Kevin Gausman Will Be Paid Off One Big Outlier Year
Free agency is difficult. Teams need to look not just at track records but also trajectory. Perhaps, the perfect embodiment of this is Kevin Gausman.
Before signing with the San Francisco Giants, Gausman made 154 starts with 37 relief appearances. He was 47-63 with a 4.30 ERA, 1.344 WHIP, and an 8.3 K/9.
Really, he was a below average pitcher. That was reflected in his 99 ERA+ and 4.13 FIP. It’s also reflected in his being designated for assignment by the Atlanta Braves in 2019.
To their credit, the Giants saw something in Gausman. To some extent, it was seeing his FIP and BABIP indicated he pitched better than his stats. It was also getting him to alter his pitch usage and sequencing. Gausman threw fewer fastballs and more splitters.
In the COVID shortened 2020, Gausman posted a 118 ERA+ and a 3.09 FIP. Up until that point of his career, it was his best FIP and second best ERA+ (minimum 60 innings). Much of that was driven by his strikeout rates skyrocketing from his 8.3 K/9 career mark to 11.9.
The problem was that was a shortened season. No one knew if he could do it for a full season. With that, the qualifying offer made sense for both sides.
Gausman responded with a phenomenal Cy Young caliber season. He was a real ace for a Giants team which won 107 games. In 33 starts, he was 14-6 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.042 WHIP, and a 10.6 K/9.
By nearly every measure, this was a career year for the 30 year old hurler. It was his career best in wins, ERA, starts, innings, strikeouts, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, H/9, HR/9, and WAR.
That’s not to say there weren’t some red flags. Gausman’s .275 BABIP and 78.4 LOB% suggests regression. Gausman was also a far better pitcher in the first half.
In the first half, Gausman had a 1.73 ERA while averaging 6.1 innings per start. In the second half, he had a 4.42 ERA while averaging 5.0 innings per start.
Now, considering no one pitched all that much in 2020, there was some drop off expected for all pitchers. After all, there was bound to be fatigue with everyone. That was most likely the cause with Gausman even though he is typically a second half pitcher.
So, here’s the issue. Gausman is turning 31, and he’s had exactly one half of a season pitching like an ace. Essentially, hex was Brodie Van Wagenen miscast Zack Wheeler to be.
Notably, Wheeler was much more than that. Gausman hasn’t been.
There’s other issues as well. The Giants are ahead of most teams on the analytical front. They also had Buster Posey behind the plate. Really, no MLB team can match that. That may go double for a team like the New York Mets.
Essentially, if you’re a team in on Gausman, you are boasting you can help him repeat some of his luck while matching the Giants front office and analytics department. You believe you can make that first half last a full season.
Look, it’s certainly possible. However, that depends on the team. The possibility turns into impossibility depending on the ultimate destination.
Overall, any team interested in Gausman needs to tread extremely carefully. This is the ultimate boom or bust singing. With pitchers like Max Scherzer and Marcus Stroman still available, it’s difficult to ascertain why a team would take this risk.