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Exit Interview: Marco Gonzales

We’re not moving you to the basement but we may take your red stapler, depending

Seattle Mariners v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Marco, come on in, take a seat. Thanks for agreeing to sit down for this exit interview. I mean, that would have been a bold move, not showing up. I’m your boss. You had quite the 2019, really. You were tasked with a tall order: take the ball on Opening Day as the first non-Felix-Hernandez pitcher to do that since 2008. How did it go? Pretty bad! The Mariners were really bad. Did you know this? Probably.

Your season was confusing: your ERA was OK (3.99, good for 37th out of 58 qualified starters) and your FIP ranked better (4.15 was good for 30th!) but your xFIP was… disastrous (5.11 was barely better than Sandy Alcantara and Rick Porcello). Not only that, Baseball Prospectus’ WARP hated you. Well, more accurately, it didn’t notice you at all: an unremarkable 0.0 WARP was a calamitous decline from 2018’s 3.3 WARP, even as your ERA declined by exactly 0.01. The great news for you is, thanks to your homer-killing arsenal in a juiced ball era, you threw so many innings that you put up a perfectly cromulent 3.7 fWAR, leading the Mariners. Let me just stuff your DRA in a locker real quick and we’ll move on.

That outlines the question, Marco Gonzales: who are you as a pitcher? You’re certainly one of the clubhouse leaders, and the favored son of a Front Office that loves guys who buy in. Are you the guy who found ways to get guys out time after time despite low strikeout numbers with an arsenal that hardly ever allowed hard contact in the air? The clubhouse leader who was able to turn an incredibly widely panned trade into a huge developmental win for the Mariners, who bet big on you to make pitching tweaks and recover fully from Tommy John and won that bet?

Or are you a ticking time bomb of declining velocity and luck who will see all of 2018 and 19’s gains evaporate in a regression-shaped cloud? If WARP is right, you’re living on borrowed time, and the Seattle Mariners very much cannot afford to live on borrowed time in the next two years, let alone after that. Never a fireballer, you were at least consistently over 90 mph even after Tommy John, but at this point you’re basically living in what we here in Seattle like to call the Hisashi Iwakuma danger zone. We can’t afford to have you slip at all with command or pitch movement, quite frankly.

Marco, you were basically everything a rebuilding club could have asked for from a young starter this year, results-wise (and off the field). It was comforting—though I admit, maybe not the most exciting--to know you’d be taking the ball every fifth day, keeping teams to 4 or fewer runs in 29 of your 34 starts, and 2 or fewer in 20 of them. That was great work. Going forward, we completely believe in your ability to get outs next year and beyond, even if we can’t totally tell how it’s working, exactly. We’ll even give you more rotational support. You did yeoman’s work as the top of the rotation, but we’re going to fit some guys in above you in there, we hope. We very desperately hope. Thanks for everything you did. See you in the spring. Good luck with the bagel peddling.