Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman is on a roll. The right-hander has won three starts in a row and has looked dominant in doing so. This production comes at a crucial time for the O’s as they look to push for the playoffs over the season’s final month. The rest of the starting rotation is in turmoil, including ace Chris Tillman, who is still recovering from a right shoulder ailment. The stretch run of the 2016 season would seem to be Gausman’s time to shine.
At 25 years old, Gausman already had two-and-a-half MLB seasons under his belt by the start of this year. But the former fourth overall pick out of LSU had mostly underwhelmed. An impressive 3.57 ERA in 2013 over 20 starts was met with a regression to a 4.25 ERA in 2014 over 25 appearances, including 17 starts.
Even the beginning of the 2016 campaign was a bit disappointing. Gausman didn’t make his first start until April 25 after a DL stint with a right shoulder strain. After that, he went 0-5 over his first 12 starts before finally picking up his first win on June 25. It was feeling like the Orioles had yet again failed to develop a promising young pitcher.
Meanwhile, Chris Tillman was in the midst of his finest season as a professional. Through July 21, the 6-foot-5 hurler boasted a record of 14-2 and a 3.18 ERA. He had a chance at winning 20 games, a rather rare feat in baseball nowadays. Understandably, there were Cy Young whispers. They were quiet, sure, but they were there.
But since the beginning of August, the two pitchers have been on opposite paths. Gausman is 4-2 this month and has lowered his season ERA from 4.18 down to 3.73. On the other hand, Tillman has gone 1-2 and has seen his ERA bloat slightly from 3.46 to 3.76 and he is now working his way back from some discomfort in his pitching shoulder. It sounds like he will return pretty soon, however, the Cy Young talk is now a distant memory.
Here is how the two men line up against each other for the 2016 season, statistically:
Gausman is the superior pitcher on paper in most of those categories. Except Tillman bests him in wins and losses, innings pitched, WHIP and Baseball Reference’s calculation of WAR.
However, those are the numbers against the league as a whole. What about against “contenders”?
That is a mixed bag all over, but Tillman looks maybe a tad more formidable. Add in the fact that Tilly has a record of 9-3 and an ERA of 3.84 against teams with a .500 or better record whereas Gausman struggles a bit with those clubs; 5-8, 4.30 ERA, and it feels even more like Tillman wins on this basis.
A one-game playoff
The Orioles could still win the American League East, but they need to get their act together quickly or else they will be fighting for a chance to win the coin flip that is the one-game wild card round.
Picking a starter for such games can be a tricky decision. Given that the Orioles will be fighting tooth and nail to even get to that point, it won’t be as easy as simply setting up the final week of the season so that their preferred pitcher gets to go in the Wild Card game no matter what. You can’t take those chances. But this is all hypothetical, so let’s say that manager Buck Showalter CAN pick who he wants to send out there. Who should he go with?
As mentioned above, Gausman has been better overall but Tillman is solid against the higher-caliber teams. As far as playoff experience, Tillman has made two starts (1-1, 6.75 ERA, 9.1 innings) and Gausman has made three relief appearances (1.13 ERA, 8.0 innings). Not a ton to go on there, but Kevin has been better
But for their careers in September and October, Gausman deals with the cooler temperatures much better. Over 77.0 career late-season innings, Kevin is 4-4 with a 3.62 ERA, 24 walks and 84 strikeouts. Tillman is 9-11 with a 4.58 ERA in 188.2 innings while striking out 151.
If Showalter had his pick, I know he would go with Tillman. That is the veteran and Showalter goes with his older guys most of the time. If I were in charge, I’m going with Gausman because he has that hard fastball that can be deadly in the fall. With an Orioles team that has struggled in the field more this year, I want that guy that gets as many outs himself as possible.
Just you can’t say in the comments that I didn’t mention them...
“What are you talking about? Zach Britton is the Orioles best pitcher! DUH!”
OK, yeah Britton has been amazing. Like, “one of the best seasons from a closer ever”, amazing! But he is just that, a closer. The dude’s sinker is incredible and maybe if he were a starter now, he would be great. But it is a lot easier to face a hitter one time and succeed than it is to do it three or four times. A team uses their best pitchers as starters, not relievers. Britton tried starting. It didn’t go so great.
“But Dylan Bundy has been crazy good. He is the truth!”
Bundy has been a pleasant surprise, but you know he isn’t better than Tillman or Gausman right now. Maybe he will be in a year or two. If he can prove that he can get through an entire season of starting without injury, then I’m all in. But for now, he is far from being the “ace”.