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2021 Dodgers in review: Tony Gonsolin

Two injured list stints took away the bulk of the season

Los Angeles Dodgers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Tony Gonsolin spent over half the 2021 season on the injured list, which affected an unsteady performance in trying to recapture his rookie-year success.

Gonsolin made his first opening day roster this year, though it came in the bullpen as Dustin May beat him out for the fifth-starter spot. Only three games into the season, without having pitched, Gonsolin landed on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation. That cast a pall over his 2021, and not just because it cost him over two months on the shelf.

By the time Gonsolin returned to the Dodgers in June, they needed him to fill the month-open hole left by May’s injury. He answered the bell every five or six days, and through his first 10 games (nine starts) Gonsolin had some superficial success, with a 2.78 ERA. But he wasn’t very effective.

His average fastball velocity was 93.4 mph, down from 95.1 mph in 2020, and his control was off. Gonsolin only walked seven batters during the shortened regular season last year, but in his first two starts of 2021 he walked eight. He was pulled from two starts in the second inning, and completed four innings four times in his first 10 outings, only twice lasting longer than that.

While Gonsolin allowed more than one run only twice in these 10 games, he left games with a total of 12 runners on base. His relievers stranded all 12. Gonsolin’s 4.46 FIP at the time painted a more accurate picture.

It wasn’t reasonable to expect Gonsolin to walk only four percent of batters, as he did in 2020. But even factoring in his minor-league performance since he transitioned from relief pitchin to starting in 2018, and adding in postseason innings, his walk rate this year was still his highest by far.

Tony Gonsolin, the starting years

Year IP BB rate K rate
Year IP BB rate K rate
2018 128.0 8.0% 29.4%
2019 81.3 10.2% 24.6%
2020 56.0 7.2% 26.1%
2021 59.7 12.6% 25.6%
Counting innings in the minors, majors, and postseason from 2018-21

It was evident the shoulder was still bothering Gonsolin after those first 10 games, and he missed another nearly six weeks on a second injured list stint.

After two months of bullpen games, the return of Gonsolin and Clayton Kershaw in September helped the Dodgers finish with an actual starting rotation down the stretch. Gonsolin insisted he was healthy, and he regained some life on the fastball, averaging 94.7 mph over his last five games, but the effectiveness wasn’t there. In September, Gonsolin had a 4.05 ERA and 4.67 FIP.

With Kershaw out for the playoffs, the Dodgers needed a fourth starter in October. Gonsolin was trotted out during media availability during the NLDS as the nominal Game 4 starter, or at least bulk pitcher following an opener, playing the part of Ricky Nolasco. But the Dodgers opted for Walker Buehler on short rest instead.

Gonsolin’s first postseason chance came in Game 1 of the NLCS in Atlanta, where he was expected to be the bulk guy in a bullpen game, but instead was pulled after giving up five hard-hit balls in seven batters faced. He pitched twice more in the series, entering a pair of games when the Dodgers trailed by three runs, and earned the win in Game 3.

Gonsolin did have some interesting cleats though.

As someone who converted from outfield to pitcher in college, Gonsolin doesn’t have a ton of miles on his odometer, just 595 innings in college, minors, and MLB combined entering his age-28 season. Now it’s a matter of how many innings he can add to that in 2022.

2021 particulars

Age: 27

Stats: 3.23 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 55⅔ IP, 65 K, 34 BB, 1.2 bWAR, 0.5 fWAR

Salary: $580,500

Game of the year

Gonsolin’s two longest starts were 5⅓ innings, both allowing zero runs. We’ll go with July 24 against the Rockies at home, when Gonsolin needed to be stingy in a 1-0 game. He allowed two hits and two walks but no runs, while tying his season high with seven strikeouts.

Roster status

With one year, 152 days of major league service time, Gonsolin could be eligible for salary arbitration as soon as after the 2022 season, depending on how the new collective bargaining agreement shakes out. He has one option year remaining.