MLB Buy or Sell: Kevin Gausman's Immediate Impact
Welcome to the inaugural edition of a new feature at numberFire entitled “Buy or Sell.”
The concept is simple: I'll examine something currently interesting in baseball, such as a player, team, or statistic and discuss whether we, as a baseball community, should be buying or selling them or it.
There may not always be an easy or clear-cut answer to this question, as streaks and fluke performances are abundant in the game we know and love. With this exercise, I intend to examine such performances and make a case that a performance is either the result of a player getting better at baseball (buy) or mere good fortune (sell).
Not all articles in this series - including this one - will deal with analyzing a small-sample size performance or a hot streak. Some, like this one, will deal with the promotion of a top prospect, while others could deal with a specific stat with a specific player, such as Jose Abreu's absurd amount of home runs or Troy Tulowitzki's performance with runners in scoring position.
I will be selecting players and topics that I think are most interesting, but if you have a player or topic that you would like examined, hit us up on Twitter (@DanWiggles38 or @numberFire) and let us know.
Without further ado, here is the first edition of Buy or Sell, featuring recently promoted top prospect Kevin Gausman.
The fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Kevin Gausman has proven worthy of his lofty draft status thus far in his minor league career. He dominated the low minors and was rushed to the big leagues last May as a starting pitcher. The results were poor, so the Orioles temporarily sent him back down with the idea that he would be able to come back up and help the major league club shortly.
A few months later, Gausman was recalled as a relief pitcher, with the hope that his stuff would play up and he would be able to help the Birds in the pennant race. Gausman’s overall numbers are not terrific, but the elite prospect got more comfortable as the season went on and earned appearances in high leverage situations late in the season.
In 2014, Gausman was returned to a starting role and had an outside chance to break camp as a starting pitcher with the parent club. He was not able to secure a spot and was sent assigned to Triple-A Norfolk instead, where he has thrown well. His 2.08 ERA is very good and he has been missing plenty of bats, striking out a batter per inning.
The timing of the call-up is a bit interesting, as Gausman recently missed time with pneumonia. The issue was initially thought to be a much more serious intercostal strain, but Gausman and the Orioles’ organization were pleased when it turned out to be a much less serious case of pneumonia.
Gausman has only made one start since overcoming the illness, where he threw 4.2 shutout innings, surrendering just two hits to go along with three walks and six strikeouts. The low innings count was due to a strict pitch count, designed to limit Gausman’s early season innings so he will be available for the stretch run with the MLB club.
Gausman will take the hill tonight against the Detroit Tigers, one of the best offensive teams in the league. That is quite a tough assignment for a pitcher coming off of illness and making his 2014 debut in a role where he struggled the previous year. This is not the best situation for him to succeed.
Buy or Sell?
In the long term, I’m buying Gausman as a solid number two starter capable of fronting the Orioles’ rotation for many years. However, I do not see his reign of dominance beginning tonight or in the near future. Gausman was rushed last year, and it seems that he has been rushed again.
Injury aside, Jose Fernandez showed us that rushing a top pitching prospect to the big leagues is sometimes a good idea, and it is conceivable that Gausman follows in his footsteps of dominance from the start. Despite this, there are reasons to pause before expecting Fernandez-esque dominance from the start
First, the fact that Gausman is coming off of an illness concerns me. This is a very short term concern, but I worry that despite his solid performance in Triple-A a few days ago, he is not at peak physical health due to the bout with pneumonia.
Second, Gausman has not built up his pitch count. Monitoring Gausman’s innings and pitch counts is understandable from an organizational perspective, but how will it affect his short-term performance? Will Gausman be held to a strict pitch count or will he be allowed to approach 100 pitches? If he is allowed to throw around 100 pitches, it is reasonable to wonder whether he remain effective when his pitch count tonight exceeds his previous pitch counts this season.
Finally, Gausman’s control, or rather lack thereof, is most concerning. He has always been known as someone with good control, but in his limited sample in Triple-A, Gausman has walked an excessive 4.85 batters per nine innings. Only two qualified MLB starters have walk rates higher than Gausman’s mark, and he will have to improve in this area immediately if he wants to succeed in his return to the Majors.
Gausman has never been one to walk a ton of batters, as his BB/9 at any level prior to this year is no higher that 2.45. Did Gausman’s control regress? Will it improve upon his promotion? That typically does not happen, so O’s fans will have to expect a few free passes tonight. Though he still has the stuff to succeed, even tonight, it will be difficult to do so while issuing free bases.
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