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Tony Gonsolin, the intermittent ERA leader

Los Angeles Angels v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Tony Gonsolin is vying for the National League ERA crown, an accomplishment that will require a two-pronged attack of both quality and quantity.

After each of his last four starts, Gonsolin has led the league in ERA, including leading the majors after each of the last two outings. But he enters Sunday against the Braves no longer atop, or even on the leaderboard, despite his 1.58 ERA.

Gonsolin has pitched 68⅓ innings so far this season, but Saturday night was the Dodgers’ 70th game. To lead the league in any pitching rate stat, a pitcher must have accumulated at least one inning per team game. That’s proving to be a much taller task in recent years.

The growth of bullpen usage, coupled with teams decreasingly likely to let pitchers face a lineup more than twice if they can help it, has curtailed starting pitchers’ innings. Throw in the various periods of expanded rosters over the past three seasons, and actually reaching enough innings to appear on a pitching leaderboard isn’t the given that it once was.

Back in 2010, 92 MLB pitchers qualified for the ERA title, an average of three per team. Five years later, it was down to 78 pitchers. In the seasons since, there are two years of sharp decline.

Clear factors contributed to the plummet in qualified pitchers in 2020, with the pandemic wiping out nearly four months of the season. The stop-and-start lead up to that season, coupled with playing only 60 games, affected pitcher usage both that year and in 2021.

We can’t call 2022 a normal season either because of the lockout that wiped out a large chunk of spring training, and pushed back the start of this year.

Gonsolin’s leaderboard time

Date LAD gm IP ERA NL rank MLB rank
Date LAD gm IP ERA NL rank MLB rank
Apr 9 2 3 3.00 t-23rd t-49th
Apr 10 3 3 3.00 t-26th t-47th
Apr 11 3 3 3.00 t-30th t-57th
Apr 15 7 7 1.29 t-7th t-9th
Apr 20 12 13 0.69 2nd t-3rd
Apr 21 12 13 0.69 3rd t-4th
Apr 22 13 13 0.69 3rd t-4th
Apr 26 17 17 1.59 5th 7th
Jun 2 51 51 1.59 1st 3rd
Jun 8 56 57 1.58 1st 2nd
Jun 9 57 57 1.58 1st 2nd
Jun 14 61 63⅓ 1.42 1st 1st
Jun 15 62 63⅓ 1.42 1st 1st
Jun 16 62 63⅓ 1.42 1st 1st
Jun 17 63 63⅓ 1.42 1st 1st
Jun 21 66 68⅓ 1.58 1st 1st
Jun 22 67 68⅓ 1.58 1st 1st
Jun 23 68 68⅓ 1.58 1st 1st

So far this year, 63 pitchers have enough innings to qualify at the moment, which looks a lot like 2017-19, though the season isn’t even half over. That group doesn’t include Gonsolin, though he’s making strides in that regard.

Gonsolin has pitched more aggressively this year, and is lasting deeper into games than ever before. That included six straight starts of at least six innings, which was snapped with his five innings on Tuesday in Cincinnati. He entered this season with five starts of six or more innings in his career, and this year he’s already done so seven times.

Gonsolin started the Dodgers’ second game of the season, and pitched only three innings, but that was enough to get him on the leaderboard for the first time. He allowed one run in that game, and his 3.00 ERA was tied for 23rd in the National League.

Those three innings were enough to buy Gonsolin three days on the leaderboard, through the Dodgers’ off day that Monday after the first series at Coors Field. He made it back on the leaderboard after each of his next three starts, but fell off soon after, sometimes the very next day.

Getting extra rest between his fourth and fifth starts, from the end of April into May, along with the Dodgers’ gauntlet schedule of 31 games in 30 days, including some spot starts mixed in, made for an uphill climb for Gonsolin to pile up innings.

But he continued to pitch well, and that streak of six-inning starts got him back on the leaderboard after his June 2, and he’s been intermittently on, and atop the list since. Sunday is the Dodgers’ 71st game, and the 80th day of their season, which started on April 7. As long as he records at least eight outs against Atlanta in the series finale, Gonsolin will be on the leaderboard again, for the 19th of those 80 days.

Another factor to consider for Gonsolin is that 68⅓ innings is already more innings than he’s ever thrown in a major league season. Counting the minors and postseason at all levels, Gonsolin has topped 81⅓ innings only once in his first six professional seasons, when he pitched 139⅔ frames in 2018.

Gonsolin can get back on the leaderboard Sunday night. How long he stays, and whether he ends the season with enough qualified innings, is one of the stories to watch over the final three months of the season.