Might as well continue looking at former Orioles’ prospects. First, it was Dylan Bundy. Today, Kevin Gausman. The Yankees have reportedly called the Giants about the right-hander. Another report indicates that the two sides have discussed a trade for a week. Aside from simply needing another starter ASAP, let’s see why Gausman has caught the Yankees’ eye.
Background & Performance
Gausman was the 4th overall selection in the 2012 draft out of LSU. The Dodgers drafted him in the sixth round in 2010 out of high school, but he did not sign. By the way, you may have heard that Gausman was high school teammates with ex-Yankee Greg Bird. The former first baseman of the future was Gausman’s catcher at that time.
The Orioles hoped for Gausman and Bundy to develop into a formidable 1-2 punch atop the team’s rotation, but that never materialized. Gausman put together some OK seasons in Baltimore, but never lived up to his billing. The now 29 year-old righty was a consensus front-end top-100 prospect and didn’t take long to reach the big leagues. He first came up in 2013, just a year after he was drafted.
By ERA+, Gausman was perfectly average during his career with the O’s. He threw 763 2/3 innings and recorded a 4.22 ERA and 4.16 FIP. There were a couple of solid seasons mixed in there, particularly 2014 (3.57 ERA in 113 1/3 IP) and 2016 (3.61 ERA in 179 2/3 IP), but he was often inconsistent. The Orioles traded him to Atlanta at the 2018 trade deadline.
Gausman thrived for the Braves after the deal. He made 10 starts and posted a 2.87 ERA and 3.78 FIP. However, he really struggled last season with Atlanta (6.19 ERA in 16 starts) and was waived mid-summer. Cincinnati claimed him to pitch mostly in relief the rest of the year. The Reds non-tendered him in the offseason. That’s where San Francisco came in. The Giants signed Gausman to a one-year, $9 million deal. In six games (five starts), the righty has a 4.65 ERA and 3.12 FIP in 31 innings.
Still hittable despite more strikeouts
Gausman has been confounding for his entire career. He’s got the high velocity fastball and a good splitter, but he’s very hittable. Even in a year when he’s posted career-best strikeout and walk rates (31.6 and 4.5 percent, respectively), he’s allowed 34 hits in 31 innings. 5 of those hits have left the ballpark.
This is where FIP can be a bit misleading. Yes, it’s a very good 3.12 mark this season on the back of his excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio. But while he’s missed more bats, hitters are still making the most of their contact against him. That’s why it’s no real surprise that Baseball Prospectus’s pitching metric du jour, DRA, actually thinks Gausman’s gotten exactly what he’s deserved (4.65 DRA). To corroborate, take a look at where he stands in a few Statcast metrics by percentile:
- Exit Velocity: 60th percentile
- Hard Hit Percentage: 62nd
- Barrel Percentage: 20th
- xwOBA: 57th
- xBA: 43rd
- xSLG: 39th
You’ll notice that his exit velocity and hard hit percentage marks actually aren’t bad. That might be noise, though. Gausman has typically been below average in those categories in prior seasons. Nonetheless, it’s the other items that are more concerning: barrel percentage, xBA, and xSLG. It’s reasonable to assume that his batted profile is the culprit.
Gausman has a hard time keeping the ball on the ground, this year especially so. Batters have a ground ball rate of 34.5 percent this season, down from 40.7 percent last year and 46.6 percent in 2018. That’s not a good trend with such a poor barrel rate against.
With all this in mind, I feel pretty comfortable throwing FIP out the door when it comes to Gausman. More strikeouts and fewer walks are great, for sure. It can certainly help mitigate some of the less than ideal contact he allows. But if he’s going to keep allowing barreled balls, especially in a transition from Oracle Park to Yankee Stadium, it’s not going to work.
Gausman’s earning roughly a third of his $9 million salary as a result of the short season. He’s a free agent at the end of the year and is purely a rental.
What would a trade look like?
Trading for 5 or 6 Gausman starts really shouldn’t cost the Yankees much. If anything, it should be salary relief for the Giants. Maybe a fringy prospect as a kicker. This is probably why he’s already been connected to New York — Brian Cashman won’t have to give up much to get him. MTPS: 2017 11th rounder Shawn Semple for Gausman.