30 March 2015

Kevin Gausman Should Be in the Orioles' Rotation

Photo by Keith Allison
It's no secret that the Orioles have six starting pitchers and only five rotation spots. Some fans have clamored for Ubaldo Jimenez to be the odd man out, while others have pointed to Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman being the only members of the staff with minor league options. Gausman, however, was quite effective out of the bullpen for the Orioles in the postseason, a role he apparently may find himself in again come Opening Day.
This isn't incredibly surprising news. Gausman is the least established member of the rotation, having yet to spend an entire season on an MLB roster. And putting him in the bullpen or in Norfolk are likely the two easiest options for Buck Showalter. But that doesn't mean either is the best decision. Obviously the decision does not exist in a vacuum, but putting Gausman in the rotation is deserved enough that the Orioles should make doing so a priority, and deal with whatever roster crunch ramifications come of it.

Here's how ZiPS projects the six rotation candidates to perform in 2015:

While acknowledging that, aside from Gonzalez, the numbers here are pretty similar, Gausman's FIP (4.05) projects to be the best of the group, and his WAR (1.6) projects to be second to Chen (1.8). It's fair to say that, while not head and shoulders above the group, Gausman projects to be the best starter of the bunch in 2015, something Baseball Prospectus 2015 claims he already was by the end of the 2014 season. Gonzalez projects to be, by far, the weakest.

While projections are more reliable than Gausman's small sample as a starter in the Majors, since they also account for age and minor league performance, Gausman's month to month progress as a starter is also encouraging.

Gausman joined the rotation full time in July, making five starts that month, as well as five starts in August and September. Small sample size warnings apply, but here's a look at how Gausman fared by month.

On top of projecting to be the team's best starter, Gausman's K/9 and BB/9 moved in the right direction each month he was in the rotation.

Using a slightly adjusted sample, here's how all of the team's starters fared in the second half. Ubaldo Jimenez is excluded, as he only pitched 20 1/3 innings.

Just like the previous chart, this is a small sample. While keeping that in mind, this is further evidence that Gausman, in the small sample we have of him as a full-time MLB starter, has more than held his own among this current group of starters. Miguel Gonzalez, just as in the 2015 projections, again stand out as the weak link.

It seems unlikely that the Orioles are going to leave Jimenez out of the rotation to start the season, in which case it would make the most sense for Gonzalez to be the odd man out of the rotation. Jon has written here before about the possibility of moving Gonzalez to the bullpen. Unless the Orioles are again going to limit Gausman's innings, there is no reason he should go to the bullpen or Norfolk instead of Gonzalez.

Regardless of how the Orioles make room for Gausman in their 2015 Opening Day rotation, the advantage of having him in the rotation, despite the lost roster flexibility in doing so, is the best decision the team can make with their 24-year-old starter pitcher.


Anonymous said...

The orioles Beat reporter has stated that Gausman starting in the bullpen to monitor innings so that he doesn't have to be shut down in august.

Pat Holden said...

Yeah, I did say that's the one condition under which it makes some sense.

I've seen it suggested that's why they may start him in the bullpen, but haven't seen it stated as confirmed. Have you?

O's fan in Cincy said...

It's an option Buck says he intends to explore:

“'Might bring Gaus' back shorter until everything shakes out,' Showalter said. 'I want him to be ready to do both things. There’s a possibility for everybody — really, all options open right now. We’ve got some time to make decisions, dealing from some quality right now. I don’t worry about it a lot because we’re picking from a number of people we like, as opposed to last man standing.'”


Pat Holden said...

Right, Buck said they are going to explore putting him in the bullpen, which is what prompted this post. I have not seen it stated that they are doing that because Gausman is on an innings limit this season.

O's fan in Cincy said...

Okay, right, I overlooked that. Of course, starting is the preferred role for Gausman, but there are worse things in Oriole World than having him temporarily assume the Andrew Miller role.

Of the six projected members of the rotation, if allowed to just go all out for an inning or two, Kevin would by far present the nastiest of setup men for opposing lineups. 7th - O'Day/Hunter/Matusz, 8th - Gaus, 9th - Britton.

Sounds like a winning formula to me.

Pat Holden said...

I agree he'd be the best arm out of the pen of the starters, but that's because he has the best arm of all of the starters. I'd prefer to maximize his innings. But yeah, I'd expect him to be a strength of the bullpen.

Anonymous said...

I would rather have Gausman go down to Norfolk than pitch out of Baltimore's bullpen. Let's not take him out of a starting routine so early in the season. Plus there is already a bullpen crunch without the sixth starter involved. While Gausman is good enough to be in the big league rotation, he wasn't AMAZING last year (3.93 xFIP/4.11 SIERA). If I remember correctly, Kevin only has about sixteen starts in AAA. The Orioles could limit his innings in Norfolk more appropriately as Kevin puts the finishing touches on his repitiore. He would be the first starter called up to replace an injured, underperforming, or traded rotation member.