Kevin Gausman, since being drafted 4th overall in 2012 out of LSU, has been heralded in the Orioles organization along with right hander Dylan Bundy. As Bundy battles arm problems, Gausman has gotten more and more attention as Orioles fans hope to get a return on their young arms that they hoped they could rely on to pair with the likes of Machado, Jones, and co. The problem is that the Orioles have yet to really commit to inserting Gausman into their starting rotation. This is where the general questions of how they’re using him and their player development methodologies come up.
The Orioles, in 2014, gave Gausman an extended look in the big leagues. Gausman was brought in later in the season and handled with care. The idea of this was to extend Gausman’s availability into the playoffs and allow him to adjust to the big leagues without the burden of a 180+ inning season. I felt that this was a great way to break in a young pitcher on a competing club, especially when you need him to be there in October. In the regular season, their experiment went well. Gausman ended the year with a 3.41 FIP and as a 2 win pitcher over 113.1 innings, which pro-rates out 3.71 WAR/200. He did have issues missing bats with only an 18.5% K rate, but his walk rate was around average and he was incredible at keeping the ball in the park with only a 5.8% HR/FB rate. In the playoffs, they begin to use him a bit peculiarly. Despite Gausman being arguably their best pitcher during the season, they opted for a Tillman-Chen-Norris-Gonzalez playoff rotation with Gausman coming out of the pen frequently. Even with the role change, Gausman, again, continued his success – in a small sample – for the Orioles with a 2.13 FIP over 8 playoff innings.
One would think that Gausman, after a very promising 2014, would slide right into the 2015 rotation for the Orioles. Well, that wasn’t the case. Gausman opened the year out of the bullpen for the Orioles. In about a month’s long stay with the club, Gausman failed to show what he did out of the pen in the postseason. He was sent down in early May and stretched back out again with three starts in AAA. He was then called up to replace Bud Norris in the Baltimore rotation, who has struggled mightily this season. Even though Gausman has been starting now, he hasn’t been as stellar as he was in 2014. His FIP is up near 4, which goes along with the predictive value of xFIP, and he isn’t likely to provide the same pro-rated value he did last season. Some of this can be tied to the fact that Gausman doesn’t have that stellar HR/FB rate this year as he sits at an average 9.8% as he gave up two home runs in relief and three starting. As a starter, he’s still not striking guys out as he sits at a 17.4% K rate in that role. At the same time, Gausman isn’t putting guys on as a starter with a walk rate of only 5.8% and he isn’t giving up much hard contact at only 25.6% of the batted balls put in play against him.
As a young pitcher, Gausman is expected to have some trials and tribulations. He has to work through them to become better in the short and long run. But, as the Orioles yank him around, it’s very hard for him to settle in and analyze how he has to change as a pitcher. When a pitcher can’t get into a role and stick by no fault of his own, he also faces a psychological barrier that can be damaging for any young player. Hopefully, at this point, the Orioles let him continue as a starter because he’s already shown to be talented. I think everyone wants to see just what Kevin Gausman can become.