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Gio Gonzalez is having an unprecedented career year for the Washington Nationals

We’ve seen Gio Gonzalez at his best in previous seasons, but he’s never pitched quite like this.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time we had a talk about Gio Gonzalez. No, not the one that’s 9-5 this season with a 2.66 ERA that’s the third lowest in all of baseball. We’ll get to him in a little.

First we need talk about the Gio Gonzalez that finished third in the NL Cy Young race way back in 2012. That Gio Gonzalez had an incredible first season for the Washington Nationals. He finished the year with an MLB-high 21 wins, a 2.89 ERA and the best K/9 in the National League (9.3).

At just 26 years old and just under $50 million guaranteed in the rest of his contract, the sky appeared to be the limit for Gonzalez. Instead, he watched his ERA rise in each of the next four seasons, capping off at 4.57 last year.

Gonzalez had a career year backed behind a high strikeout percentage and an ability to keep the ball in the yard. As the strikeouts declined, homers rose and injuries struck over the years, Gonzalez fell from one of the league’s best to an above-average left hander.

Then something weird happened. Gonzalez came out of the gate this season firing more fastballs than before and started finding unparalleled success. He was one of the biggest All-Star snubs in the league and just tossed eight shutout innings against the Marlins on Tuesday.

“Last year he had a .500 season, this year he’s one of our main guys,” Dusty Baker said. “He’s going deeper and deeper in games; his pitch counts are coming down.”

Gonzalez is managing to do all this despite leading the majors in balls thrown outside of the zone, sporting a FIP above 4.00, striking out less hitters than he ever has and stranding runners at an 85.1% clip (the second highest rate in baseball).

Is the Nats’ lefty just getting lucky? Or is there a bigger explanation? He’s having the most unconventional career year possible, yet his success cannot be ignored.

Gonzalez has never eclipsed 200 innings in a season with the Nats — although he came close with 199.1 in 2012 and 195.2 in 2013 — but he is on pace to surpass that mark granted he makes at least nine more starts.

Simply put, he’s become a workhorse and is doing it effectively. Gonzalez’s weak contact percentage (21.8%) is tied for the eighth highest in the NL and his opposite field percentage (22.5%) is tied for the seventh lowest. Despite the fact that he’s throwing more balls, he’s putting pitches where he wants them and they’re coming off the bat just like he plans.

The thing is, Gonzalez is doing even better than he did in 2012. His ERA+ that season was 138. This year? 165. He’s pitching better right now than he ever has in his career.

The numbers say his success isn’t sustainable, but we were saying the same thing two months ago. This just might be who the new Gio Gonzalez is, and the Nats are better for it. Now about that Cy Young race… (I kid, I kid).