appeared to regain his feel. Over his final eight starts for Rochester, he had a 1.50 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and only walked 17 batters over 48 innings."

An uneven season, to be sure. But one in which he did what he has always done, which is make adjustments and "pitch". He's never been a thrower with a wipe-out slider or mid 90's FB. Primary starter or not, he did the same thing to end his 2018 season with the Twins, though in SSS.

While I believe Thorpe has better pure stuff, I think Gonsalves will be fine as a back end SP with a ceiling of a quality #3. But I agree I think he begins 2019 at Rochester.
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#4 theBOMisthebomb

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 03:46 AM

This is a small glimmer of hope. His 2018 season reminds me of Berrios' first go in the majors - you can see the potential yet just not sure if it will come to fruition.
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#5 travkro

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 07:48 AM

Gonsalves' numbers in the minors were impressive except for the BB/9, and I was very optimistic when he was called up to the Twins.

And then I watched him pitch.

I was disappointed that he topped out at like 90/91 mph, and then you combine that with less than average control and you get the makings of aSouthpaws can get away with a little less than right-handers, but if you only throw 90 then you have to be able to hit your spots consistently and Stephen does not. I hope, O I hope he can find a way to control his stuff but I believe Mejia has the better chance to be a fixture in the rotation.

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#6 ChrisKnutson

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 08:04 AM

Sorry if this sounds negative, but I believe the best way to “solve” Gonsalves is to trade him at the deadline for a front of the rotation starter, because there’s no way the FO is giving up on Romero (yet), Graterol, or Thorpe; making Gonsalves one of our best trade pieces.

#7 jkcarew

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 08:22 AM

Gonsalves strong finish last year (12+ innings) came against KC and Det...both of whom were deploying what amounted to AAAA (to be kind) lineups. And one of the reasons he didn't give up many hits over those innings is that the batters didn't have much incentive to put a ball in play. He walked 9 over those 12 innings.

 

IMO, in 2018 he looked more afraid to throw the ball over the plate than incapable of doing so. That can change. I agree the Twins are in a position to be patient with him in 2019 and that's a good thing.

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#8 Dantes929

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 08:43 AM

His strikeouts per nine in the minors is very good so he must be missing some bats. His walks per nine more than doubled in the majors. Major league hitters are better but I don't think they are 8BB/9 better.Guessing most of it is jitters and not trusting his stuff.Most of it.He absolutely needs to get better command even when comfortable.Not down on him at all but was hoping for a better debut. 

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#9 nasu1970

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 09:02 AM

Reading this article made me think about the lost causes that were Adam Johnson and J.D. Durbin.Terrible debuts (although less-than-Gonsalves MiLB careers to stand on) followed by no career .... Ironically, the Twins passed on Rocco Baldelli to take Adam Johnson.  


#10 Tom Froemming

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 09:18 AM

Great stuff here Nick. I think Gonsalves might be the guy who has the most to gain in working with a tech-savvy pitching instructor like Wes Johnson. It seems possible a mechanical adjustment or work on better pitch tunneling could go a long way for a pitcher like Stephen.

 

As far has his velocity goes, most Twins fans would have been happy if they signed Patrick Corbin or went out and got Dallas Keuchel. In terms of average perceived velocity on their four-seam fastballs, Gonsalves (90.76 mph) actually ranks ahead of both Corbin (90.69) and Keuchel (89.46). So it's not like his lack of elite velocity disqualifies him from potentially becoming a very good MLB pitcher.

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#11 JLease

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 09:27 AM

One of the questions I have about Gonsalves is what exactly are his command & control issues? Is it his mechanics getting out of whack and struggling to repeat his delivery? is it not trusting his stuff and trying to get too fine on hitting the corners?

 

Frankly, the first is more concerning than the second, but I don't really know what his specific issue is. but he's definitely still got one. there's talent there, but he's got to get the free passes down and be able to chew through innings, otherwise he's a AAAA guy. Still time to find out, but right now Kohl Stewart might have jumped ahead of him as a guy people make weak contact against for the back end of the rotation.


#12 howieramone2

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 09:34 AM

 

Reading this article made me think about the lost causes that were Adam Johnson and J.D. Durbin.Terrible debuts (although less-than-Gonsalves MiLB careers to stand on) followed by no career .... Ironically, the Twins passed on Rocco Baldelli to take Adam Johnson.  

As I recall, that was a Carl Pohlad mandate.

25% of the time you can beat anybody. 25% of the time you can't beat nobody. It's the other 50% of the time that defines you as a pitcher.


#13 markos

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 09:35 AM

 

Gonsalves strong finish last year (12+ innings) came against KC and Det...both of whom were deploying what amounted to AAAA (to be kind) lineups. And one of the reasons he didn't give up many hits over those innings is that the batters didn't have much incentive to put a ball in play. He walked 9 over those 12 innings.

 

IMO, in 2018 he looked more afraid to throw the ball over the plate than incapable of doing so. That can change. I agree the Twins are in a position to be patient with him in 2019 and that's a good thing.

And even when the opposing players made contact, they had a .129 BABIP. Now, pitchers can control the quality of contact a little bit. That that is just ridiculous good luck.


#14 Nick Nelson

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 09:50 AM

 

And even when the opposing players made contact, they had a .129 BABIP. Now, pitchers can control the quality of contact a little bit. That that is just ridiculous good luck.

No one thinks a .098 BAA or 1.46 ERA are sustainable for Gonsalves. The point is that there are underlying elements of his performance during that stretch that seem legit. He doesn't get hit hard and that tends to limit the damage on balls in play.

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#15 Nick Nelson

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 09:52 AM

 

One of the questions I have about Gonsalves is what exactly are his command & control issues? Is it his mechanics getting out of whack and struggling to repeat his delivery? is it not trusting his stuff and trying to get too fine on hitting the corners?

Given that he also had control issues in the minors, where he had zero reason not to trust his stuff, I'm guessing it's mostly the former. As mentioned in the article, that's not all that rare or surprising for a pitcher in his mold. But even marginal improvements in control might make a big difference for Gonsalves. 

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#16 RatherBeGolfing

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 10:02 AM

 

This is a small glimmer of hope. His 2018 season reminds me of Berrios' first go in the majors - you can see the potential yet just not sure if it will come to fruition.

 

But without the Berrios upside.


#17 Parker Hageman

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 10:48 AM

As far has his velocity goes, most Twins fans would have been happy if they signed Patrick Corbin or went out and got Dallas Keuchel. In terms of average perceived velocity on their four-seam fastballs, Gonsalves (90.76 mph) actually ranks ahead of both Corbin (90.69) and Keuchel (89.46). So it's not like his lack of elite velocity disqualifies him from potentially becoming a very good MLB pitcher.

 

 

Just to be clear, the game is littered with pitchers who fall within this range. Corbin and Keuchel are outliers. It doesn't mean that Gonsalves can't follow suit, it just means that the odds are steeper. 

 

There are two things that seem to be the separator between Gonsalves and Corbin/Keuchel. The first is fastball location. As you can see, both Keuchel and Corbin work lower in the zone with two-seamers. Gonsalves has used just a four-seamer and locates it up and over the plate. 

 

The difference between a left-handed fastball down (9-spot) and a fastball middle-away (6-spot, where Gonsalves locates) to right handed hitter is notable. The exit velocity on the lower spot is 90.3 MPH in 2018. It was 93.5 MPH in the 6-spot.  

 

FB locations.png

 

The second issue is how the pitchers pair their pitches (alliteration, ftw). Wes Johnson talked about how he starts with a pitcher's secondary stuff and crafts the fastball off of that. Pitchers with sliders should tend to throw two-seamers while pitchers with curveballs should pair it with four-seamers. Obviously breaking balls can be liquid (a slider might acts as a curveball and vice versa) so spin direction matters. Gonsalves has thrown what is classified as a slider more often than his curveball. In that regard, it is possible that he would be better served throwing a two-seamer or, maybe easier, throwing his curveball more often than his slider, which would play the four-seamer up more.  

 

Both Corbin and Keuchel throw both types of fastballs and have curveballs (or a cutter in Keuchel's case) to go with their sliders but both are predominately sinker/slider types. 

 

It will be interesting to see if Gonsalves tweaks his arsenal this year. 

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#18 Mr. Brooks

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 11:06 AM

Sorry if this sounds negative, but I believe the best way to “solve” Gonsalves is to trade him at the deadline for a front of the rotation starter, because there’s no way the FO is giving up on Romero (yet), Graterol, or Thorpe; making Gonsalves one of our best trade pieces.


Nobody is trading a front of the rotation starter for Gonsalves.
You might be able to get two months of someone like Eduardo Escobar or Eduardo Nunez.
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#19 SF Twins Fan

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 01:34 PM

 

Just to be clear, the game is littered with pitchers who fall within this range. Corbin and Keuchel are outliers. It doesn't mean that Gonsalves can't follow suit, it just means that the odds are steeper. 

 

There are two things that seem to be the separator between Gonsalves and Corbin/Keuchel. The first is fastball location. As you can see, both Keuchel and Corbin work lower in the zone with two-seamers. Gonsalves has used just a four-seamer and locates it up and over the plate. 

 

The difference between a left-handed fastball down (9-spot) and a fastball middle-away (6-spot, where Gonsalves locates) to right handed hitter is notable. The exit velocity on the lower spot is 90.3 MPH in 2018. It was 93.5 MPH in the 6-spot.  

 

attachicon.gifFB locations.png

 

The second issue is how the pitchers pair their pitches (alliteration, ftw). Wes Johnson talked about how he starts with a pitcher's secondary stuff and crafts the fastball off of that. Pitchers with sliders should tend to throw two-seamers while pitchers with curveballs should pair it with four-seamers. Obviously breaking balls can be liquid (a slider might acts as a curveball and vice versa) so spin direction matters. Gonsalves has thrown what is classified as a slider more often than his curveball. In that regard, it is possible that he would be better served throwing a two-seamer or, maybe easier, throwing his curveball more often than his slider, which would play the four-seamer up more.  

 

Both Corbin and Keuchel throw both types of fastballs and have curveballs (or a cutter in Keuchel's case) to go with their sliders but both are predominately sinker/slider types. 

 

It will be interesting to see if Gonsalves tweaks his arsenal this year. 

 

 

Thank you for sharing this information as it's very informative!


#20 ChrisKnutson

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Posted 08 January 2019 - 01:50 PM

Nobody is trading a front of the rotation starter for Gonsalves.
You might be able to get two months of someone like Eduardo Escobar or Eduardo Nunez.

Obviously it’d take more than Gonsalves to acquire a frontline starter, but the article is about him (which is why I only mentioned him). Realistically, a “frontline starter” like Ray, MadBum, Teheran, Stroman, and Fulmer would probably require a package of Gonsalves, Arraez, Raley, and Wells.

Edited by ChrisKnutson, 08 January 2019 - 01:54 PM.




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