A highly touted prospect boasting a 96 mph average fastball usually gets more buzz than Kevin Gausman is receiving. In a recent thirteen-team experts draft he lasted until the 22nd round. Blame the general depth of pitching or the 5.66 ERA he collected with Baltimore in 2013. Just be aware that the surface stats do not tell the whole story.
Gausman was granted 97 innings of professional experience before the big club came calling. Some of his numbers suggest bad luck. A .328 BABIP against is on the high end and very few pitchers suffer a 18.6% HR/FB ratio. The thing is, from both a data and scouting perspective the case could be made that he earned those abnormal numbers.
Like many young pitchers Gausman’s weakest points are fastball command and consistency in his secondary pitches. In his 2013 book John Sickles stated Gausman’s breaking pitches drew “mixed reviews” and his slider “has the most potential, but is inconsistent”. He continued tinkering during the season, using two different changeups. He also to struggle with fastball command, Beyond the Box Score illustrates how major league hitters punished him when he missed location. He got his share of swings and misses but when batters made contact it tended to be solid. He allowed a 25.2% line drive rate and only induced popups at 2.3%. While his 3.99 FIP and 3.09 xFIP make Gausman look like a prime breakout candidate he needs to make key improvements to expect those kinds of results.
The good news is it is far from unreasonable to assume an extremely young pitcher will get better. Also, Gausman already demonstrated some skills that mark him as a quality pitcher. His 9.25 K/9 (24.4% K%) is somewhat deceiving as he struck out 7.3/9 as a starter and 11.3/9 working out of the bullpen. The good news is his K/BB was over 3.00 in both roles. His 35.2% Oswing% and 61.2% F-Strike% were both better than league average. He generated a respectable 1.28 GB/FB. His fly ball rate was only 32.8%, so home runs allowed should not be a big issue once he avoids mistake pitches.
While many encouraging signs exist, Gausman has not proven anything yet. He still plays in the AL East, in an unforgiving home park and should not be counted on in standard mixed leagues. He could soon pitch himself into streaming conversation, and in leagues with large benches he is definitely worth a stash because of his upside. His long-term role remains a starting pitcher, but Baltimore has four veteran starters, and could be in the market for another. If he is used as a relief pitcher he could be one of the league’s best, much like Phil Hughes did in 2009. After Baltimore broke off its pursuit of Grant Balfour, Tommy Hunter is in line for saves. He could very well hold the job all year, but Gausman could enter the mix as well.