• May

    Gausman's time will come, but it's not now

    When I saw Kevin Gausman pitch in Bowie on April 28th against Harrisburg, the stats should have indicated he was pretty close to the major leagues. Afterall, he allowed just one run on five hits, walked none and struck out eight in seven and two-third innings. But despite the dominant numbers, I saw a two-pitch pitcher who still made too many mistakes in the middle of the plate, mistakes that were mainly missed by the inexperienced Double-A hitters.

    When the Orioles announced they were bringing up the 22-year old from Bowie, I assumed he had made some adjustments in the three starts since and was ready to pitch in the big leagues. After watching him through his first two big league starts, he looks a lot like that guy I saw in Double-A and in spring training.

    Gausman is the kind of pitcher that can wow you with his stuff at times. He can sit 95-96 MPH with late life on his fastball and can ramp it up to 99 MPH on occasion. When he’s down in the zone with the pitch he can nearly be unhittable, but unfortunately, it’s a pitch he has trouble commanding at this stage in his career. Not only does Gausman tend to miss up with the pitch, but he leaves it in the middle of the plate way too often. He throws strikes with the pitch for the most part, but from what I’ve seen, he struggles to throw consistent quality strikes with the pitch and that tends to allow hitters to square him up too often.

    His best secondary pitch has always been his changeup. The pitch has so much drop and fade that unedited pitch Fx data classifies the pitch as a fork ball or splitter on occasion. Gausman likes to bury the pitch down and in on right-handers and down and away from left-handers which are good locations to those batters. The problem as I see it is he throws the pitch almost exclusively to that area and in last night’s start, missed more often than not. Once major league batters know a general zone for a pitch, they have a better chance of laying off the pitch, regardless of the quality of the pitch. Gausman must establish that he can throw that change up for strikes on both sides of the plate.

    Although unedited pitch Fx classifies some of Gausman’s sliders as curveballs, the minute difference in velocity between the pitches suggest that some just have much more break than others. Gausman’s slider tends to flatten out and hang too often which is what happened on the 1-2 count to Tyler Moore last night. Even worse, when the slider flattens, he tends to miss in the middle of the plate with it. That’s the real issue and why it’s being drilled by major league batters.

    When I saw Gausman in Bowie, he didn’t even throw a slider until the 5th inning and only threw about six of them, with only about half of them being decent pitches. When I interviewed him after the game about the lack of sliders he indicated he didn’t need the pitch to get batters out so he didn’t use the pitch. Unfortunately, that line of thinking is probably why the pitch is still not a good consistent offering.

    The entire idea of the minor leagues is to develop the pitchers to become major league pitchers, not put up good numbers in Double-A. If the slider is an inconsistent offering, he should be throwing it quite often, not burying it because he “didn’t need it.”

    To me, this goes on the development staff a bit. It’s not the 22-year old’s job to know what’s best for his development, afterall, he wants to get guys out and if he’s getting guys out with a fastball/changeup combo, then why change? However, if the staff knows his slider is a pitch that needs refinement, then they should make sure he and his catcher know it’s a pitch they should be calling quite often, regardless of the outcome.

    Let me caveat this with the fact that I haven’t seen any reports on Gausman over his last three starts, so perhaps he was throwing more sliders, but the pitch remains a well below average offering way too often. Although he can throw a good one on occasion, until he can find more consistency with the pitch it will remain a subpar offering.

    What the Orioles have right now is a young pitcher with outstanding raw stuff who is struggling to command any of his offerings consistently. The good news is when he does command the pitches, they can be plus pitches, but as Jake Arrieta can attest, command is more important than just raw stuff.  He also needs to learn that missing in the middle of the plate is not going to work very often against major league pitching, regardless of stuff. Throwing strikes is great, but throwing quality strikes is a requirement in the major leagues.

    The good news in all of this is that Gausman has flashed the stuff to be a solid major league pitcher. Although it’s disheartening for Oriole fans to see their super prospect get hit around, hopefully this experience will encourage him to continue to work on all of his pitches and eventually settle in as a top of the rotation starter the Orioles envisioned when they took him with the 4th overall pick last year.

    That eventuality may be later this year or in a year or two, but it’s pretty apparent that he’s not ready yet.

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Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.