A couple of days ago, when most people were expecting to witness something really awesome as Shane Bieber was trying to break the record for more Ks in three starts, I was rooting for Kevin Gausman to get a Quality Start. I know it is not as exciting, for sure, but it would have meant that Gausman is on track for a solid season (or whatever we are calling it these days).
He didn’t get it but it was not all lost.
Some ten days ago I superficially made a case for Gausman as a very cheap (as in free beer) option for your SPs roster; he is basically an FA that could bring a better return than other more renown names, so I would like to take a deeper dive into his first appearances this season. Let’s look at his numbers:
Gausman has lived on the wrong side of performance most of his baseball career, failing to live up to the expectations except for brief periods of time.
In the table, the 2013-2018 numbers show some average to mediocre figures in (k-bb)/ip, K%-BB%, and CSW with the corresponding effect that ERA, xFIP, and SIERA are all over the place. In plain words, not good. And what is worse very baffling as Gausman has been as unpredictable as a pitcher can be.
And then, 2019 happened.
When I was researching pitchers for this season I found that Gausman warranted a closer look and could be into something. I mean, I was not expecting him to be deGrom but at least he could fill SP4, SP5 positions in your pitching roster with the lowest possible investment.
In a hybrid role of starter/reliever, his 2019 ERA skyrocketed to 5.72, the worst in any of his seasons: that’s pretty bad but it’s far from the whole picture.
For the third season in a row, his xFIP and SIERA went down a slight but auspicious trend. But more importantly, from 2018 to 2019 his (k-bb)/ip and K%-BB% had a huge 50% increase to better levels, which although not elite, are still better than average. CSW also increased a more modest 10% and got for the first time in his career to better than league average too.
Then, I dug deeper.
Gausman is basically a Four Seamer and Split Finger pitcher, with a pinch of Slider. His speed is not astonishing but it’s pretty consistent around 93-94 mph, and he has actually gained almost a tick since 2018, so there is a factor which we can use to start explaining the better results. And there is also this:
Spin rates have been increasing 5% year to year since 2018 for both his fastball and the split finger, this has not necessarily translated in bigger displacements in the horizontal and/or vertical plane for those pitches so, although desireable, I can’t say it’s the reason for the improvement in the indicators.
BB% was more or less the same for 2018 and 2019 but K% had a 25% jump but that’s normally a symptom, not a cause. I was wondering if he was putting the ball more frequently in the strike zone, a consequence of better control but it was almost the same in both years, 43% and 40%, so that led me to nowhere. Then I saw this:
F-Strike% represents the percentage of first pitches that result in a strike. It can be interpreted in various ways but one of them could be called “pitcher aggressiveness” or how predisposed is the thrower to start the at-bat with a pitch down the middle, at least in perception.
Gausman has increased this percentage to the highest levels of his career the past couple of years and might indicate that, even subconsciously, he is more confident to start almost every at-bat challenging the batter. When pitchers succeed on getting favorable early counts, as getting a 0-1 count is, this usually leads to better adjustments and handling of the whole at-bat.
And for Gausman, that handling has resulted in a significant increase of at-bats ending in a K.
This season his numbers in this regard have improved even more and, although the sample of three appearances is still small, the trend continues.
These are pretty encouraging numbers but please always be aware that we haven’t reached the stabilization numbers for Ks and BBs so there is still variance to account for. K% stabilize after 17+ innings and BB% after 41+ innings as stated in Max Freeze’s awesome site FreezeStats. We always have to be cautious and avoid overreactions, that’s why I wanted to find underlying conditions that could show a more solid base for the perceived changes.
Gausman is barely owned in 5% of the Yahoo! public leagues.