Gio Gonzalez probably shouldn't win this year's Cy Young—R.A. Dickey and Clayton Kershaw each have about 30 innings on him—but that he's competing for it at all is a testament both to how good he's been in his Washington Nationals debut and how good he was even before the Oakland Athletics sent him over in a fascinating offseason trade. What did Gio Gonzalez do to make himself a Game 1 postseason starter for the National League's winningest team? Well—a little bit of everything, somehow.
Lots of pitchers are just a few minor statistical adjustments away from being great—which means, unfortunately, that nearly all of them never make those minor statistical adjustments, no matter how many teams give them chances. Gonzalez made all of them. His strikeout percentage—25.2—was a career high, his walk rate—9.3—was a career low, and he gave up fewer home runs than he had even in the Oakland Athletics' football-forward stadium.
A lot of this will be attributed—and some is probably attributable—to his move from the AL to the NL. If nothing else, he was striking out pitchers instead of allowing walks and home runs to designated hitters. But it might also be that Gonzalez, still just 26, built this year on improvements he'd already begun making in 2011.
Few pitchers have so clear a pattern of improvement in their numbers, now, as Gio Gonzalez; it's almost position-player-like. In his three full seasons in the majors he's improved his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate every year, and in 2012 that path pushed him, finally, from "mid-rotation stalwart" to "rotation ace."
Of course, there was also the one thing Gio Gonzalez didn't do to make himself a Game 1 postseason starter for the Nationals, but it's not his fault that the Nationals are being incredibly cautious with Stephen Strasburg.