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Can Steve McCatty Make Gio Gonzalez Elite?

One of the worst seasons in Washington Nationals history was 2009.  Finishing last place in the NL East with by far the worst record in the Major Leagues, changes were inevitable going forward.  One of the first changes made occurred on June 2nd.  After a more than disappointing start to the season, mainly attributed to the pitching staff, the Nationals announced that they had fired Randy St. Claire, the Nationals/Expos pitching coaching for the past seven years.  Shortly after, they announced that former MLB pitcher and AAA coach Steve McCatty would take the reigns.

From 2009 on, Washington’s pitching staff saw tremendous improvement.  From a horrendous 5.00 team ERA in 2009, down to 4.13 in 2010, and then to seventh best in the majors in 2011 with a 3.58 team ERA, the improvement was very apparent. In addition, the Nationals went from giving up the fourth most hits in the MLB to being tied for 17th in 2011.  Furthermore, the team went from having the third worst batting average against (BAA) during the 2009 season with a .276 to the middle of the pack in 2011 with a .256 BAA.

Probably the most impressive stat, besides the huge drop in ERA, was the drop in the number of walks.  In 2009 the Nationals gave up an astounding and league leading 629 walks.  The next season that number dropped 117 walks (nearly 19%) to only 512.  In 2011 it dropped even further to only 477 walks and tenth best in the majors.  Most of these improvements can be attributed to all of the new pitching accumulated by the Nationals. But some of the credit has to be given to pitching coach Steve McCatty for developing and helping these young players make the transition to the majors as well as keeping them consistent, confident, and pitching to contact.

This year, McCatty has his work cut out for him with the new young acquisition, Gio Gonzalez.  Although Gonzalez is one of the best young pitchers in the majors winning 15 games and earning himself a sub 3.30 ERA in the past two seasons, he has control issues holding him back from being elite. In back-to-back seasons, he has put up 183 walks and actually led the league last year with 91 walks.  He has also hit 12 batters in those seasons.  All of this has inflated his WHIP to 1.314, which is an outlier from most of his other impressive stats.

If he lowers the number of walks he gives up, then there will be less men on base.  In turn less runs will be scored, because these players won’t be on base as much and this gives the team a better chance to win more games.  With McCatty as the pitching coach this effort could become a reality.  His track record speaks for itself.  When the Nationals acquired Gonzalez, they were thinking the same exact thing.  They saw a young player who was already a top 25 pitcher in the majors who could become one of the best with some help from Steve McCatty.

About Joe Drugan

Managing editor of The Nats Blog and co-host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast.

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