If Kevin Gausman had a set spot in the Baltimore Orioles’ rotation for the rest of the season, I have no doubt that he would be no worse than their third-best starter. The Orioles are not getting innings from their rotation currently, and there’s a chance that Gausman may have the best command of any starter in the Orioles’ system. He does, without a doubt, have the best stuff.
Gausman boasts an elite fastball and a strong change that isn’t far behind. He made twenty starts last season, and he was relatively successful. The biggest knock was his ability to prevent base-runners, though that can be heavily attributed to his rookie status and unfriendly BABIP.
He has been promoted, demoted, stretched out, shortened, injured, and more thus far in 2015. While some of Gausman’s season has been out of the Orioles’ control, it’s fair to doubt their plan at certain points. Their curious usage patterns and a lot of bad luck have put major question marks around the career of previous top prospect Dylan Bundy, and they can only hope a similar fate will not surround Gausman.
Gausman is ready to start. He’s ready to produce. The Orioles need him in the rotation now. I could happily make an argument that he could replace multiple starters in this rotation, but we’ll limit this to Bud Norris. Norris is in the last half a one year deal worth about $8.8 million. I think he’s movable at that price, especially when you survey the market for mid-tier pitchers. Though his 5.44 FIP leaves a lot to be desired, he’s a career 4.20 FIP and 8.2 K/9 guy. While the Orioles should have little incentive to try to work out his kinks with Gausman in the wings, another contender could value Norris and his perceived upside.
The Orioles rank 26th in baseball in innings pitched per start, well below the league average. While their bullpen has been strong – anchored by their three best relievers Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Darren O’Day – we know that bullpen performance declines with wear. If the Orioles could move Norris, replace him with Gausman, and use some of the returning assets and cost savings on another viable middle reliever, the Orioles could separate themselves from the middling pack atop the AL East.
I understand being conservative and careful with young arms, especially after many deal with misuse at the college and high school levels. However, once a pitcher reaches the upper levels of the minors and proves any level of major league readiness, I’d let them loose. Conservative usage may help, but at a certain point the bullets in any pitcher’s arm are fundamentally limited. Why Gausman is wasting away at AAA, being called up for one-day stints for short spot starts, or seeing outings as a middle reliever is simply incomprehensible to me.
The most likely explanation is allegiance and cost. Norris was signed for this year only at a starter-level salary. Amidst long stretches of ineffectiveness, Ubaldo Jiminez has never faced sustained demotion with $25 million left on his contract for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Chris Tillman was their opening day starter. Wei-Yin Chen and his agent Scott Boras were already perturbed by a demotion to a low level of the minors for roster manipulation purposes. The Orioles simply find it easier to rationalize this pattern of usage for Gausman than they could for any other potential starter.
There is a line of thinking in baseball that seems to be in play here. It’s the concept of getting your money’s worth. All contracts in baseball are fully guaranteed. The Orioles have to pay Norris his salary. They have to pay Jiminez his. It’s not like the NFL where a player can be waived at any point. It’s not like the NBA with the stretch provision. If the Orioles have the write these checks, they may as well try to get 180+ innings from these arms.
The reality, however, is the exact opposite. You’re paying Norris whether you parade him out there every fifth day or not. You’re paying Gausman the same amount whether he starts or not. Without any cost savings or increases, the incentives are supposed to be to maximize team performance. Norris is a sunk cost, and sunk costs should not factor into decision-making. The only way in which Norris is not a sunk cost, in fact, is if he’s traded – creating the only viable roster incentive.
Gausman has pitched 17 innings in the major leagues this season, and I frankly doubt he’ll exceed 70 when it’s all said and done. This will cost the Orioles at least two wins over the course of the season, by my projections. In an AL East race that is historically close, every run matters. Every win matters more, and the Orioles current organization philosophy is costing them accordingly.
Gabe Isaacson promises that this wasn’t entirely motivated by owning Kevin Gausman in a competitive keeper league. Whether you agree or disagree, Gabe Isaacson wants your feedback. You can find him on twitter @GabeIsaacson, join in the conversation @CTBPod,on our Facebook page or download the Fandings app and debate him today!