A Mixed Debut: Kevin Gausman
Everyone in the Orioles fanbase was excited to witness the debut of the next high profile Orioles prospect, Kevin Gausman. After witnessing the success of 20 year old Manny Machado, it was certainly exciting to entertain the thought of the Orioles having two young stars on the team at the same time. The excitement leading up to his debut in the major leagues was covered by my BSL colleagues here and here. While Gausman showed glimpses of his precocious talent, he also struggled at times during his debut against the Blue Jays.
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If you happened to miss the game last night, or just want to watch the highlights again, you can watch them at this link at mlb.com.
First, let’s establish his repertoire. His electric fastball sat at 95-97 mph, but touched 99 a few times. The full range of the pitch was from 94-99 mph. The pitch had late life when located well in the zone. A few of them had tremendous arm side run, which at times carried the pitch out of the strike zone. It’s possible that these pitches with extreme movement could have been 2 seam fastballs. Of his 89 total pitches, 63 were fastballs.
His changeup was the secondary pitch that he turned to most often. He threw it 15 times on the night, to both lefties and righties. Most pitchers will only throw changeups to opposite handed hitters, but Gausman chose to throw the pitch 8 times to lefties and 7 times to righties. The change was his most effective pitch of the evening, only being put into play once all night (for a harmless fly ball out). He threw it from 82-86 mph with a little arm side fade and big downward drop. 9 out of the 15 times he threw it on the night, he was able to throw it for a strike. You heard that the change was his best secondary pitch going in, and it certainly was on this night.
He located the changeup extremely well, which you can see from these Heat Maps from FanGraphs. The heat maps are from the catcher’s perspective so a left handed batter would stand on the right side and a right handed batter would stand on the left. Gausman focused on locating the changeup low and away to left handed batters, while working both sides of the plate low in the zone to righties.
His least developed pitch is definitely his slider. Gausman brought out the slider 11 times on the night, but was only able to throw it for a strike four times. After throwing both a curveball and a slider in college, the Orioles and Gausman decided to scrap the curveball when he entered pro ball. So the slider being slightly underdeveloped at this point is understandable. The velocity range on the pitch was 82-85 mph, similar to his changeup.
In the fourth inning when Gausman got into trouble, it was because of the slider. He hung one to Adam Lind starting off the inning, and Lind took the pitch off the wall in right field for a double. Matt Wieters had to have been looking to boost his confidence in the pitch because he called another one on the first pitch to the next batter, J.P. Arencibia. Unfortunately, he hung this one too and watched Arencibia drive it over left fielder Nate McLouth’s head for another double. The back to back doubles led to the first run of four he would give up on the night.
Through the first three innings on the night we saw what has the organization so excited about Kevin Gausman’s future. His first three innings were scoreless with only two hits and a walk while striking out three. He ended each of the first two innings with a swinging strikeout. In the first, he got Adam Lind to swing over mid-80’s changeup after hitting 98 on a fastball earlier in the at bat. The velocity difference between his fastball and changeup can be absolutely devastating at times. He rung up Emilio Bonifacio in the second inning on a fastball that was probably up and out of the zone. Gausman showed us he could use his plus velocity to get hitters to swing through his fastball when it’s above the zone.
I found the most interesting at bat of the evening to be the at bat against Colby Rasmus in the fourth inning. The first three batters had reached via two doubles and a bunt single from Brett Lawrie. This brought up Rasmus with runners on first and third and one run in. Rasmus had singled to right field off a fastball in his first at bat, and it was clear that Gausman wanted to get him out with a changeup in his second at bat.
He started him out with a change that was located well and went for a swinging strike. Then he missed with the fastball, before going back to the changeup for another swing and miss. The two whiffs he got in this at bat were two of the seven he got on the night. At this point, he threw three more changeups in a row trying to get the K. That didn’t work so Gausman went back to the fastball once more, which Rasmus fouled off. Finally, on the 3-2 count – Gausman went back to the changeup and missed, walking Rasmus and loading the bases. He realized quickly that some things that work at the minor league level don’t always work in the major leagues.
”I threw a great changeup 3-2 to (Colby) Rasmus and he just kind of spit on it,” Gausman said. ”At this level, those guys are so good it’s kind of crazy.”
The plan to get Rasmus out by throwing almost exclusively changeups didn’t work. Even though Rasmus has struck out 37% of the time this season, throwing him six changeups out of eight pitches didn’t work. He swung and missed at the first two but once a major league hitter sees the same off speed pitch that many times in an at bat, he’s going to be able to adjust to it. Gausman will have to adjust back if he’s going to have success at the major league level.
Gausman showed the talent that made him a good choice for the Orioles with the #4 overall pick in the 2012 draft. His average fastball velocity of 96.5 mph is the fastest of any major league starter this season, ahead of guys like Stephen Strasburg, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Harvey. In the major leagues, batters can hit fastballs in the mid to upper 90’s if they’re not located well but having that kind of velocity will allow him to get away with more mistakes than most.
One mistake Gausman didn’t get away with last night was the fastball he threw on the first pitch of J.P. Arencibia’s at bat in the fifth inning. Wieters wanted the ball low and outside, and the ball ended up belt high on the inside corner. To an all or nothing fastball hitter like Arencibia, the poor location led to him lining the pitch over the left field wall for a two run home run.
So, Gausman has some things to work on. He needs to work on the consistency of his slider. He can’t get away with hanging two of them in a row. He needs to work on his fastball command as we saw in the at bat to Arencibia. And he needs to work on his pitch sequencing as we saw in the at bat to Rasmus.
However, there are so many good things to take away from this start that leave me incredibly excited about his future. Gausman held his velocity all the way through his start and even hit his max velocity in the fifth inning, touching 99. Even though Buck Showalter decided to pull him after 89 pitches, it wasn’t because he was tired. I see a young precocious talent with the pitches to get major league hitters out who has just a few things to work on. There will be better nights in his future. Despite his struggles on this night, I believe we just witnessed the beginning of a young man’s career that’s going to quickly turn into a top of the rotation pitcher.