|Kavin Gausman (photo via Keith Allison)|
|Orioles Starting Rotation Since All-Star Break|
Other than the ERA, these numbers are by no means outstanding, but it’s a good sign from a group that had many doubters before and during the season (including me). So who gets sent to the bullpen? My initial thought was that the obvious choice would be Miguel Gonzalez, until this tweet scurried across my timeline on Sunday (followed by a very similar tweet on Monday)…
#orioles rotation for Division Series figures to line up as Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez and Norris. Will know for sure in few days
— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) September 21, 2014
It was surprising to see that Kubatko sounded so sure that Gonzalez was going to be a part of the postseason rotation instead of Kevin Gausman. I’m not doubting him, he’s way more tuned in to what the team is likely to do than I am, as that’s his job. However, I was surprised since I think an argument could be made that Gausman has been good enough to possibly start game 1 of the Division Series. Having said that, let’s take a closer look at why Gausman is a better choice to start than Gonzalez.
First, let’s see how they compare over the course of the entire 2014 season.
|Kevin Gausman vs Miguel Gonzalez - 2014 Season|
There are a few differences in how the two pitched this year, but overall, they’ve been fairly similar according to ERA and strikeout/walk rates. Aside from innings pitched (Gausman made one start in May, but only joined the team full-time in June), the two start to diverge with FIP and fWAR. Gausman’s lead in fWAR is quite sizeable, especially when you consider that he’s pitched almost 44 innings less than Gonzalez. This can be attributed (partly) to the differences in their BABIP’s and LOB%. Compared to 2014 starting pitcher league averages of .296 (BABIP) and 72.4% (LOB%), these numbers would indicate that Gonzalez has been the benefactor of good luck, while Gausman has not (although he hasn’t necessarily had bad luck either).
However, Gonzalez has shown an ability over the past 3 years to consistently post low BABIP’s relative to the league average, which helps him outperform his FIP and generally pitch better than expected. It’s believed that some (although few) pitchers have a skill that allows them to accomplish this feat on a consistent basis. Matt Cain, who outperformed his FIP for 6 straight years before failing to do so in 2013 is a prime example. I’m not saying Gonzalez has this skill, but I wouldn’t rule it out either. Interestingly enough, Gonzalez’s BABIP in 2014 is actually higher than his career level of .264. The same can’t be said for his LOB% though, as he’s leaving runners stranded at a 5% higher rate than his career average, which I believe is safe to assume is driven by good luck.
Just on the quality of their 2014 seasons, I would still go with Gausman based on his results and peripherals. However, maybe the Orioles should choose the “hot hand”. This end point is arbitrary, but let’s see how each of the two have performed over the last month.
|Kevin Gausman vs Miguel Gonzalez - Last 30 Days|
As you can see, both have been excellent over the last 30 days, with Gausman showing greater improvement in both strikeout and walk rates. However, what really sticks out is the extreme BABIP and LOB% of Gonzalez. Even for him, a BABIP of .226 and a strand rate of 94.1% are very extreme, and he can’t be expected to sustain those levels. In contrast, Gausman has pitched even better over the last 30 days than he has over the course of the season, despite being slightly unluckier. Additionally, Gausman has shown consistent improvement over the course of the year when it comes to striking batters out and limiting free passes.
|Kevin Gausman K% and BB% by Month (2014)|
The Orioles would be doing themselves a disservice by putting Kevin Gausman in the bullpen instead of Miguel Gonzalez. In fact, an argument could probably be made that Kevin Gausman is Baltimore’s best starting pitching option right now, although that is not within the scope of this post. There’s no doubt that the Orioles can succeed in the postseason without Kevin Gausman in their rotation, but if that’s the case, they’re not giving themselves their best chance at it.