Is Kevin Gausman About to Put It All Together?

Gausman's strikeout-to-walk rate is a top-20 mark in baseball, but can it be even better?

Fantasy expectations for Kevin Gausman have been sky high since the Orioles selected the former LSU Tiger with the fourth-overall pick in the 2012 draft.

But after making his MLB debut in 2013, Gausman has struggled with injuries and home run issues.

Gausman came into the 2016 season suffering from shoulder tendinitis, which delayed his season debut until April 25th. Over his first seven starts, Gausman's seen a 3.24 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP, and he's struck out 21.6% of batters faced (K%) in 2016, while only walking 5.3% (BB%), per

Those K% and BB% are strong peripheral numbers, and given the high heat and put-away splitter, can fantasy owners expect more out of Gausman this season?

Expected Strikeout Rate

A few weeks ago, Sal Cacciatore wrote an article about using Whiff % to determine future regression in strikeout rate.

MLB Average 10.30% 21.70%
Kevin Gausman 11.60% 21.60%

Gausman is nearly sporting a league average strikeout rate, but his above average swinging strike percentage suggests growth in his strikeout rate. Using the (expected strike rate) xK% formula that Mr. Cacciatore linked to in his article...

xK% = -0.61 + (L/Str * 1.1538) + (S/Str * 1.4696) + (F/Str * 0.9417),

Gausman's current looking strike, foul strike, and swinging strike rates project an xK% of 23.1%, meaning fantasy owners can expect improvement from Gausman going forward.

Devastating Splitter

In addition to the four-seam fastball that touches the upper 90s, Gausman has been using his splitter to put away batters when he gets to two strikes in the count.

According to Brooks Baseball, of Gausman's 37 strikeouts this season, 16 have come ending with a splitter. The pitch provides a sharp contrast to Gausman's rising four-seam fastball that hitters must respect when Gausman is ahead in the count.

In fact, according to Baseball Prospectus' PITCHf/x leaderboards, Gausman's splitter has been the most devastating of its kind by whiff rate this season.
Rank Pitcher Tm Num Velo Sw Rate Whf/Sw Foul/Sw GB/BIP FB/BIP PU/BIP
1 Kevin Gausman BAL 116 86.07 63% 51% 25% 67% 11% 11%
2 Junior Guerra MIL 125 86.44 53% 44% 29% 56% 6% 6%
3 Mike Pelfrey DET 185 82.07 49% 40% 30% 50% 7% 7%
4 Jorge De La Rosa COL 184 82.63 59% 39% 28% 56% 17% 6%
5 Matt Shoemaker ANA 228 84.95 54% 39% 34% 45% 18% 15%
6 Masahiro Tanaka NYA 206 86.88 55% 35% 28% 76% 10% 2%
7 Miguel Gonzalez CHA 105 84.7 57% 33% 35% 58% 26% 0%
8 Ubaldo Jimenez BAL 188 84.95 53% 32% 30% 73% 14% 0%
9 Hisashi Iwakuma SEA 178 83.84 54% 32% 28% 46% 15% 8%
10 Nathan Eovaldi NYA 249 89.67 57% 31% 33% 69% 14% 2%

An ancillary benefit of Gausman's splitter is when batters aren't whiffing, they're hitting the ball on the ground -- 67% of Gausman's splitters that are put in play have resulted in ground balls. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Gausman utilized the pitch earlier in counts, considering that of the 116 splitters that he has thrown this season, 39% of the time it has come with two strikes on a batter.

Home Run Issues

Over his career, Gausman has had a strong penchant for giving up the long ball. Given that he pitches in Camden Yards and plays most of his games against the AL East, it would be a boon to his ERA if he were able to approach just a league average home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB rate) (league average in 2015 was 11.6%).

Gausman currently has a 14% HR/FB rate, which is not quite Michael Pineda bad (19.3%), but will definitely need some work if Gausman is going to take the next step as a front line starter.

The elixir to Gausman's homer problem will be developing a third pitch in order to keep batters off balance at the plate. Gausman's curveball has been historically better than it has performed this season (hitters have slugged .563 against the pitch in 2016 as compared to just .348 in 2015). If Gausman is able to decrease his HR/FB rate by generating more ground balls with the curveball (which he has in the past), then he'll have a true three-pitch arsenal and the final ingredient necessary to become a true front line starter in all fantasy formats.