The Baltimore Orioles are a team that seems to have the same identity every season. They can always hit the ball, especially with power, but are always done in by a less than stellar starting rotation. Last season Chris Tillman finally started to come into his own, but overall, the team’s starting rotation was considered the weak point of the club. But 2017 will see the emergence of another young arm and his name is Kevin Gausman.
Gausman was drafted by the Orioles back in 2012 out of LSU in the first round of the MLB Draft. He would instantly become one of the team’s most highly touted prospects. He would not waste much time, as he found himself making his MLB debut in May of 2013 after starting the season in Double-A.
Gausman would spend the season going between the Majors and the Minor Leagues, also switching from starter and reliever. 2014 provided him with a more stable role, as he would start 20 ball games, while only serving as a reliever in the postseason. It was a solid season for the young right-hander, as he went 7-7 with a 3.57 ERA during the regular season, followed by a 1.13 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in the playoffs.
The club would then mess around with his role a bit in 2015, as he had some time in both the rotation and the pen. The shifting of roles affected his results, and his stat line at the end of the year was simply ok. But 2016 finally gave him the stability needed for success.
Gausman would actually miss the start of the 2016 season as he suffered from right shoulder tendinitis late in Spring Training and was placed on the disabled list. He would be activated and get his first start of the season on April 25th against the Tampa Bay Rays. He would proceed to be a full-time starter, earning 30 starts on the season. He would go through some ups and downs along the way, which is not a surprise for a 25-year-old pitcher. His final stat line gives him 3.61 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and 174 strikeouts over the course of 179 and two-thirds innings.
Now if looking over those decimals, paired with a disappointing 9-12, one would not immediately think this guy is set for a breakout in 2017. But if you look at the bigger picture, the signs are there. And the end result will be a career year for Gausman as he cements himself as the best pitcher in the Orioles’ rotation moving forward.
We start by looking at Gausman’s overall profile. He is a first round pick who is a former top prospect. These type of players do not always emerge the second they arrive on the scene. Gausman was in the big leagues less than a calendar year after he was drafted out of college, debuting at the young age of 22.
So we know that the skills were there from the very beginning. But Gausman has needed a few years to adjust to the Major Leagues, like many players before him. Now he has parts of four seasons in the show under his belt. He will enter his fifth season without any questions, as he knows going into 2017 he is a starter, as he is locked into that rotation.
On top of the right mindset headed into the season, Gausman’s underlying stats also showed improvement in 2016. A pitcher has three major statistics that show their base skill, and you are not going to find them on the back of any baseball card. The three statistics are control, command, and dominance, and you can read all about them in the Baseball Forecaster, a book full of great information.
The benchmark for control, which is essentially equal to walks per nine innings, is 2.8, with anything under it seen as very good. Gausman has displayed solid control in the past, and improved once again in 2016, bringing his number down to 2.4. As for command, which is strikeouts to walks, should sit above three. Once again, Gausman showed he had this skill in the past, but improved in 2016 as he raised his value up to a 3.7. Finally, we have dominance, which is strikeouts per nine innings. A solid pitcher will have at least a 7.o dominance. Gausman has reached this level in every MLB season in his career, once again reaching a career best in 2016 with an outstanding 8.7. To make things even better, he had a 9.o in the second half.
So there is simply no questioning this guy’s skills. Now let’s pair those skills with the fact that he is a groundball pitcher. The last two seasons he has seen opposing batters put the ball on the ground 44 percent of the time, while he kept the fly ball rate to 35 percent in 2016. He also suffered from a little bad luck in 2016, meaning there should be some correction in 2017.
Of the balls put in play against Gausman, the batting average against him was .318. This was above his career average, and that number should come back down closer to .310 this season. That paired with his improved strand rate, which sat at 78 percent in 2016, and Gausman certainly seems poised for a breakout 2017.
The signs are certainly there, now Gausman just has to go and execute. He has the skills and the right profile to have the best year of his career this coming season. He will certainly cement himself atop the Baltimore Orioles starting rotation in 2017, in what could be Gausman’s first All-Star campaign.
Keep an eye out for this up and coming 26-year-old right-hander. For those of you who are fans of fanatsy baseball, do not let him slip past you when building out your pitching staff.