Two years ago, Kevin Gausman took a one-year deal to prove he belonged in a starting rotation. One year ago, he accepted the qualifying offer to prove he could be a frontline starter. This year, he’s got nothing left to prove. Since he put on a Giants uniform in 2020, Gausman has been a top-10 starter. He ranks sixth in ERA, second in FIP, fourth in K%, and eighth in RA9-WAR. Since then, he’s also tied for second in walk-off sacrifice flies.
Even in a deep free agent market, there’s a strong argument to be made that Gausman’s the best starter available. MLB Trade Rumors ranked him highest on their top-50 and sixth overall. Ben Clemens and the folks at FanGraphs are less enamored of him, ranking him 14th overall and behind Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Marcus Stroman, and Eduardo Rodríguez. (Rodríguez, of course, isn’t available anymore after signing with the Tigers.)
The reasons to be wary of Gausman are two-fold. One, Gausman is a two-pitch pitcher featuring a four-seamer and a splitter. Second, Gausman pitched much less effectively in the second half.
In 2021, Gausman threw the fastball and split a combined 88 percent of the time while mixing in a slider and changeup in equal measure. Unpredictability is a major part of pitching. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much a breaking ball moves. If the hitter knows it’s going to break, they’re less likely to chase it.
Around the All-Star break, hitters did a better job of picking up on Gausman’s splitter and stopped going out of the zone for it. Gausman’s chase rate on his splitter dropped from 44.2 percent in June to 31.7 percent in July. It only ticked back up to 37.4 percent in August, but it was back to normal levels to close out the year.
Gausman pitched at his worst in July, but he was also dealing with a family emergency in the middle of the season, so it’s understandable if his mind was elsewhere. By FIP, he was still ace material the rest of the way and a huge reason why the Giants won 107 games.
The Giants would certainly like to keep him around for 2022 and beyond. Currently, their starting rotation looks like this:
- Logan Webb
- Tyler Beede?
- A mirror that says ‘You’ on the frame
Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood are free agents, and medical technology hasn’t advanced to the point where they can just build the entire rotation out of Logan Webb. Instead, the Giants will have to sign some pitchers, and Gausman’s as good as any.
With Eduardo Rodríguez suiting up in Detroit, the Red Sox could pursue starters with a little more urgency. Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi will be back next year, but that still leaves a lot of innings to cover.
Gausman already shot down some “inside info” that he is destined to become an Angel, but the Angels sure could use some starting pitching beyond Shohei Ohtani. That’s especially true since Alex Cobb is a free agent now. Mike Trout’s injury was far from the only reason the Angels disappointed in 2021.
With a pitcher of Gausman’s caliber, it’s easy to find a fit. There isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t be improved by adding him to the rotation. He shouldn’t have a problem matching or surpassing what Rodríguez got from the Tigers.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.