Kevin Gausman: Potential Breakout Fantasy Ace
Baseball is really hard, and major league baseball is even harder. This is what you should repeat to yourself over and over again when evaluating a young player in the major leagues. In this case the player I am talking about is Orioles RHP Kevin Gausman. On the surface Gausman has plenty of warts. His 3.0 BB/9 and 7.0 K/9 to go along with a 3.57 ERA and pitching in the AL East doesn’t make for an attractive package. Then there is the fact his own manager inexplicably didn’t use him in his playoff rotation (Gausman did pitch 8 innings out of the bullpen, allowing 3 hits, 1 run, walking 2 and striking out 7). It is a player looking more pedestrian in fantasy, and with whispers of a move to the bullpen in his future, normally this tells you to run, instead go buy.
In many ways Gausman reminds me of Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole, Cole has the better overall arsenal, but in his 222.1 minor league innings pitched he only managed an 8.1 K/9. He then made the majors and promptly put up a 7.7 K/9 in his first year, leading to plenty of questions about where his fantasy value really was. In his second year (2014), Cole, when healthy, saw his strikeouts jump to 9.0/9 on the year, and all the way up to 10.3/9 over the second half. All in all Cole had a breakout end of the year with 11 walks to his 60 strikeouts over 52.1 second half innings. Cole is now positioned to be nearing the ceiling many had ascribed to him when he was picked #1 overall.
So the obvious next question is, why do we think this applies to Gausman. First off is his splits over the 2014 season:
One of the big knocks against Gausman since he was drafted was his lack of a breaking ball, but a devastating changeup. In 2014 that slider usage hit a real low in July as he used the pitch just 3.8% of the time. But as the season went on, his usage of the pitch improved, including his use of it in the playoffs.
On top of pitch usage, Gausman has some of the best raw stuff in the majors. His average fastball velocity was 94.8 mph, which puts him 8th among all pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2014, behind Garrett Richards, Yordano Ventura, Wily Peralta, Nathan Eovaldi, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Carrasco, and Andrew Cashner.
Overall you have a pitcher who many be undervalued, by his composite stats and some perceived flaws in his profile. This isn’t to say that Gausman will be Clayton Kershaw, in 2015, and his home park won’t hurt his ERA some. It is just key to remember that the dev process does not end in the major leagues, players are constantly improving. Gausman showed continued improvement all year, and is positioning himself to emerge as the fantasy ace of a Baltimore staff that is more populated by #3 and #4 starters than dominant pitchers. I personally would take Gausman over many of his fellow young pitchers, he has more room to grow and become a fantasy ace that guys going ahead of him right now.