Winning on Opening Day always makes me feel better about the year. Maybe it’s because you get to sit with the win for a couple of days. Maybe it’s because the team cannot go 0-162. Either way a win, and a walk off one at that, is always sweet on Opening Day. This Opening Day in particular was big because it was the first Opening Day start in the young career of Kevin Gausman.
Gausman broke out in the second half of last season, leading the Orioles much maligned rotation to a spot in the AL Wildcard game. The Orioles need Gausman to be the pitcher he was in the second half of 2016, if not better with the lingering shoulder injury to Chris Tillman. On Monday, Gausman pitched 5.1 innings giving up 2 runs on 4 walks and 4 strike outs. Not a masterful performance, but pretty good against a tough lineup and an ump that was doing the Orioles no favors.
Little can be discerned from one game or one start, but that’s all we have to go on and Gausman had some interesting moments in Monday’s game and the data currently available bares some of that intrigue out. Among the standout moments, here is our own Nick Cicere who captured a fastball down and in to Devon Travis that had some serious movement on it.
There were also at least a couple of pitches where Gausman got a great amount of horizontal movement on his heater. The folks over at Eutaw Street Report captured one of them and wrote about it here here. Russell Martin gets a mid 90s heater up and in that runs in hard towards him. It’s an exciting amount of movement on the fastball.
All in all, there was a lot of discussion on Monday among some Orioles fans on Twitter about Gausman’s fastball movement, so I did what I normally do and waited with bated breath for Brooks Baseball to publish the Pitch f/x data to be published from Monday’s game. In short, there’s something here.
First chart. The graph below is Gausman’s horizontal movement on his fastball from all of last season and the one game from this season.
As you can see, the horizontal movement is considerably greater in 2017 than it was for all of last season. In fact, it’s the most horizontal movement he has ever posted for his fourseam fastball in a game. Clearly, Gausman is doing something to get a little more movement on his fastball. I also checked the vertical movement, but it remains similar to his career level.
More movement on a fastball is never a bad thing and those two swings and misses above bear that out. The root cause of this movement may be his arm angle and release point. Another graph below.
The graph below is Gausman’s vertical release point on his fastball. As you can see, Monday it was lower than it was all last year. In fact, it was lower than it has been in any game in his career. That would appear to be a mechanical adjustment of some sort. He is lowering his arm angle and that may be creating more run on his ball. I also checked his horizontal release point, but that was similar to his career level.
On top of all of that, Gausman also showed off his new and improved slider which got a lot of work due to the fact the Blue Jays started only two left-handed hitters and one of them was switch hitting Kendrys Morales.
As you can see in the graph below, the slider, which Gausman threw as his breaking pitch prior to 2016, gives him a lot more horizontal movement so it sweeps away from right-handed hitters rather than his curve ball which has more of a vertical break.
In fact the lineup was so right handed dominant that Gausman only threw eight split changes the entire game. I’ve argued in the past that he needs to throw it even more often to right-handed hitters because it is his best pitch, even if that is a break with traditional pitching orthodoxy.
This is all still from just one game. Could be that Gausman was overly excited for Opening Day and got a little more run on his fastball than usual. The slider was working Monday—at least enough to keep them to only two runs—but may be off for the rest of the year. These are not proclamations, these are more trends to look out for whenever Gausman’s next start happens. For now though, watch those two clips and be giddy.
UPDATE 4/5/2017 9:30am:
When something stands out and may be to good to be true, it often is. The Statcast revolution has thrown a bit of a wrench into the publicly available data. To keep it short, the data is not being recorded at the same point as before, so some of these numbers may be off and they may be off by a lot or by a little. Fun times. You can read more about that here. (That post has more to do with velocity spikes, but it makes sense that if the velocity readings are different from last year, the H-Movement readings may be off a bit as well)
It’s early in the season for everyone folks and the kinks need to be worked out with the new publicly available data. This is still a trend to watch for, even if the effects are not as pronounced as the data currently reads.