Kevin Gausman Looks to Build on Solid 2016 Season

Kevin Gausman is the de facto ace of the Baltimore Orioles’ starting rotation; not because his stats in 2016 were extraordinary, but because no one else was very good. Only two of Gausman’s four seasons in the majors have been above average by ERA+ (110 ERA+ in 2014 and 123 in 2016; he put up a 72 and 97 in 2013 and 2015 respectively). Gausman’s overall 3.61 ERA and 1.280 WHIP over 179 ⅔ innings were fine, if uninspiring, and the righty improved as the season progressed, putting up a 4.15 ERA before the All-Star break and 3.10 afterward.

What he throws. Gausman has a limited repertoire for a starting pitcher, relying almost entirely on three pitches. His four-seam fastball (“FF”) has good velocity, averaging 95.1 mph and peaking at 99.9. As a change of pace, he throws a split-finger fastball (“FS”), which averages 84.9 mph. His third pitch is either a slow slider (“SL”) or a fast curve — call it a “slurve” if you want — that averaged 80.2 mph. The three pitches are well separated by both velocity and movement:

Pitch usage and trends. About two-thirds of Gausman’s pitches are fastballs (66.0%), with his splitter making up 20.7% and his slider the remaining 13.3%. He throws far fewer sliders to left-handed batters (7.5%), making up the difference mainly with splitters. Although he throws a similar repertoire when ahead and behind in the count, that changes dramatically when he is far behind. In 3-1 counts in 2016, 86.3% of his pitches were fastballs, and the 42 times when he was in a 3-0 count he threw nothing but fastballs (100%):

Although Gausman’s stats improved after the All-Star break, his repertoire and velocity didn’t show much change over the season:

Pitch value. Gausman showed fairly significant platoon splits in 2015 and 2016, with left-handed batters in 2016 putting up a .659 OPS against him while right-handed batters had an .812 OPS. His fastball is equally effective against both sides, yielding about a league average level of total bases per 100 pitches as well as a better than average number of balls per 100 pitches, but both his splitter and his slider are much more effective against lefties, at least as far as total bases per 100 pitches is concerned. His splitter is still a reasonably effective pitch against right-handed batters, but his slider, a work in progress, is only average against lefties and is poor against RHB by TB/100, and is worse than average in terms of balls per 100 pitches, especially against lefties:

Pitch location. Only Gausman’s fastballs are consistently thrown in the strike zone. Both to left- and right-handed batters, Gausman places his fastballs mostly in the center of the zone, but with a sizable minority that target the bottom outside corner. To left-handed batters, his slider and splitter also both end up low and outside, but further than his fastballs and often well outside the zone; the splitter in particular draws a high proportion of swinging strikes (22.5%). To right-handed batters, his splitter is low and inside, probably making it more distinct from the low-and-outside fastball and making it easier to lay off, while his slider also ends up below the strike zone:

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Featured image courtesy of USA Today Sports.