Let's get the bad part out of the way first: 342 pitches into Kevin Gausman's major-league career, hitters are hitting .346/.386/.605 against him, and he has an 8.84 ERA.
Kevin has shown us four pitches. Here's how they've been received by hitters:
It looks bad, but don't worry. Gausman is much better than he appears at first glance. Here's why:
He's Been Really Unlucky
- His BABIP-against is really high. At .365, it'd be the third-highest in the majors. We don't know his true talent level, but it's extremely unlikely that it's this.
- His HR/FB ratio is an eye-popping 21.7%, nearly double the major-league average of 10.9%. The only way to go here is down, folks.
- His LOB% is 55.6%. Put another way, nearly half the runners Gausman lets on base come around to score. This LOB% is extremely low (MLB-average is about 72%) and is likely a symptom of the inflated HR/FB number.
He Compares Favorably to His Peers
I think this message is important. We need to compare Gausman with his peers, which is what I did. I looked at MLB starters from 1993-2012 who pitched while they were 22. Gausman is better than average in many respects:
- His BB% is 6.7%, better than the group's average of 9.9%.
- His K% is 16.9%, better than the group's average of 16.8%.
- His K/BB ratio is 2.50, better than the group's average of 1.76.
- His FIP is 5.81, worse than the group's average of 4.85.
- His xFIP is 4.13, better than the group's average of 4.64.
- His SIERA is 4.29, better than the group's average of 4.66. (I think the Orioles will take anything under 5 at this point.)
For reference, this group's collective HR/FB rate is 11.9%, yet more reason to believe that Gausman will give up fewer home runs as the season progresses.
Let's take a moment to appreciate that Gausman is, in many respects, above-average for starting pitchers in his age group.
He Will Improve
As Gausman's HR/FB rate comes down, his ERA will follow and he'll look much more like the pitcher he really is. Now it could be true that he simply gives up too many home runs. But it seems equally as plausible, if not more so, that he is an AA pitcher pressed into service at the major-league level and he's getting torched as he's learning how to get major-league hitters out. I know which way I'm leaning.