Fantasy Baseball: Is Kevin Gausman Finally Over His Early-Season Struggles?

After a terrifying start to the season, Gausman is pitching like the breakout candidate so many pegged him to be. How good has he been, and can he maintain this resurrection moving forward?

Kevin Gausman carved up the Texas Rangers last night, allowing one run on four hits and two walks while punching out eight across six masterful innings.

Five months ago, it would've been hard to imagine a scenario in which the sentence above was all that noteworthy. This is what Gausman was supposed to be doing, racking up strikeouts and putting up solid fantasy numbers. After all, he was drafted as the 33rd starting pitcher, according to National Fantasy Baseball Championship average draft position data, going in the neighborhood of Michael Fulmer and Marcus Stroman, other young arms we were sure would be pretty good (and about whom we were right).

Gausman was expected to be a mid-rotation fantasy starter with upside thanks to his ability to generate whiffs while limiting walks, but a nightmare first half has his season-long numbers in the toilet. He's currently owned in just under 30% of ESPN leagues, but now that almost everyone has jumped ship, he looks to be back on track -- finally resembling the really good pitcher we thought he was.

Let's take a look at Gausman's wild up-and-down season and see why now is a great time to hop back on the bandwagon.

Gosh, It Was Bad

Gausman started Opening Day for the Orioles, and nothing about giving him the ball for the season opener seemed odd because he was the team's best starting pitcher. That's what happens on Opening Day -- aces take the bump.

But things went so terribly in the first half, with the O's righty looking powerless to turn it around, that it was perfectly reasonable to wonder if Gausman would get sent down to the minors.

Here's the damage: through his first 75 innings, a stretch covering 15 starts, Gausman owned a 15.1% strikeout rate, 10.3% walk rate and 5.34 xFIP. His traditional stats were just as ugly as he was sporting 6.60 ERA with just three wins to his name.

There was no hard-luck story here. Shoot, if anything, these numbers may have undersold how bad Gausman was pitching. The dude was surrendering a .396 wOBA and 34.0% hard-hit rate. He wasn't getting strikeouts, he was handing out too many free passes and hitters were having no trouble squaring up his offerings -- not a lot of positives there.

Simply put: Gausman was one of the worst pitchers in baseball.

The numbers from his atrocious start look even crazier when they're compared with his 2016 production, the campaign which helped make him such a popular dude this preseason.

Split Strikeout Rate Walk Rate xFIP
2016 23.0% 6.2% 3.77
First 75 Innings of 2017 15.1% 10.3% 5.34

It's not hard to see why fantasy owners kicked him to the curb.

Gausman's poor start culminated with a truly horrific stretch. From June 6th through June 21st, Gausman made four starts and allowed 19 runs with 12 walks and 21 punchouts across 21 1/3 innings. Hitters roughed him up for a .417 wOBA, and Gausman generated meager 11.9% soft-hit rate, with balls being hit with either medium or hard contact roughly 88% of the time.

Hey, He's Good Again

Well, whatever the feel-good quote is about the sun shining brightest after a storm (or something like that), go ahead and insert it here. Because since that four-start bloodbath, Gausman has been really dang good.

It started with an almost quality start versus the Indians -- baby steps -- in which he fanned nine and allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings. Gausman had his filthy splitter going in that one. Just ask Jason Kipnis.

He followed up the solid showing against Cleveland with back-to-back scoreless outings against the Blue Jays and Rays, tossing up zeros across 12 1/3 frames while fanning 13 and walking 4.

Because it's Gausman and he's having one of the weirdest seasons ever, he then surrendered 13 earned runs over his next seven innings, a span long enough to fit in a pair of shellackings at the hands of the Twins and Cubs. But despite the bottom-line results, he didn't pitch so terribly in those starts, posting single-game xFIPs of 4.36 and 1.72 in the two games while getting 12 strikeouts (in seven innings, just to refresh your memory) with 1 walk, which will always help your advanced metrics.

The next start was the one from this article's first sentence -- Wednesday night's six-inning, four-hit gem in which Gausman rung up eight strikeouts with a pair of walks. Dude was locked in, and when he's dealing like this, utilizing his nose-diving splitter and mid-90s heat, it makes you wonder how in the world he's ever anything but really good.

So across his last 13 innings, Gausman has amassed 20 strikeouts and 3 walks. That's good.

His splits from Very Bad Gausman to Amazing Gausman are mind-boggling.

2017 Strikeout Rate Walk Rate xFIP
First 75 Innings 15.1% 10.3% 5.34
Last 31 Innings 31.6% 6.8% 3.17

He is basically a totally different pitcher now, and it's one we can get behind in fantasy, especially when the cost to acquire him has been decimated by his ugly first half.

Moving Forward

It'd be misleading to act like everything will be rainbows and glitter moving forward. It'd also be a little bogus to pretend any of this makes sense. In the blink of an eye, like a LeSean McCoy juke move, Gausman went from being one of baseball's worst starting pitchers to dealing like an ace.

It's hard to feel like we have a good grasp on how things will play out the rest of the way. I mean, considering his insane season, how could we?

And even when he's conquering the world like he has of late, he's still giving up loads of hard contact. During this delectable 31-inning spree, Gausman is allowing an above-average 32.1% hard-hit rate while getting dinged for 6 bombs in six starts.

He's unlikely to be this good over the remainder of the season, but he probably won't return to being as bad as he was, either. And his single-game swinging-strike rates, which have been at least 14.3% in four of his past six outings, tell us his strikeout rate is legit, giving him immense upside not too many pitchers possess.

While there are several buy-low options to target in season-long leagues, Gausman is catapulting himself near the top of that list. With a 6-7 record and 6.11 ERA, the latter of which is the worst clip among baseball's 74 qualified starting pitchers, the price tag on Gausman should still be pretty cheap. Heck, he's unowned in about 70% of ESPN leagues, so all it'll cost you is a waiver claim or some free agent acquisition money, giving you a chance to nab a high-ceiling arm on the cheap and one which could help your fantasy squad sprint home with a strong finishing kick.