Who is Victor Gonzalez, the newest addition to Yankees’ relief corps?

The Yankees acquired reliever Victor Gonzalez from the Dodgers in a trade on December 11, 2023.
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Sara Molnick
Wednesday December 13, 2023

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On December 11, the Yankees acquired reliever Victor Gonzalez from the Dodgers in a trade that also involved two infield prospects. In this exchange, the Yankees sent shortstop and former first-rounder Trey Sweeney to Los Angeles, while the Dodgers reciprocated by sending second baseman Jorbit
Vivas to New York.

Sweeney and Vivas both exhibit promising paths to the big leagues, showcasing their offensive potential during the 2023 season with Double-A affiliates. However, the spotlight for the upcoming 2024 season is on Victor Gonzalez. Despite missing the entire 2022 campaign due to left elbow surgery, Victor
Gonzalez experienced a resurgence with the Dodgers, achieving a 4.01 ERA across 34 games.

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Who is Victor Gonzalez

Emerging from Mexico’s rich baseball talent pool, the promising pitching prospect Victor Gonzalez set upon his path to the major leagues when inked by the Los Angeles Dodgers organization on July 2nd, 2012. Victor Gonzalez spent his formative years navigating the minor league circuit, gaining valuable experience ranging from rookie league to AAA ball.

Victor Aaron Gonzalez, born on November 16, 1995, in the early stages of his career, Victor Gonzalez inked a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers as an international free agent on July 2, 2012. His professional journey unfolded with the Arizona League Dodgers in 2013, where he achieved a record of 3–2, accompanied by a 3.79 ERA across 38 innings.

The subsequent seasons saw Victor Gonzalez progressing through various teams, including the Ogden Raptors in 2014, AZL Dodgers, Ogden, and the Great Lakes Loons in 2015, and a return to Great Lakes in 2016 after missing the entire 2017 season due to injury. He faced challenges and exhibited resilience, culminating in his addition to the Dodgers’ 40-man roster on October 31, 2019.

After flashes of brilliance like a 2.31 ERA across three levels in 2019, the young righty was added to the Dodgers’ 40-man roster on Halloween of that year, seeing his first MLB call-up the next July. Gonzalez burst onto the scene in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, compiling a micro-ERA of 1.33 over 15 games while entrenching himself in the Dodger bullpen during their championship run.

Victor Gonzalez officially joined the MLB roster on July 30, 2020, making his major league debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 31. His impactful 2020 season comprised 20.1 innings in 15 games, including one start, with three wins and an impressive 1.33 ERA, 23 strikeouts, and only three walks. Notably, he played a pivotal role in the Dodgers’ triumph in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series.

The 2021 season brought both tribulations and growth for Victor Gonzalez, sporting a 3.57 ERA despite control issues with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. The 2022 season would see the hurler sidelined to address elbow inflammation, undergoing arthroscopic surgery in May which erased his sophomore MLB season. Despite facing challenges with walks, he pitched 35+1⁄3 innings in 44 games, finishing the season with a 3–1 record.

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Unfortunately, the 2022 season posed setbacks for Victor Gonzalez as he started on the injured list due to left elbow inflammation. Subsequently, on May 8, it was announced that he would undergo arthroscopic surgery, leading to his absence from Dodgers’ games in 2022.

The scenery shifted in 2023 as Victor Gonzalez ping-ponged between Oklahoma City and Los Angeles, pitching adequately but failing to re-capture his prior dominance. As Victor Gonzalez enters his prime years, the fireballing Mexican hopes the change of scenery with the Yankees will help re-ignite the spark that once made him a fall classic difference-maker.

What he brings to the Yankees bullpen

While the ERA might not appear groundbreaking, Victor Gonzalez fulfills a crucial need for the Yankees. With Wandy Peralta hitting the open market in free agency, the Yankees faced a shortage of left-handed relievers on their 40-man roster before Victor Gonzalez’s addition—only Nick Ramirez and Matt Krook held that position. Although Ramirez quietly had an impressive season, boasting a 2.66 ERA in 32 games with the big-league club, the duo alone wasn’t sufficient to meet the team’s requirements.

Victor Gonzalez presents a more budget-friendly option compared to Peralta, a 28-year-old expected to command just $1 million in arbitration for the upcoming year. Furthermore, Victor Gonzalez remains under team control for three seasons, making him a pitcher with the potential to flourish under the guidance of pitching coach Matt Blake and the esteemed Yankees’ pitching department.

In theory, the Yankees retain the option to re-sign Peralta, thereby having multiple left-handers in their bullpen. It’s important to note that Victor Gonzalez differs from Peralta in that he exhibits reverse splits—he performs notably better against right-handed hitters rather than lefties. Peralta, on the other hand, displayed dominance against left-handed batters in the 2023 season and contributed an intangible presence to the bullpen with his distinctive personality and knack for performing in clutch situations.

On the flip side, Peralta’s metrics suggest a potential decline starting from the next season. A 5.05 FIP and .220 BABIP imply that the left-hander may have benefited from favorable batted-ball luck in the current year. Furthermore, Peralta’s 13.2 percent walk rate was nearly double what it was in 2022, and his -0.5 fWAR in the current year positioned him as one of the less valuable relievers in baseball.

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In contrast, Victor Gonzalez posted a 3.40 FIP in 2023 with exceptional metrics in limiting hard contact. Opponents had an average exit velocity of 86.6 mph and a 29.3 percent hard-hit rate against him, resulting in only two home runs. His effective sinker-slider mix aligns seamlessly with the Yankees’ style, acting as the catalyst for an impressive 54.3 percent ground ball rate. While not quite on par with closer Clay Holmes (65.5%) or Peralta (57.4%), it ranks 49th among all pitchers who threw more than 30 innings in 2023.

These names share a common thread. Holmes and Peralta, once under-the-radar acquisitions, enhanced their performances significantly with the Yankees by making adjustments to their arsenals, leveraging promising metrics. It remains to be seen if Victor Gonzalez will follow a similar trajectory, honing his skills with a sweeping pitch to complement his sinker or increasing the usage of his changeup, which accounted for only 6.5 percent of his pitches in 2023.

Regardless of Peralta’s future with the team, the crucial point is that the Yankees were in need of more left-handed pitchers this offseason. Despite the presence of starters Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes, left-handed pitchers made only 128 appearances for the Yankees in 2023, marking the fifth-lowest usage of lefties in MLB. Their combined ERA of 4.91, inflated notably by Rodón (6.85), Cortes (4.97), and Krook (24.75), was also the fifth-worst mark in the league. While the three-batter rule diminishes the importance of lefty specialists, and some right-handers like Tommy Kahnle and Ron Marinaccio excel against left-handed hitters, the most effective bullpens today showcase a variety of pitching styles. Incorporating a few effective southpaws into the mix certainly won’t hurt.

This instance exemplifies the Yankees’ knack for implementing budget-friendly alternatives in their bullpen. Given their recent success in maximizing the potential of various pitchers, it’s challenging to doubt the Yankees’ ability to transform Victor Gonzalez into a reliable reliever.

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