Driveline bullpen sessions show improved stuff for Pittsburgh Pirates starter Marco Gonzales

Pirates' left-handed strater Marco Gonzales shows off promising stuff in Driveline bullpen video

Milwaukee Brewers v Seattle Mariners
Milwaukee Brewers v Seattle Mariners / Steph Chambers/GettyImages
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Pittsburgh Pirates left-handed starting pitcher Marco Gonzales recently showed off an improved fastball in his most recent Driveline Baseball bullpen session

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Marco Gonzales to add some stability to their starting rotation. While the veteran lefty missed a good chunk of the 2023 season and comes to Pittsburgh with plenty of red flags, he had been known for his durability and solid results. From 2018 through 2022, Gonzales had made 131 starts, pitched 765.2 innings, and had a 104 ERA+. Only eight other pitchers made at least 130 starts with 750+ innings pitched with an ERA+ above 100. 

If you have been following Gonzales over this past off-season, you’ll know that he’s been attending Driveline Baseball. Driveline is one of the most prestigious baseball training facilities in the world, with players across the globe coming to their headquarters to improve their game.

Gonzales stated in an interview back in December that he was going to Driveline to “create a new routine for myself and learn new perspectives on pitching and gathering strength.” He said his primary goal wasn’t to gain velocity, but would be a plus if that happened.

Driveline recently posted on their social media Marco Gonzales’ most recent bullpen session, and based on the short sample size of pitches, the lefty looks as good as he ever has:

Gonzales is sitting about 89.5 MPH with his fastball, which, while not fast compared to the rest of modern MLB, is much better than what Gonzales has thrown the last handful of years, and he’s still made it work. Gonzales hit 89+ MPH nine times in the video and hit 89+ MPH just 31 times all last season. The last time Gonzales was throwing 89-90 MPH was in 2018, which was his breakout campaign and remains one of his best seasons.

During that year, he tossed 166.2 innings for the Seattle Mariners, pitching to a 4.00 ERA, but a strong 3.43 FIP, 1.22 WHIP, and 4.53 K:BB ratio. He had a 21.1% strikeout rate rate with a walk rate of just 4.7%. He also had some solid underlying numbers that season, including a 3.81 SIERA and 3.59 xFIP, but the Mariners’ defense that year had -7 outs above average, leading to Gonzales having a less-than-lucky .319 batting average on balls in play.

Another promising aspect of his bullpen session is that his fastball spin rate is back up to around 2100. He hasn’t averaged 2100+ RPM on his four-seamer since 2021. Last year, he only averaged 2031 RPM, and in 2022, he averaged just 1986 RPM. More velocity typically leads to more spin, so it’s not entirely surprising to see an uptick in RPM.

Of course, more velocity doesn’t always equate to good results, but he has made a career out of being a command and finesse guy. He has the 21st-lowest walk rate at 6% and the 28th-best exit velocity at 87.9 MPH among pitchers with at least 500 Iinnings pitched dating back to 2018. Also, keep in mind that this was only a bullpen session. He might be able to reach back for more speed in a real game setting on a real dirt mound. 

Either way, it is promising to see Gonzales back on his feet and healthy. Gonzales will likely be a big part of the team’s rotation. He’s consistently been a solid pitcher who can provide a large amount of innings each year. 2023 looks like it could just be an outlier. He looks like he’s back and fully ready for the 2024 season.

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