Kevin+Gausman+New+York+Yankees+v+Baltimore+y6HRpuGkS3DlEvery year, it seems like a new young pitcher makes waves in the playoffs. Last year, the Cardinals’ Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha thrust themselves into the public eye with spectacular postseason performances. While it didn’t hurt that they both had good seasons to go with it, putting together big performances in the national spotlight adds names to households, moves players up in fantasy drafts, and most importantly for them, earns big contracts. This year, Kevin Gausman is that player for the Orioles.

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To compare the ability of the young starts in the postseason spotlight, I’m going to use a stat called SIERA, or skill-interactive earned run average. SIERA takes into account a number of things that ERA and FIP don’t – all of those things falling under the umbrella of a player’s ability to leverage his specific set of skills. For instance, SIERA makes ground balls more valuable to pitchers with a high walk rate, since they’d be more likely to result in double plays. SIERA uses rate states with a denominator of plate attempts instead of innings pitched because IP can fluctuate based on luck on balls in play. For more on SIERA, check out the Baseball Prospectus post that introduced it.

What you do need to know moving forward is that SIERA is a better predictor of future park-adjusted ERA than ERA, FIP, and tRA. Baseball Prospectus tested that in year-to-year models, but I’ll be using it to casually project playoff performance.

Kevin Gausman pitching at home for the Orioles

Kevin Gausman pitching at home for the Orioles

First, a caveat: as always, beware the small sample. Gausman, like his young pitcher counterparts in years prior, has a limited sampling of games from which to calculate SIERA. It’s liable to adjust as he both broadens his sample and as he improves, as 23-year-olds usually do. The playoffs are also a small sample size in themselves; even the best pitchers have a bad outing occasionally.1

Now that that’s over with… Gausman holds a 4.25 SIERA in 2014 and a 3.82 over his career. Since approach typically changes from bullpen to starting, and because of the small sample, I don’t put much stock into his 3.07 SIERA in 2013. That does’t mean much without context, so let’s look at the 9 starters that wrap Gausman in SIERA in 2014:

Pitcher 2014 SIERA
Jake Peavy 4.16
Jason Vargas 4.17
Kyle Gibson 4.19
Tom Koehler 4.19
Edwin Jackson 4.20
Kevin Gausman 4.25
Justin Verlander 4.29
Jeremy Guthrie 4.30
Jarred Cosart 4.34
Edinson Volquez 4.36

It’s not terrible company, though it is among the bottom 30 starters in baseball this season. Gausman’s SIERA is, however, better than Chris Tillman’s and that of expensive pitchers like Verlander, Weaver, and Buehrle.

What about players who were around the same age when they posted a similar SIERA? At first glance, there’s not much to suggest that SIERA in a rookie season is predictive of future career success. If a pitcher loses the ability to, say, strike anyone out after a year in the league, then SIERA’s predictive ability (as does the same of every other stat) disappears. Rookie starters from the last five years, 2010-2014, with similar SIERA are listed below. For some reason, FanGraphs lists Gausman’s rookie SIERA as different than his 2014 SIERA. Here, I’m using the one that’s included in the league table:

Pitcher Rookie SIERA
Robbie Erlin 4.13
Stephen Fife 4.16
Vidal Nuno 4.16
Kevin Gausman 4.17
Jordan Lyles 4.18
Bryan Matusz 4.19
Brandon Maurer 4.19
Justin Grimm 4.20
Wei-Yin Chen 4.22
Brandon Workman 4.24

Among this group, only Chen and Brandon Workman got postseason experience during their rookie seasons (2012 and 2013, respectively). Chen got work as a starter and went 6 1/3 innings allowing 2 runs. Workman pitched 8 1/3 innings of relief, giving up one unearned run.

For what it’s worth:

  • Shelby Miller (3.61 SIERA in 2013, when he exceeded rookie limits) pitched in relief in both the 2012 and 2013 playoffs for the Cardinals, racking up a total of 4 1/3 innings of work.
  • Michael Wacha (3.25 SIERA in 2013) started for St. Louis in his rookie postseason to spectacular effect: 30 2/3 innings pitched and a 2.64 ERA.
  • Gerrit Cole (3.34 SIERA in 2013) started for Pittsburgh in his rookie postseason and did well enough: two starts, 11 innings pitched, and a 2.45 ERA.
  • Danny Salazar (2.72 SIERA in 2013) started one game for Cleveland in his rookie postseason and was horrible: 4 IP, 4 hits, and 3 runs for a 6.75 ERA.
  • Yu Darvish (3.62 SIERA in 2012) started one game for Texas in his rookie postseason (against the Orioles!) and gave up 3 runs over 6.2 innings for a 2.70 ERA.
  • Drew Smyly (3.72 SIERA in 2012) pitched 4 innings in relief for the Tigers in his rookie postseason, giving up just one run.

Based on this list, Gausman’s prospects for a stellar postseason are slim. Each of these pitchers wash highly regarded and notched a better SIERA than Gausman in their rookie years, and yet only two or three were effective as starters in the postseason. Only one pitched like an ace. At the same time, Gausman is arguably as naturally talented as anyone on this list (and likely moreso than Smyly, Miller, and Salazar), and can be a shutdown starting pitcher in any given outing.

The Orioles run into trouble with Gausman’s innings to date – he’s never pitched as many as he is on pace to this year, and a trip to the bullpen in the playoffs would keep his stuff in play while limiting his exposure and risk of injury. They also run into trouble with decent alternatives; nobody would really trust Jimenez taking the mound in a playoff game at this point. Gausman doesn’t have to pitch, but he kind of has to pitch because his baseline is better than the baseline of bench and bullpen alternatives, and his peak is greater than anyone else on the staff’s.

Whether it’s starting or coming from the bullpen, Gausman will assuredly be among Baltimore’s most popular names come October. Whether Gausman becomes the biggest rookie name in the league this postseason is dependent on both his performance and that of the other two big-time rookie pitchers who have performed exceptionally well this season and are likely to reach the playoffs: Matt Shoemaker (LAA) and Sonny Grey (OAK). Getting a matchup of future aces would be great baseball – and even better if Gausman came out on top.

Patrick Dougherty
Patrick Dougherty

Patrick was the co-founder of Observational Studies, a blog which focused on the analysis and economics of professional sports. The native of Carroll County graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Loyola University Maryland. Patrick works at a regional economic development and marketing firm in Baltimore, and in his free time plays lacrosse.