Kevin Gausman: Buy or Sell?
Few pitchers entered October with as much momentum as Kevin Gausman. In each month this season, the lanky right-hander’s strikeouts increased while walks decreased. On the second half WAR leaderboard, Gausman was sandwiched by Stephen Strasburg and Felix Hernandez. After going fourth overall in 2012, the Orioles’ top prospect entering the season has advanced to Baltimore’s big-league rotation ahead of schedule and will be a mainstay for the AL East champions. But while the O’s have a young starter for years to come, fantasy owners need to determine whether or not Gausman will continue to develop into an elite starting pitcher.
During the 2014 season, Kevin Gausman nearly pitched at the levels we look for at ROTOscouting. With a 6.99 K/9 and 3.02 BB/9, Gausman was mere hundredths-of-points away from meeting the 7+ strikeout and sub-3 walk rate thresholds. On the other hand, the right-hander carried a 41.4% ground ball rate, markedly below the desired 50% level.
This season, Gausman has leaned heavily on his plus fastball, throwing the pitch nearly 69% of the time. Though the 23-year old mixes an occasional change-up, a split-finger (18.49%) and slider (7.33%) are his primary off-speed pitches. The Kevin Gausman question becomes: would any changes to pitch usage result in more strikeouts, fewer walks, and/or more ground balls?
Let’s dive into Gausman’s strikeout potential. Because the righty hasn’t demonstrated above-average walk or ground ball rates, it’s reasonable to view strikeouts as Gausman’s best shot at delivering elite production. Despite the upward-trending strikeouts throughout the course of the season, Kevin Gausman didn’t change much about the pitch selection. The biggest adjustment was effectively trading sliders for splitters. Using the 6.99 K/9 rate as a benchmark this season, we have another question: why was a pitcher with a 96-mph fastball and quality split-finger not striking out even more batters?
The answer isn’t necessarily the slider. In theory, more sliders should mean more strikeouts. However, batters made contact with Gausman’s slider at a rate far greater than the splitter, and a higher percentage of line drives too. In fact, Gausman only threw 24 sliders with two strikes last year and generated just two whiffs. The splitter was a far greater option with two strikes and the slider was a liability otherwise.
Unlike the slider, the splitter was nasty. He used the pitch slightly more frequently with two strikes, and generated whiffs over a quarter of the time. The splitter was highly effective, but presents a different dilemma. Already throwing the pitch with the fifth-highest frequency in baseball (along with a 28-year old rookie, two veterans in their 30s, and Masahiro Tanaka, who missed time with an injured elbow), how many splitters can Gausman throw before experiencing diminishing returns? In the pursuit of more strikeouts, should Gausman throw 40% sliders and splitters and elevate his risk of injury? Maybe the answer is far simpler: the 2014 version of Kevin Gausman is what to expect going forward.
If in the market for a reliable starting pitcher, Gausman is a fine investment considering he throws 70-plus percent fastballs/change-ups and is nearing his 24th birthday without a major injury. In 2015, his arm will be fully developed and the arsenal appears able to withstand the rigors of future MLB seasons. However, it’s important to understand quality 3/4 fantasy baseball starters are available for much less year in and year out. In recent weeks, Mike Newman has mentioned both T.J. House and Carlos Carrasco as Indians pitchers worth stashing in keeper leagues. When one can use ROTOscouting to pull forgotten pitchers of the scrap heap, then why not cash in on a pitcher like Gausman who’s expected to be great?
Owning Kevin Gausman: Taking Advantage of National Television
It’s important to note the intent with the ROTOscouting framework isn’t to suggest every pitcher perform at these levels. David Price sported a 41.2% groundball rate in 2014, but also had a 9.82 K/9 and 1.38 BB/9. Dallas Keuchel only struck out 6.57 batters per nine, but walked 2.16 batters per nine and induced a whopping 63.5% groundball rate. Both Price and Keuchel achieved great success in 2014, in part thanks to their elite abilities to strike out batters (Price) and generate ground balls (Keuchel). However, Gausman doesn’t demonstrate elite command, ground ball or swing-and-miss abilities to support his becoming a top-tier fantasy pitcher.
With short performances out of the bullpen during the playoffs, Gausman can dial up the fastball and cruise through an opposing lineup once before giving way to the setup men. Seen as an elite prospect by many, the former LSU Tiger’s value will be buoyed with shutdown appearances in October. Take advantage of these brief outings to sell Kevin Gausman as the next Sonny Gray or Michael Wacha, players who exploded in the playoffs and saw their draft status skyrocket.
6 Oct 2014 / Ben Flajole /
1-On-1 ROTO Strategy Session
The Best Of RS
- Can Alex "Chi-Chi" Gonzalez Crack the Texas Rangers Opening Day Rotation?
- Fantasy Baseball Trade Deadline 101: A Former MLB GM’s Take
- Felix Hernandez and Solo Home Run Situations: A Blueprint For Longevity
- JR Graham: Is He Still An MLB Arm For The Atlanta Braves?
- Mason Williams: Is It Time To Label Him A Bust For The Yankees?
- Mike Newman's Top-50 Fantasy Baseball Prospects Scouted in 2014
- Nick Kingham Scouting Report (2014)
- Rangers Joey Gallo, Marlins Giancarlo Stanton And Strikeouts
- The ROTOscouting Baseball Podcast
- Top-10 Fantasy Baseball Prospects By Team
- Will Mike Moustakas Finally Put It Together Next Season?