Kevin Gausman for me has always been one of those pitchers that you watch sometimes and ask yourself, “How is he not one of the best pitchers in baseball?” While he has been quietly good over the course of his major league career, Gausman’s production has not quite lived up to the potential he has sometimes flashed. Since he broke in back in 2013 with the Baltimore Orioles, Gausman has pitched to a 4.22 ERA/4.03 FIP/3.93 xFIP—all roughly league average marks.
But things took a turn for the better starting in mid 2019 when he was traded from Atlanta to Cincinnati. After pitching to a 6.19 ERA/4.20 FIP before the trade, Gausman pitched to a much better 4.03 ERA/3.17 FIP. Additionally, his strikeout rate jumped from 25.3 to 31.3 percent. In other words, he went from slightly above league average to one of the better rates in the game. Granted, the Reds used him primarily out of the bullpen, so it is fair to expect certain performance metrics for pitchers to spike, but Gausman carried his success with Cincinnati into a successful 2020 campaign with the San Francisco Giants when he returned to being a starter. In the shortened ‘20 season, Gausman had a 3.63 ERA/3.09 FIP in 59.2 innings which was good for 1.6 fWAR. His strikeout rate rose even higher to 32.2 percent, which was good for 11th best in baseball for pitchers who threw at least 50 innings.
Gausman’s resurgence did not happen overnight, though. A few mechanical adjustments he made after departing from Baltimore, as well as a slight change in pitch mix helped him become one of the games surprise starting pitchers in ‘20. For ‘21, Gausman at the very least looks to be an important member of an interesting Giants rotation.
Consider the following video from Gausman’s last outing as an Oriole on July 28, 2018.
First, notice that he is on the extreme first base side of the rubber, just ever so slightly touching it with the tip of his shoe. Next, here he is in just his second outing in a Braves uniform, and you’ll notice two major changes.
In the second video, notice that Gausman is centered in the rubber. Also noticed that even with no runners on base, he is throwing from the stretch instead of the windup. Coinciding with this change, he has steadily increased both the rise and the swing and miss rate on his fastball in particular, going from a 15.1 percent whiff rate in ‘18 to 21.6 in ‘19 to a stellar 24.5 in ‘20. Gausman has carried both of these adjustments into ‘21.
Another adjustment specific the ‘20 season that paid immediate dividends was his release extension. According to Baseball Savant, Gausman got 6.4 feet of extension on his pitches, compared to just over 6.0 feet the year before. This is of course important because extension affects a pitcher’s perceived velocity, meaning that his fastball appears faster to a hitter than it actually is.
In addition to the high octane heat that Gausman brings to the mound, his claim to fame is his ability to change speeds, featuring two different changeups—one being a more traditional changeup and the other a devastating split that acts as more of a chase pitch. Between the two pitches, Gausman relied on upsetting hitter’s timing over 40 percent of the time in the ‘19-’20 seasons.
The first variation of the changeup is fairly average as far as movement metrics for pitches of its type, but gets about 10 miles per hour of separation in velocity, and has more effective movement due to the aforementioned added rise on the fastball. Even though it is not his best pitch—it’s not even his best changeup—is still achieved a 35.8 percent Whiff% and a .279 xwOBA against in ‘20.
Truthfully, Gausman’s first changeup could stand alone, but luckily for him, the splitter is also a plus pitch, and is different enough from his traditional changeup that both can coexist. The pitch generated a whopping 49.0 percent rate of misses on total swings thanks to an extra 10 inches of vertical break. This year (albeit in a small sample), Gausman has added another two inches of movement.
Kevin Gausman has always been a pitcher with great stuff and a high ceiling. While he has been a good major league pitcher throughout his major league career, it would be reasonable to say that he has left a little to be desired. Now, 30 years of age and a seasoned veteran, he looks to be finally getting over the hump.
Thanks to a few mechanical adjustments, some alterations in his pitch mix, and the Giants being the right match with their new and improved data driven front office under Farhan Zaidi, Gausman’s recent success appears to be no fluke.
Brian Menéndez is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score, as well as a senior writer for DRaysBay. Additionally, he has been featured in The Hardball Times. You can find Brian on Twitter at @briantalksbsb.