Cubs @ Dodgers July 7, 2022: Gonsolin, the BABIP King, looks to help All-Star starter case

Just as the case was yesterday, the Dodgers enter Thursday’s series opener against the Cubs with a massive advantage in the pitching match-up.

Tony Gonsolin, one of the best pitchers in baseball this season (much more on that below), faces Mark Leiter Jr. Winners of three straight thanks to the sweep of the Rockies, and 7 of 8 with the only loss Craig Kimbrel‘s unfortunate 9th inning against the Padres, the Dodgers now hold a 6-game lead in the division. These four games in Los Angeles will close out the season series with the very, very bad Cubs who sit at 34-48 and 13th in the National League. Back in early May, the Dodgers swept a three-game series in Chicago while outscoring the Cubs 20-3 thanks to 7-0, 6-2 and 7-1 victories.

Of course, Allan said basically the same about the pitching yesterday with tonight’s starter in a similar situation to Jose Urena was last night.

Image Image
7:10 PM Los Angeles
DH Ortega (L) RF Betts
SS Hoerner SS T. Turner
LF Happ (S) 1B Freeman (L)
RF Suzuki C Smith
3B Wisdom 3B Muncy (L)
1B Rivas (L) DH J. Turner
C Gomes CF Bellinger (L)
CF Morel LF Thompson (R)
2B Simmons 2B Lux (L)
P Leiter Jr. (R) P Gonsolin (R)

Trayce Thompson gets the start against the right-handed Leiter Jr. while Jake Lamb is on the bench. As Eric Stephen pointed out yesterday, that’s actually a slight switch from their approach with the two so far.

Thompson, slashing .306/.359/.556/.915 in his 39 PAs for the Dodgers so far, is in left field for the third time. Lamb, at .231/.375/.462/.837 in 16 PAs, has started two games in left and three at DH since coming up. While it’s a limited sample, Leiter Jr. actually has had more success against lefties this season (a .574 OPS to a .782) and it’s pretty similar for his 143 career innings (.770 to lefties and .830 for righties).

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Now that we’re exactly halfway through the season at 81 games, and he’s somewhat in the conversation to start the All-Star Game in Dodger Stadium despite Jeff Passan’s argument to the contrary on Twitter, I figured we would take a look at Gonsolin’s fascinating season.

(Just to preface all of this, these numbers are as of yesterday because I had the time to dig into them yesterday afternoon so the rankings may be slightly different following Wednesday’s games.)

While his 81 2/3 innings this season were just 62nd in baseball going into yesterday’s games, Gonsolin’s splitter and slider rank as two of the most effective pitches this season while also putting up a historic BABIP that has moved him to the top of the list in baseball history.

Looking at pitchers with at least 224 career innings pitched, no one since 1871 has a lower career BABIP allowed than Gonsolin’s .219. That’s credited quite a bit to his .186 BABIP this season. That tops the league by a considerable margin, with Justin Verlander in second at .212 this season.

Verlander actually became a helpful piece of this research, as his 2019 season which finished at .218 was the basis for this story that saved me quite a bit of time. As it mentions, the lowest BABIP in a single season was Ed Reulbach’s .196 back in 1906 for the Cubs. After that, it’s the all-time record of .155 set in 1884 by another Ed, Ed Cushman which happened in four games and 36 innings.

All of that is to say, as everyone probably assumed, Gonsolin is at a pace you’d assume is unsustainable and due for regression. You can figure that’s one reason why his league-leading ERA of 1.54 is well ahead of his xERA (2.81), FIP (3.30), xFIP (3.77), SIERA (3.69), etc.

To further the point, Gonsolin’s 91.4 LOB% which also leads the league handily over the Yankees’ Nestor Cortes at 87.1%, would also set a single-season record as you can see below.

Circling back to his splitter and slider, Gonsolin has possibly the best 1-2 combo of pitches in baseball this season. 

PitchBAxBASLGxSLGwOBAxwOBA
Splitter.093.177.150.237.109.183
Slider.110.186.164.316.172.257

The splitter’s wOBA is the best of any pitcher throwing any pitch this season, with Shane McClanahan’s change-up second at .126. Additionally, the splitter’s .093 BA is tied for second in baseball, its .150 SLG is seventh and the .183 xwOBA is 11th. While his slider doesn’t quite break into the top 10 of multiple categories, its .164 SLG is tied for 10th among all pitches.

All those numbers lead to Gonsolin being the only pitcher in baseball with two pitches inside the top 20 in run value, and the only pitcher to have two pitches inside the top 15 in baseball for RV/100 (on pitches with at least 50 PAs).

For the season, Gonsolin’s splitter enters Thursday night tied for fourth in baseball at -15 with the slider tied for 20th at -9. In RV/100, the splitter is -4.2 that is the best in the league with the slider’s -3.1 tied for 14th. The only others that come close in either category are McClanahan (change T-20th, curve T-31st) in run value overall, Max Fried (sinker 12th, slider T-27th) in RV/100 and Kyle Wright (change 9th, sinker T-40th) in RV/100.

All of that, I guess, is to say Gonsolin’s season may look unsustainable and due for regression, but I do wonder at what point we just accept he’s going to run a lower BABIP than you’d expect and there’s always going to be a stark contrast in his ERA to every other measurement.

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On the other side, it’s a bit of a different story. The Cubs send Mark Leiter Jr. out for the start, his fourth of the season and 12 appearance in the majors this season. It’s been a journey over the past few years for the 31-year-old right-hander, who missed all of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery and was released by the D-backs in May 2020. Obviously that came during the pandemic season, with Leiter Jr.’s move over to independent ball leading to a canceled season. Spending the 2021 season in Double-A and Triple-A for the Tigers, Leiter Jr. struck out 145 batters in 114 2.3 innings for Erie and Toledo. Signed to a minor-league deal with the Cubs back in December, he moved back to the majors for the first time since 2018 on April 16.

Starting three games in April, Leiter Jr.’s return was spoiled immediately as the Rockies put up 7 runs against him in 3 1/3 innings in that first start. Spending some time in the bullpen and at Triple-A Iowa, he entered the game for an injured Alec Mills on July 2nd against the Red Sox for 5 1/3 innings and allowed just 1 run on 3 hits and 1 walk while striking out 5. Now taking over Mills’ rotation spot, it’ll be the first time he faces the Dodgers since 2017 when he pitched for the Phillies.

With all that said, there’s little to go off with Leiter Jr., who has thrown six different pitches this season according to Baseball Savant. Of the six, five have been thrown at least 13.6% of the time with the sixth, a slider, only used against right-handed batters. His 11 appearances this season consist of 29 2/3 innings, which already tops his 23 1/3 with Philadelphia and Toronto in 2018. Going all the way back to 2017 and his 90 2/3 innings included a 4.96 ERA with 18 home runs allowed.

Of his 31 strikeouts this season, 22 have come on a change-up that’s at a .030 BA/.078 xBA/.030 SLG/.100 xSLG/.099 wOBA/.144 xwOBA this season. Throwing the change 15.7% of the time, he uses it 56.5% of the time at 0-2 and 56.1% of the time at 1-2. That follows the small sample of his major-league career, with the numbers at 69.2% in 2018 and 55.8% in 2017 at 0-2, and 66.7% in 2018 and 47.5% in 2017 at 1-2.

That seems fitting given it’s 52.4 Whiff% this season.

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If you’re headed to the Futures Game at Dodger Stadium on July 16, you’ll see Miguel Vargas (that is, if no one else gets hurt), Diego Cartaya and Bobby Miller.

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Also an update from some news yesterday:

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First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. on SportsNet LA.

About Cody Bashore

Cody Bashore is a lifelong Dodger fan originally from Carpinteria, California (about 80 miles north of Dodger Stadium along the coast). He left California to attend Northern Arizona University in 2011, and has lived in Arizona full-time since he graduated in 2014 with a journalism degree. He now works for the university’s athletics department after spending seven years with the local newspaper.