There is nothing more valuable in a dynasty format than a legitimate fantasy ace. According to ESPN’s player rater, the three most valuable assets in 2015 were starting pitchers. They are not easy to find and more difficult to acquire, unless you can get your hands on them before they break out. They come in all shapes and sizes and often sneak up on us. Who was Jacob deGrom and why didn’t we see that coming? Who is that man wearing Jake Arrieta’s body? What is a Dallas Keuchel? How do we get our hands on the next one before it happens and we are left standing alone in the waiver wire cold?
I don’t know and if I did, this wouldn’t the be moment you’ve read something I’ve written for the first time. What I do know is that I, along with every other dynasty owner, spend all off-season searching for that guy. My search has been narrowed down to one. He comes with the pedigree and checks all of the boxes.
After being drafted 4th overall in 2012, Kevin Gausman flew through Baltimore’s system and made his major league debut in May of 2013, less than a year from the day he was drafted. What he didn’t do was dominate. He pitched to a 5.66 ERA in 20 appearances and was forced to start 2014 in the minors. We ranked him 131st overall in our 2014 overall rankings and that seemed appropriate. For reference, Gerrit Cole debuted in 2013 as well and ranked 39th before the 2014 season. The 2014 season didn’t do a whole lot to convince Gausman owners that they’d be collecting a return on their initial investment, as he pitched to 3.57 ERA in 20 starts, but the strikeouts weren’t there.
Prior to last year, Gausman’s ranking peaked at 100th overall in our rankings and it’s quite possible (and maybe a bit understandable) that the Gausman owner in your league was tired of waiting or willing to listen. If he was, he is more than likely still in the same boat.
Dominant right-handed starting pitchers tend to have several things in common. They throw hard, they get swings and misses, and they induce weak contact. Last year, Kevin Gausman displayed the characteristics of an ace. A league average strand rate and a couple of extra fly balls leaving the yard kept his ERA and ERA estimators up enough to hide his strengths from less savvy owners.
According to PITCHf/x, Gausman’s average four-seam fastball velocity in 2015 was the 8th hardest among pitchers who pitched 110 innings or more, tied with Matt Harvey and Carlos Martinez.
His 2015 swinging strike rate was 10.9 percent, 26th among pitchers who pitched as many innings or more. His zone contact rate of 83.8 percent tied for 10th best among pitchers in that same group. The list of right-handed starting pitchers in 2015 who had better swinging strike and zone contact rates than Gausman is short and pretty eye-opening, with the exception of one guy who should probably be in the bullpen: Max Scherzer, Chris Archer, Danny Salazar, Matt Harvey and Rubby de la Rosa.
According to Fangraphs’ soft-hit rate, Gausman induced soft contact on 23.5 percent of the balls he allowed in play. That was fourth best among pitchers who pitched 110 innings or more in 2015, behind Dallas Keuchel and in front of Jake Arrieta.
When it comes together like it did in his final start of 2015, you get this wonderful display of dominance.
I am all in on Kevin Gausman in 2016 and beyond. The mishandling of young pitchers in Baltimore is well-documented, but I think this one’s future is just too bright for them to wreck. This off-season could be your last shot with his frustrated owner and you may be able to acquire his services fairly cheaply.