Kevin Gausman’s first stint in the majors is one he would probably like to forget. Over his first four major league starts last season, the former fourth overall pick got trashed to a 8.84 ERA, gave up 5 home runs, allowed an opponents OPS of .991, and averaged less than five innings per start. After the fifth start, he was sent to the bullpen, and then back to the minors a week later.
But that shouldn’t dissuade the Orioles or discourage fans, Gausman, who was ranked by ESPN’s Keith Law as the 23rd best prospect in baseball, was the victim of more than a little bad luck, and all he really needs to be an integral part of the Orioles 2014 rotation is a little growth and for a few balls to bounce his way.
After spending some time in the bullpen at the end of the year, Gausman finished with an ERA of 5.66. His peripherals, however, were excellent. He posted a 9.3 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, leading to a 3.99 FIP, and his xFIP, the stat Fangraphs considers to correlate most strongly with future performance, was a sparkling 3.04. His Babip was an inflated .328, about 30 points above the major league average, and while most pitchers allow home runs on approximately 10% of fly balls, Gausman gave up the long ball on 19% of the fly balls hit off of him. Statistically, both these numbers should drop next season, resulting in a much improved showing, regardless of whether or not Gausman himself does not improve.
Even if he wasn’t unlucky and last year’s stats were indicative of an actual inability to pitch effectively, Gausman’s youth and stuff should earn him another shot. Remember, Kevin was the fourth overall pick from just a year and a half ago ago and he received a big league promotion after only 13 professional starts, just 8 of which came above A ball.
His arsenal, meanwhile, compensates for his youth and inexperience. Hitting 100 on the gun and average a shade under 96 MPH last season, he naturally relies heavily on his fastball, which also features solid movement when thrown in the bottom half of the zone.
Gausman’s changeup, however, is the pitch that makes him stand out. In this years edition of his top 100 prospect list, Jonathan Mayo described it as “easily a plus pitch – one of the best in the minor leagues.” In his own top 100 list, Keith Law wrote that he throws “a plus changeup that has long been his primary out pitch, with good arm speed and a very severe late tumble.” Baseball America called it the best changeup in the Orioles system. It has such downward movement that despite its name and Gausman’s insistences to the contrary, Pitch F’x often lists it as a splitter. According to Fangraphs, Gausman threw a splitter just under 20% of the time. According to Kevin Gausman, he has never thrown a splitter in his life.
Rounding out his reportioire is a hard slider, which has often lagged behind his changeup and fastball in intensity. That being said, the pitch became sharper towards the end of last season, coming in with late bite and often having what Keith Law described as “11-5 break.” Its not the plus or plus-plus pitch that his changeup and fastball are, but it should at least be an average major league offering, probably even better.
If the young fireballer just slightly better and just a little luckier, he should tear through camp and win the fifth start job outright. That’s assuming the Orioles don’t sign a free agent starter. If they do, Gausman will start the season in Triple-A, but it shouldn’t take long for an injury to open up a spot for him in Camden Yards.