On Saturday I sat in the stands and took in Kevin Gausman’s second start this season as he faced a talented Oakland A’s team and their ace Sonny Gray. Surely, I thought, I’ll get to see a good start out of one of these talented pitchers tonight. Perhaps I’d get lucky and see a pitcher’s duel.
The game ended up selling out with more than 44,000 fans showing up to take in the spectacle (or get a Manny Machado bobblehead, that they could promptly sell on eBay) Though my wish for a pitcher’s duel didn’t come to fruition, I did get to see an excellent start out of one of the pitchers, though not the one who many would expect.
Gausman ended up going 7 innings while allowing 1 earned run (on a solo shot by Coco Crisp) while striking out 6 to match up against just 4 hits and 1 walk.
The first couple of innings were a little rough for Gausman as it took him 36 pitches to get through the first two innings. My main concern was that he wouldn’t last passed the 5th at the rate he was going.
Gausman would settle down a bit throwing 15 pitches in the third, but then really got efficient using just 9 and 10 pitches in the 4th and 5th respectively. Going into the 7th he had thrown 89 pitches, so I was concerned that Buck left him in the game, but he managed to throw just 13 pitches in the inning landing him at 102 for the game.
Why was Gausman able to be more effective in those middle and late innings compared to earlier in the game? One answer is changing speeds. I picked up on this a bit during the game, as I tweeted:
— Jeff Long (@BSLJeffLong) June 8, 2014
Early in the game Gausman threw as many as It turns out I was a little misguided and the pitch I was swooning over was actually Gausman’s splitter, which comes in at 84 mph. That would be 4 mph slower than his change up and 12 mph slower than his 4-seam fastball. In my defense, the pitch is probably most accurately described as a split-change.
Why is this relevant? Well Gausman’s pitch selection evolved as his start went on. OVer his first 32 pitches, Gausman threw just two pitches less than 90 mph, both of which were change ups that came in just under 88 mph. His pitch selection went something like this:
8 Fastballs (93.5 – 99.5 mph)
Change up (87.5)
13 fastballs (94.5 – 100 mph)
Change up (87.5 mph)
9 fastballs (94 – 98 mph)
While the velocity is awesome, the fact that he threw between 8 and 13 consecutive fastballs was not. opposing hitters were timing it up, well enough at least to foul it off and make Gausman work. The second inning saw Gausman give up a walk and a base hit before getting a double play. The walk was to Brandon Moss where 6 of the 7 pitches Gausman threw were heaters. Cespedes followed that up with a single during a 3-pitch fastball-only at bat. Not good.
Check out the graph below from Brooks Baseball to see how Gausman began mixing up his pitches later in the game though. You can clearly see how he began to regularly change speeds within at bats, mixing in more splitters and breaking balls:
Gausman’s best innings came when he was mixing in offspeed pitches like his split-change and slider. The at-bat that elicited my tweet from above was one to Brandon Moss in the top of the 6th inning. The pitch selection (note that MLBAM classifies Gausman’s split-change as a forkball):
That’s pretty impressive, as Gausman started out at 97 mph, then dropped 12 mph off of that, followed up with a 15 mph increase for the strikeout. Here is a slow motion .gif of the split-change that put Moss in an 0-2 hole:
I love this .gif because it lets you easily see just how much movement Gausman gets on his splitter. Moss swings thinking the pitch is a fastball in the middle of the zone, but by the time it crosses the plate, the pitch is down and right on the outside corner of the plate.
Once again, it’s worth reiterating that this pitch came in 12 mph slower than the previous one. That’s a significant velocity change, which only further complicates making contact with the ball as it dives away from Moss’ bat.
With the batter down 0-2, Gausman had a variety of options for putting away the A’s first baseman. He went with a fastball, and Moss had no chance:
Remember, this is a 15 mph increase over the previous pitch, and Moss has no shot. Gausman’s location here is pretty solid despite being up in the zone. The pitch’s natural tail carries the ball out towards the outside corner, and the pitch likely would have been a called strike if Moss hadn’t whiffed.
Also, this was the 89th pitch of the game for Gausman. 89th. Think about that for a second.
Kevin Gausman is often seen as a future ace by Orioles fans everywhere. His ability to change speeds is what will make him the ace of the O’s pitching staff in no time.