Kevin Gausman has been, unequivocally, a disappointment here in 2017. Though he’s shown signs of potentially turning a corner over his last two starts (combined 11.0 IP, 10 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 13 K), his numbers for the season are certainly not what anybody had in mind from the guy who was supposed to take the next step and anchor the rotation in 2017.
4-7, 86.0 IP, 117 H, 58 ER, 41 BB, 67 K, 6.07 ERA.
If you prefer the more advanced version, he’s sporting a 5.19 FIP and a 5.20 xFIP, both easily career worsts.
Volumes have been written, by some very smart folks, already this season, trying to figure out what his problem is. We’ve heard all the potential culprits: he’s not using his splitter enough. He’s not locating his fastball. He still doesn’t have an MLB-caliber breaking pitch. He’s just getting unlucky (.369 BABIP!). He doesn’t have a put-away pitch.
Even if ALL of those things were going wrong to various degrees, a 6.07 ERA for someone with Kevin’s talent is just mind-boggling.
MASN Orioles announcer, 1983 World Series MVP, and everyone’s favorite silly Uncle, Rick Dempsey, has his own thoughts on Gausman’s regression. Speaking on The Glenn Clark Show today, Demper said that he doesn’t love Gausman’s approach, and wishes he would work on his curveball more.
“He’s just not getting himself in a position to be successful,” Rick said,” and it comes from making the same mistakes over and over again, and thinking there’s going to be a new result.”
“Two strikes-no balls, two strikes-one ball, you’ve got a pitcher behind the eight ball. [If you’re a hitter], you’ve got him in the palm of your hand, and somehow…he just can’t find a way to close that out…that’s what really hurts, to see a guy with that much talent not be dominant in those situations.”
Our eyes tell us that Kevin has indeed been very bad when ahead in the count. Let’s see just how bad.
Via Baseball-Reference, Gausman has had 32 AB this year end on the next pitch with the count 0-2. Here are the results:
.313/.313 (no walks, obviously)/.500. 10 H, 14 K, 2 HR.
That’s right, opposing batters are batting .313 against him when the count is 0-2.
He’s had 77 more AB end later in the count, after being up 0-2. Those results:
.347/.364/.520. 4 2B, 3 HR, 2 BB, 26 K
And in any count where he is ahead:
.348/.350/.487, 4 HR
Yeah, that’s awful! Spot on, Rick.
However, Rick doesn’t lay 100% of the blame on Gausman.
“It takes a lot of concentration, maybe on the part of the catcher also, to make suggestions that are going to help this kid get deep in ballgames.”
Rick says that if he were catching, one of those suggestions would be the breaking ball in the dirt.
“He hasn’t tried it one time in the last four years that he’s been getting an opportunity to start. 0-2, he has not thrown that ball in the dirt not one time…why wouldn’t Kevin want to do that?
“He tries to pitch up in the strike zone, and he gets himself in trouble.”
Is Gausman’s breaking ball good enough to get batters to bite, though? Rick doesn’t put much stock in that part of the equation.
“It doesn’t matter!” Rick insisted. “I caught 27 years, 24 years in the big leagues, and there were guys out there who didn’t have good curveballs…I don’t care if it’s a crummy curveball or not, it’s slower than his slider. His slider you can identify a lot quicker than you can the curveball…so if he goes out and practices throwing a slow curveball, whether or not it’s a good one, but that’s a foot or two in front of home plate? You’re gonna get a lot of guys to swing at that pitch. I did it for year after year after year. That’s how you present a third or fourth best pitch.”
Having listened to Gausman in interviews since he was drafted in 2012, I had always been impressed by his mental approach. He seemed like a guy who was genuinely interested in the science of pitching, and I never had any doubt that his curiosity, combined with his immense talent, would result in his becoming a successful big league pitcher.
This year though, we’ve all seen it countless times – he’ll be up 0-2 on a hitter, and he’ll groove one right down the middle. Now, is that what he was trying to do? We’d certainly like to think not, but as they say, once is a fluke, twice is a trend, three times is a habit….so what’s like, I dunno…47 times?
It’s hard to blame any of this on Gausman’s catchers, to my mind (though what the heck do I know about catching, compared to Demper? Admittedly, diddly squat). They aren’t calling for meatballs with two strikes. For instance, ow many times have we seen the catcher try to get Gausman to elevate a two-strike fastball, just for Kevin to leave it middle-middle?
Side note: It sure is crazy what these guys say when they’re not on MASN, isn’t it? Glenn interviewed Mike “Best in the League” Bordick a few weeks back, and he was like a different guy than the cheerleader he is on MASN.