Friday, February 27, 2009

Which Gorzo Will Show In 2009?

Hey, we saw that Tom Gorzelanny started today's Grapefruit League loss to the Braves. He's not to blame, though - he worked a pair of frames, getting out the first hitters 1-2-3 on seven pitches, and then struggling a bit through the second inning with a couple of walks to start things off, on eight straight pitches. But he escaped unscathed when he coaxed a DP ball from the next batter.

So it was a promising start - no hits, and all six outs were recorded thanks to ground balls. But those walks...

Gorzelanny, an Illinois native from suburban Chicago, was drafted in the 38th round of the 2000 draft by the White Sox as a high-schooler, but didn't sign with the local nine. Instead, he opted to pad his resume with some college ball.

He spent two years at the University of Kansas and a third season at Triton JC, where he was 7-2 with a 2.47 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 66 innings. His reward? Gorzo was selected by the Pirates in the second round of the 2003 draft. He was the 45th overall pick, and signed for $775,000. Pretty good decision to wait it out, hey?

The Bucs assigned him to the short-season Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League, where the club took the title. He went 1-2 with a 1.78 ERA and was named the 10th-best prospect in the league by Baseball America.

Gorzelanny moved up to A ball in 2004, and was 7-2 with a 2.23 ERA for the Hickory Crawdads, striking out 106 batters in 93 innings and allowing just a .193 opposing average.

He once again was on a championship team and would have been second in the league in ERA but ended up 19 innings short of qualifying when he was promoted to the High Class A Lynchburg Hillcats later during the season.

There, Gorzo put up a 3-5 record, with a 4.85 ERA, and 61 K in 55-2/3 innings. He was named the 13th-best prospect in the South Atlantic League and the 11th-best in the Carolina League by BA. He was on the fast track.

In 2005, Gorzelanny spent the season with the Class AA Altoona Curve and had a 8-5, 3.26 campaign, striking out 124 in 129-2/3 innings, and finishing ninth in the Eastern League in ERA. Called up for a September cup of coffee with Pittsburgh, he allowed eight runs in six innings. Well, you gotta start sometime.

He began 2006 with Class AAA Indianapolis Indians and went 6-5 with a 2.35 ERA, giving up 67 hits in 99-2/3 innings and league leading 94 strikeouts before he got his call to the show.

Actually, Gorzelanny was selected to play for the US team in the 2006 Futures Game, but the Bucs decided his time was now. Gorzelanny had his Pirate year cut short when he was sidelined from mid-August until mid-September with elbow tendinitis. During his time in the rotation, he was 2-5 with a 3.79 ERA.

The only cloud on the horizon was that he walked 31 in 62-1/3 innings, and struck out 40. A punch out guy in the minors, it looked like he'd have to finesse his way around the major league hitters.

Still, he was named Pittsburgh's Minor League Pitcher of the Year and Baseball America rated him the #4 prospect in the International League. He had the best K/9 ratio among all IL starters that year.

Gorzelanny was considered the next big thing for the 2007 Pirate staff, but he sure didn't show it in camp. He was rocked for four runs in his first inning in Grapefruit League play with a worrisome drop in speed.

He walked 14 batters in 20 innings, yet still made the team over Shane Youman and Sean Burnett, who had pitched much better in camp. His Grapefruit League ERA was 7.96. But not to worry; it just goes to show what camp's worth.

Gorzelanny started off his campaign 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA, picking up 3 of Pittsburgh's first 7 victories. On May 14, he singled to left for his first MLB hit in his 37th career at-bat.

It earned him a summer of free golf as he won a bet with Adam LaRoche: if Gorzelanny hadn't gotten a hit by the end of May, he would have had to buy LaRoche a new golf driver.

Gorzelanny finished 2007 with a 14-10 record and 3.88 ERA. He led the Pirates staff in wins and was second to Ian Snell in ERA. His control was fine, walking just three batters per nine innings, and he had some pop in his pitch, striking out six guys per game.

Jim Tracy tried to reward him with a 15th win, but it was a move that backfired. Gorzelanny had his highest inning count, and by a lot: 40-1/3 frames more than his best, 161-2/3 innings in 2006. Many argue that he should have been shut down in mid September, or at least given some extra rest, but it wasn't to be. Neither was that extra W.

Gorzo was a young gun, and the Pirates were going to ride his arm in 2008. Well, it didn't exactly work out as planned.

He battled control problems throughout the first half of 2008, walking 61 and striking out 53 in his first 87-2/3 innings while allowing 99 hits. He was 6-7 but with a 6.57 ERA and was leading the NL in walks.

On the Fourth of July against the Brew Crew, the left-hander yielded 11 hits, 4 walks and 8 runs in 4-2/3 innings. It was off to Indy for last year's ace.

Gorzelanny did well at Indianapolis. In seven starts, he was 3-1, had a 2.06 earned run average and walked only four in 35 innings.

"There were a few things that he needed to do," Pirates then-pitching coach Jeff Andrews told Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette. "One was getting his fastball command back. That was probably the No. 1 issue. The velocity we're used to seeing would have been a bonus had that come all the way back. His velocity came back a little bit."

"There also was the focus on the mound, the concentration, the not letting things get to him and not be so defensive in his approach to pitching and not worry about contact."

He made his way back to the show, but it was the same ol', same ol'. His final stats were 6-9, with a 6.66 ERA and 70 walks against 67 strike outs in 105-1/3 frames.

Gorzo didn't even make it to the finish line. His season ended with a ligament problem with his finger in mid-September. The whispering campaign started - he was out of shape and not doing his work, perhaps the results of being overworked in 2007, being a pet of Tracy's, and having no competition for the rotation spot early on.

Gorzelanny quickly forgot about 2008 and began on his 2009 come-back. His first step was losing 15 pounds. Next, he began work on a chronically weak left shoulder. He said it was an off-and-on problem all during his career, but became a nagging, everyday presence last year.

The 26-year old LHP has got the pedigree to come back and contribute as at least a solid mid-rotation guy. Gorzelanny throws a 90+ mph fastball, which he can complement with a change-up. He has a very good slider, and doesn't give in with runners on base.

We'll wait and see if his physical condition helps him rediscover his heater. It pretty well sat at 90 MPH last year after routinely hitting 93-94 in the past.

And he'll have to learn to trust his stuff. As with so many Pirate pitchers, he has a pitch-to-contact style. Gorzo has to embrace Joe Kerrigan's credo of pounding the strike zone and not pitching from behind. Cutting down on the walks, the hitter counts, and the high pitch counts has to be at the top on his to-do list.

If he can return to near his 2007 form, the Pirate pitching staff has improved by leaps and bounds without a move being made. If not...well, Ross Ohlendorf's looking good so far, hey?


WilliamJPellas said...

In addition to his inexplicable and completely inexcusable lack of conditioning, I get the sense with Gorzellany that he's one of those "chewing gum and bailing wire" guys. As in, that's what's holding his body together and he could be done for good on just about any pitch between now and the next five years. I've never gotten the sense from him, in other words, that he was a true horse or that his body would really hold up over the long haul.

Then again, the same is true of Andy Pettite, who has probably pitched in pain his entire career and it's turned out pretty well for him. But with most guys like that, they have one or two really good seasons and then it's curtains. Tim Lollar of the Padres was a lefthander who reminds me a lot of Gorzellany, except he was a much better hitter. In fact, it seems to me that lefties in general are more injury prone than righties. Dunno if that's perception or fact; it would be interesting to do a survey of major league pitchers and see how many over the past couple decades have flamed out with arm injuries, and how many have thrown from the port side and how many from the starboard side.

Ron Ieraci said...

I really don't know, Will. He could have just taken a winter off, or he could be one of those guys that can't give you 200 innings from the mound. *shrug*