20 July 2013

A Look at Kevin Gausman

I suspect most of you have had better looks at Kevin Gausman than I have. Probably most of use watch Orioles games either online or on television; perhaps you frequently go to Camden Yards. Because I am fortunate enough to see AAA baseball at the ballpark, I find watching even major-league games on television lifeless. However, because Gausman was promoted from AA Bowie directly to Baltimore and he pitched 30-plus innings in nine games. Those of you who watch Orioles games, then, have seen Gausman more than I have and you may find this post not useful.

But last Sunday (July 14) I did get to see Kevin Gausman, and from a vantage point in the fifth row just to the right of home plate. He pitched the sixth through ninth innings in relief of Zach Britton (and Daniel McCutchen); the Tides were trailing 9-2 when he came in. However, this was a planned "tandem start" for Britton and Gausman; the Orioles/Tides hoped Britton would work the first five innings and Gausman the last four. That didn't quite work as Britton hit his pitch-count limit early in the fifth inning; rather than bring Gausman in in the middle of the inning, the Tides used McCutchen. McCutchen gave up two home runs and turned a 5-0 game into a 9-0 game.

Gausman pitched effectively, although it's dangerous to draw conclusions from the last four innings of a blowout game on the last day before the All-Star break, when teams are trying to finish their game quickly. Gausman allowed five hits, two on his first two pitches. He allowed one run, when the first batter he faced scored on a wild pitch. Twelve of the sixteen batters he faced saw three or fewer pitches, but whether that's because Charlotte wanted to wrap up the win quickly or because there's something about Gausman that encourages short at-bats is unknown. He struck out six - including all four batters who saw more than three pitches - and walked none, again perhaps because of the circumstances (although Gausman is known to have good control.)

Gausman was consistently in the 94-97 range with his fastball, and he showed good command. His command of his secondary pitches wasn't as good. His approach seems to be to dare hitters to hit his fastball; he was especially effective at getting swinging strikes on pitches up in the zone. For him to be a truly effective starting pitcher, I think he needs to work more on his breaking and off-speed pitches.

The contrast between Britton and Gausman was (and is) striking. Britton is a left-handed pitcher who works most comfortably when his fastball is around 89 mph. Gausman is a right-handed pitcher who can consistently reach 96 mph with his fastball. Britton is most effective when he keeps the ball down, inducing ground balls. Gausman is more effective working up and even slightly out of the strike zone, tempting hitters to chase his fastball.

Because they are so opposite, it might make sense for the Orioles to use Britton and Gausman as tandem starters, with one going the first five innings and the other the last four. This would have several advantages. When they would change, the platoon advantages would switch. The opposing hitters would have to make some pretty major in-game adjustments. Neither Britton nor Gausman seem capable of sustaining consistent success through three or four times through the lineup, so by limiting them to four or five innings the Orioles would also be limiting their exposure. If everything went according to plan, and the first pitcher got through five innings and the second finished the last four, the rest of the bullpen would get a rest day.

This would not be a multi-season solution; barring injury, Gausman looks like a future staff ace, someone who can be a consistent starting pitcher. Perhaps as early as 2014, Gausman can be effective taking a regular turn in the rotation. However, Earl Weaver believed that the best way to break in a young pitcher was as a long reliever. By using Britton and Gausman as tandem starters, Gausman would learn how to get major league hitters out (as Weaver believed a long relief pitcher would) while getting him scheduled work. If I were Buck Showalter, I'd do it.


Anonymous said...

And who do you propose booting out of the rotation to give Britton the opportunity to throw away games that count in order to prep Gausman for next year?

Hammel has regressed terribly, but I don't think using up two roster spots just to get Gausman a look at the bigs is a great idea for a team that is trying to win this year.

Northwood said...

I agree.

This is why the Os will do great in September - they will squeeze every WAR from every member of the 40 man roster.

Last year went to a 6 man rotation once rosters expanded. This year may be a 6 slot rotation with a tandem entry.

Unknown said...

#Anonymous - I'd wait for the next starting pitcher to get hurt, and replace him with the Britton / Gausman tandem. It's got to be better than a Freddy Garcia or Josh Stinson.

As far as the roster spot goes, I've found that the seventh bullpen arm -- currently Jairo Ascensio -- picks up about two innings a week. The second half of a tandem should pick that up easily.