What's up with Kevin Gausman?
On Gausman's "low energy," release point, command, and his missed opportunity against the Orioles. Plus Justin Verlander, Bo Bichette, Casey Lawrence, Ross Stripling, robot umps, and more!
The Blue Jays failed to win this week’s series against Baltimore — Baltimore! — coming up incredibly short in the fourth game of the set thanks to a disastrous seven-run (five earned) 2 1/3 inning outing from one-time AL Cy Young frontrunner Kevin Gausman.
Ugh. So let’s talk about it. Here’s Three Up…
Down: Kevin Gausman
The pendulum sure has swung quickly on Kevin Gausman, hasn't it? From unhittable Cy Young candidate who made the Blue Jays look like geniuses to "how much money are they paying him??!?" and "did you know he fell off in the second half last year???!" and we've only just reached the middle of June. It would be funny if it wasn't so soul-crushing to watch him struggle — particularly when it's against the stupid Orioles, his former team.
I feel like I've written this a thousand times, and I'll be totally fine with it if I write it a thousand more, but in baseball nothing is ever as good, or as bad, as it seems. Still, what the hell??!?
According to Gausman himself, the issue on Thursday was mostly his ability to command — but then went beyond that.
“Low energy on the mound” is not a phrase you hear from a big league pitcher every day. And being unable to make needed adjustments jibes with there potentially being something physically amiss with him — as, theoretically, does a look at where his vertical release point has tracked over the course of the season.
I don't want to read too much into this, because the differences we're talking about are subtle, and there can be any number of reasons why a pitcher's release point may move, but I think it's notable that his best months of 2019 came when he was releasing the ball higher, he stayed above six feet during his solid 2020 campaign, and that it only ebbed below the six foot mark at the tail end of his 2021 season.
Could be nothing, but combine it with the lack of command and the comments about low energy and one doesn't exactly come away feeling great about this.
The lack of command is evident, at least. Which to my mind means this is something that can be overcome — perhaps in a similar fashion to José Berríos, who experienced a "dead arm" period prior to his last three starts, but with some tweaks to his between-start routine seems to have come out of it.
Though the last few starts skew the data a little bit, I think Gausman's overall heat maps still do a good job of showing where he'd like the fastball and splitter to live.
Compare those to where he was locating those pitches against the Twins (1), Tigers (2), and Orioles (3).
Against the Twins the a ton of fastballs are inside to right-handers and all but one or two of the splitters is a ball. Against the Tigers it’s better, but he’s still missing with fastballs inside to right-handers/outside to lefties a lot. And then against the Orioles he doesn’t seem to be able to get the heater up or the splitter down.
And now compare those to what was probably his best start of the year — a two-hit, 10 strikeout performance against the Astros over seven innings back on May 1st. In it he generated 14 whiffs on 27 splitters, plus five whiffs, nine called strikes, and 14 foul balls off of the heater. Pretty much ideal.
How’d he do it? Well…
In this one he’s filling up all quadrants of the zone with the fastball, and fishing for chases with several splitters, but also throwing more for strikes and clustering a bunch of them right on the lower inside corner to right-handed hitters. There’s significant enough overlap between the two pitches such that the Astros couldn’t simply lay off anything low the way that the Twins would do a little over a month later, and far fewer fastballs are missing to the inside to right-handers/outside to lefties.
This is what you want to see from Gausman. The previous three outings have not been that, and we can see it in another way when we look at where his rate of fastballs in the zone has gone here in June.
We also saw, even before this one, that he’s had a noticeable drop in his called-strike-plus-whiff rate (CSW%), which is evident in this chart from Props.cash — player prop research made easy!
For context, of the 132 pitchers with at least 40 innings this season, the MLB leader in CSW% is currently the Rays’ Shane McClanahan at 34.5%. Gausman, after six less-than-elite starts in that regard now finds his rate at 29.3%, which puts him 29th in that group.
The good news in all this? There’s nothing wrong with Gausman’s stuff. The velocity, break — all that stuff is still there. He’s just not locating it the way he needs to. The bad news, of course, is that “locate better” is often easier said than done. Just ask Yusei Kikuchi right now.
And that’s especially so, I’d wager, when dealing with “low energy” on the mound and a drooping release point.
Gausman will be fine in the long run, I have no doubt. Maybe not ever as good as those glorious first few weeks, but few pitchers can be, but a whole lot better than this. He’s in it now. And it sucks! Especially because he missed a huge opportunity here to take it to the team that mishandled a lot of the early years of his development.
"I think when you come up with a team they just treat you a certain way. And then even when you become established, they're always going to treat you that way," Gausman told SI's Mitch Bannon this week about his experience with the Orioles. "It's like your best friend's little brother. You're always going to view him as, like, your best friend's little brother, even if he ends up being 400 pounds and like, you knwo, a weightlifter or whatever. You're still going to talk to him like he's a kid, right?"
Per Mitch, "Gausman added he feels the game, in general, has changed in the last 10 years. Young players are now encouraged to be themselves when they come up, and rookies are better for it."
Hey, remember when people thought it would be a good idea for the Blue Jays to hire Dan Duquette?
Anyway! I'm sure it's a bitter pill for Gausman to have swallowed, having his worst start since 2019 be his first ever against the team that drafted him. Unfortunately that will pale in comparison to how much it will suck if he doesn't get himself sorted out — and soon.
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Down: Blowing through relievers ahead of the Yankees series
Jays fans should all be thanking Jeremy Beasley and Matt Gage today. Though neither was perfect, they did a pretty decent job over the final five innings of this one, and allowed all of the Jays’ decent relievers — save for David Phelps, who was asked to pitch an inning and two thirds — to get a day of rest rather than having to pitch in this lost cause of a game. And what’s Beasley going to get for his troubles? Likely a demotion back to Buffalo, as apparently Casey Lawrence is going to be added to the Jays’ bullpen in time for Friday’s game.
Would be nice if there was a bulk innings guy available who wasn’t a 34-year-old with a 6.48 ERA in 82 career MLB innings, but alas.
Hey Blue Jays fielders, be better next time! You too, hitters!
• For those who tuned out in disgust early, you may not know that Bo Bichette was forced from Thursday’s game after fouling a ball off of his foot. Fortunately, nothing is broken — though it remains to be seen whether he’ll need any time off.
• Here's one that's going to make everyone, understandably, very mad. Apparently Justin Verlander was extremely close to signing with the Blue Jays. The source on that? Justin Verlander!
Here's the relevant passage from Jeff Passan's Friday profile of the ageless Cy Young candidate at ESPN.com:
"Houston was at the top of the list," Verlander said. "As negotiations started going, they kind of fell off. Some other teams really started to show a lot of interest. I would say that the leader was probably Toronto. They were great. And I talked to George (Springer, his former Astros teammate now with the Blue Jays) a bunch. They were very proactive to the point that when I signed with Houston, I made sure to let them know that I appreciated it all. Ultimately, when it came down to it, Houston had the same offer. It was all kind of ballpark between them and Toronto, and New York (Yankees) was kind of always just a step behind."
Reaaaaaaaaally didn’t need to know that!
• This is pretty funny though.
• Interesting one from James Wagner of the New York Times on MLB’s Cuban players, who are banned from representing their country internationally because they defected, and their plans to form a team of the best Cuban talent to play in next spring’s World Baseball Classic. This is noteworthy from a Jays perspective not just because Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is certainly a candidate to play for such a team, but because the piece notes that if Cuban Americans were eligible for the team another of the Blue Jays players could be there: Alek Manoah. How fun would that be???
• The Athletic's Evan Drellich reported on Thursday from the owners meetings, which apparently were taking place this week. Among many items of note, he tells us that Rob Manfred said "he did not see the automated strike zone 'as a competition committee issue for this year,'" meaning that we are not likely to see robot umpires in the big leagues next season.
I tend to agree with Joe on this one!
Kyle Glaser @KyleAGlaserThe reason for this is simple: as we’ve reported on extensively at @BaseballAmerica, the automated strike zone technology is still very much a work in progress and how strikes are defined with it is constantly changing. It’s nowhere near ready for implementation in MLB. https://t.co/FJlcHvcTht
• Lastly, Travis Sawchik of theScore has a great one about Ross Stripling’s fascinating double life as a finance bro, but for my money that wasn’t even the most interesting thing in it. Stripling, of course, talks about pitching as well in the piece, and when asked about the key things he looks for as a pitcher replied, “I definitely like to know how my heater is spinning. What is the vertical movement? I'm throwing a little two-seamer now, it has some more horizontal movement. I know where I want my slider metrics to be versus my changeup metrics.”
Modern pitcher wants data on his pitches is maybe not exactly groundbreaking news, but it took reading that for something to dawn on me. All season I’ve wondered why the Jays have started flashing v- and h-movement on the scoreboard at Rogers Centre after every pitch, as those numbers are completely inscrutable for fans. It hadn't even occurred to me that maybe fans aren't the target audience!
Next up, bring on the stupid goddamn Yankees:
Friday, 7:07 PM ET: Jays vs. Yankees (Ross Stripling vs. Jordan Montgomery), TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 590
Saturday, 3:07 PM ET: Jays vs. Yankees (Alek Manoah vs. Jameson Taillon), TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 590
Sunday, 1:37 PM ET: Jays vs. Yankees (Yusei Kikuchi vs. Gerrit Cole), TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 590
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