Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

We miss you; How Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez haul did in 2012


We miss you Tommy; Glad to see you're doing well. Photo AP/Ben Margot via

Nationals farm system observers certainly knew we gave up a ton of talent to acquire Gio Gonzalez back in late 2011.  Most of the pundits I read at the time thought the Nats overpaid for a high-walk guy who overly benefited from playing in the “pitcher friendly” Oakland Coliseum (I say that in quotes since the multi-year park factors for that stadium can be nearly neutral depending on which statistic and which time period you choose).  We know what we’ve gotten in Gonzalez so far; a gregarious, pro-team guy who pitched lights out in 2012, increasing his K/9 and decreasing his BB/9 from both last season and from his career norms and who led the majors in wins.  He struggled in the playoffs of course, but his 21 wins were a big reason we were in the playoffs in the first place.

How about our 4 former Nats?  How are they doing so far?  In rough order of impact:

1. Tommy Milone: 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.279 whip in 31 starts after winning Oakland’s #5 starter job out of camp.   His debut was a sterling 8-inning 3 hit gem, and his season was a series of sterling outings interrupted by blow-out starts.  Scouts routinely pegged him as a 4-A starter, with not enough stuff to last in the majors, but he got results for us last year and continued to get results this year.  He helped lead Oakland to an improbable AL West crown and was the team’s #2 starter in the playoffs.  For a guy that I thought was a 4-A starter, Oakland has to be happy to have him on their squad.

2. Brad Peacock: Oakland is keeping him as a starter for now, and he toiled the entire season in AAA in Sacramento.  However, Peacock took a significant step backwards in 2012, posting a 12-9 record with an astounding 6.01 ERA.  Even accounting for the known hitters parks in the Pacific Coast League, to go from a 3.19 ERA in Syracuse to nearly double that in Sacramento spells issues.   I still think he’s bound for a middle-relief role on account of his only really having two pitches, and on account of the amazing starter depth Oakland possesses in their system.  But, starter or reliever, Peacock has to pitch better in 2013.

3. Derek Norris returned to the hitting form that we all knew and loved a couple years back once he reached Oakland’s AAA squad.  He hit .271/.329/.477 in about a half season in Sacramento and was then called up.   His MLB numbers weren’t great (.201/.276/.349) but he’s young and the team traded away its 6 year starter in Kurt Suzuki (to the Nats as we all know; sending Oakland yet another catcher prospect in the process) so Norris could be getting his chance sooner than later.

4. AJ Cole, the “gem” of the trade completely melted in the High-A California league, with a 0-7 record and a 7.82 ERA in 8 starts.   He returned to form upon his return to low-A, going 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA in 19 starts in the Midwest league.  All is not lost; he’s only 20, and there’s no shame in a 20-yr old failing at his first shot at high-A (where you see a lot of college draftees in their second pro year).

One year later, how does this trade look for both teams?  My trade reaction post from December 2011 talked about how this trade would come down to how closely the four traded guys came to matching their “ceilings.”  One year later, I think its safe to say that Milone has surpassed his ceiling, Peacock is in danger of never even fulfilling his “floor,” Norris is somewhere in the middle and its just way too early to judge Cole.

Meanwhile Gonzalez has surpassed what anyone could have hoped for in his first season; I thought he was a #2 starter but he put in an “Ace” year.  He may not win the Cy Young but he’ll be in the top 3 in voting.  He’s clearly a great clubhouse guy, a skill that you cannot put a dollar figure on.

I think both teams probably do this deal again.  There were no “winners” and “losers” thus far; both teams got exactly what they wanted out of the trade.

Written by Todd Boss

October 15th, 2012 at 3:20 pm

3 Responses to 'We miss you; How Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez haul did in 2012'

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  1. Hey Todd, I thought writing about the minors was against your rules in 2012.
    This was a classic win-win for both teams, they both did a whole lot better than anyone thought they would and the trade was a major factor all around.
    I sure would like to get A.J. Cole back, maybe he didn’t take to Oakland’s coaching; it happens sometimes.
    Shocked by Peacock, never saw that coming.

    Mark L

    15 Oct 12 at 5:35 pm

  2. Despite how well Peacock pitched for us at the tail end of 2011, I’m convinced he’s topping out as a 7th inning guy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him being converted to a reliever in 2013. The real judge of this trade may very well end up being how well AJ Cole develops. A wise man once said “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.” While that’s rather cynical, we’ve all seen how fickle high school arms can be (The Nats have really struggled to develop them over the last 7 years). Norris may be a year or two away from productivity at the MLB level; even if Gio turns into a #5 starter and a starting catcher, that’s still good value for Oakland.

    Writing about minors; Not against my rules; just against my time constraints.

    Todd Boss

    15 Oct 12 at 10:44 pm

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