Going Deep: Why It’s Okay To Believe In Kevin Gausman This Year

Kevin Gausman looked pretty bad last year, but there's reason to hope his 2018 is better.

(Photograph by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire)

If you believed in Kevin Gausman as a potential top pitcher coming into last year, you weren’t alone. He looked pretty solid coming out of 2016, looking like he had made progress and could take the next step forward. I even made Gausman one of my bold predictions coming into the year, saying that he would be a top 20 starter by the end of the season (that…didn’t quite work out).

Instead of actually being good, Gausman turned in a really bad season, and if you looked at his line for 2017 (4.68 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 1.49 WHIP), you might be wondering why I would even consider saying that Gausman is a potential fantasy sleeper this year. But when you dig into Gausman’s season last year, you see something interesting. In the first half of the season, Gausman had a 5.85 ERA, a 1.76 WHIP, and a 7.70 K/9. In the second half, he had a 3.41 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and a 9.64 K/9. Not only that, but his strikeout rate jumped up from 18.4% to 26.2% and his walk rate dropped from 9.6% to 7.7%. Two pretty different halves to the season.

So What Happened?

That’s the question we need to ask. Whenever I see a player make a total 180 during the season, my first question is, was it luck or did something change? If there was a definitive skill change, then there’s reason to believe that the change can stick.

With Gausman, there was a change and a pretty noticeable one at that. Take a look at this graph from BrooksBaseball that shows how much his horizontal release point changed:

Specifically, it looks like Gausman moved where he stands on the rubber closer to the first base side right around the beginning of July. Here’s a before/after comparison:

vs. NYY before the change

vs. BOS after the change

That’s a pretty noticeable change, and if you look at the stats, it looks like it helped his pitching significantly. As his horizontal release went up, his ERA, FIP, and xFIP all went down.

Looking at his pitches specifically, you can see how they changed. He gained his control back, the thing that had been haunting him for the first half of the year, and because of that, the strikeouts started to climb and the walks started to drop.

Specifically, he gained control of his fastball more. From the beginning of the season through the end of June, Gausman threw his fastball for a strike (swinging or called) 26.07% of the time and for a ball 34.82% of the time. From July 1 on, he threw the fastball for a strike 30.98% of the time and for a ball 29.88% of the time. He especially started using his best pitch more, his split-changeup, and after he moved where he was standing on the rubber, the pitch was a lot more effective.

Gausman’s Split-Change Splits

Ball Strike Swing % GB % LD % FB % PU % HR %
4/3 – 6/27 45.08% 29.17% 48.11% 7.58% 4.55% 1.89% 0.76% 1.52%
7/2 – 10/1 40.00% 30.00% 52.50% 8.25% 3.25% 2.00% 1.25% 0.50%

The changes aren’t night and day, but they’re noticeable, and they suggest that Gausman figured out what was going wrong last year, he figured out that his problems were linked to a lack of control of his pitches.

If you’re unconvinced, I can understand. We’ve seen how bad Gausman can be and it’s really bad, and it’s fair to wonder if these changes will carry over into 2018. But if this change keeps up, if the arm slot adjustment and the move on the pitching rubber stick and the success that it seems they brought sticks as well, Gausman could finally be the good starting pitcher fantasy players have hoped he’d be for years. He’s definitely got the stuff, but the question is, can he remain consistent?

And considering Gausman’s ADP right now is roughly as the 204th pick, according to NFBC’s ADP, you’re not risking much at all to take a chance on him late in drafts. If these changes stick, he could be really good and you’ll look like a genius. If they don’t, then you can cut bait without having lost much.

Ben Palmer

Senior columnist at Pitcher List. Lifelong Orioles fan, also a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music, watch way too many movies, and collect way too many records.

4 responses to “Going Deep: Why It’s Okay To Believe In Kevin Gausman This Year”

  1. Dave Parkman says:

    Did you read Zimmerman’s post on Fangraphs about Gausman decrease in fastball velocity this spring?

    • Ben Palmer says:

      I had seen some tweets that it was sitting around 91-93ish according to Roch Kubatko. It’s one start, so I’m not reading too much into it just yet.

  2. Mitch says:

    No way. I will not be talked into this guy again, lol.
    (Plus, my main league is weekly h2h points, and I don’t really want any non Yanks or BoSox AL East pitchers anyway, but that’s another matter.)

    • Ben Palmer says:

      I totally understand the hesitation, but I think he made a noticeable change that could lead to some success. And his draft price right now is peanuts.

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