As weird a beginning as Kevin Gausman has had to begin his Orioles tenure, comparisons are null in finding anything stranger than his last start in San Francisco.
Only going 4.0 innings, Gausman allowed only two hits and two runs, but walked six while striking out nine (nice). Pulled after managing to collect only 12 outs on 97 pitches, his stuff was as overwhelming as it was unpredictable. Granted, I thought Gausman and Madison Bumgarner were working with two different strike zones, one wider and one not so much, but the 25 year-old righty showed just how outwardly overpowering he can be, even when he's just a bit off.
Not entirely discouraging though no closer to easing Oriole hearts, Gausman's outing on the Bay was yet another step back after a few baby steps forward. His current 4.04 ERA and 4.34 FIP aren't obvious sources of assurance, neither is his sustaining 16.7 HR/FB%, but his numbers don't really speak to his subtle gains.
One of the reasons Gausman was so noticeably frustrated with home plate umpire Brian O'Nora had a lot to do with Gausman's adjustment to the boundaries of the plate. One of the main progressions he's made has been an advancing successful, yet meticulous avoidance of the middle of the strike zone, or in other words, throwing more quality strikes. He wasn't necessarily nibbling around the plate, but working on his adjusted plane.
Gausman has such a reverse split in regards to lefty failures (.235/.285/.393) versus righty exploits (.286/.348/.514) speaks much to his ability to command the right side of the plate, and the camouflage it provides for his fading splitter. Though he hasn't yet harnessed his glove side of the zone at the same rate, the rise in called strikes to both sides of the plate assesses Gausman's sieging of the harder to hit partitions of the strike zone. As such, Gausman's been able to induce ground balls at a steady pace to lefties, and without flash, at a rate that continues to climb against righties.
One of the Orioles primary weakness as a starting staff is its susceptibility to contact. Simply, throwing harder with explosive secondary stuff should lead to fewer balls being put in play or even softer contact. Gausman's maturation in his fastball command has enhanced his plus-plus splitter, and both a mixture of sheer explosiveness and tilt is slowly turning Gausman into the kind of power pitcher the Orioles hoped they drafted and developed.
Another two-strike home run allowed by Gausman. When is this kid gonna learn? Who pitches to middle of plate ahead in the count?— Bmoreopinionated (@Bmoreopinionate) August 9, 2016
You gotta give credit where credit is due, however. Gausman has had a habit of leaving too many fastballs in the heart of zone, and generally he pays for it. Not ideal, and it's certainly an issue that needs to be fixed, but insinuating that a pitcher is trying to throw two-strike fastballs down the middle of the plate and retweeting that kind of garbage to half a million people is why the world is comprised of so many tough-guy gurus on Facebook.
Gausman has the arm to get anyone out, but as it stands today, he's essentially a two-pitch starter to both sides of the plate, and when going through a lineup three, possibly four times, it's much harder to work.
Pitching is predicated on keeping hitters weary of what the next pitch is going to be, and for Gausman, the factor of predictability weighs heavily against him. I've grown up with the idea that when a catcher calls a pitch it isn't a truth, but rather a suggestion. Whether or not Gausman has the freedom to pick and choose his pitches is unknown, given Wieters' status behind the plate, but there is definitely an issue revolving around Gausman's overall varying of his arsenal, and it may not be of his choosing. It's almost like the franchise influenced flip-flop between his more natural curveball and failed slider adaptation was a bad idea! Maybe building on his established comfort rather than unnecessary tinkering has left him with one option too few ahead in the count. Maybe then he would have the tools not to pitch to the center of the plate with two strikes. Maybe then we'd see some folks Blessopinionated.
The home runs have been Gausman's biggest run-producing bugaboo, with 15 of the 21 surrendered to righties. Again, that has a lot to do with not trusting a third pitch, specifically something breaking away from right-handed bats. But even then, despite a run of tough luck and constant high leverage innings, it's a miracle he's been as good as he has.
It probably helps to have stuff like that.