While Kevin Gausman has never developed into the top-of-the-rotation starter many envisioned, he carved out a role as a solid innings eater in his first five MLB seasons. Between 2016-18, Gausman averaged 183.1 innings with a 4.07 ERA/4.30 FIP between the Orioles and Braves.
Then the wheels fell off in the first half of 2019. The righty started his first full season in Atlanta with a 6.21 ERA in 13 starts; he hit the shelf for a month-plus with plantar fasciitis in his right foot June 11. Gausman would make just three more starts for the Braves, who waived him in August. The non-contending Reds claimed him for the stretch run.
It was Gausman’s time in Cincinnati that offers the most hope for a rebound. With a full rotation, manager David Bell deployed him solely in short stints (14 relief appearances and one ’start’ as a two-inning opener). While he managed just a 4.03 ERA in that time, the now 29-year-old racked up an impressive 29:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Gausman’s midseason bullpen bump wasn’t at the level of someone like Drew Pomeranz’s, who struck out nearly half the batters he faced as a reliever and parlayed it into a four-year deal. It was, however, enough to remind us Gausman’s nowhere near as bad as he looked at the start of last season.
In fact, much of Gausman’s abysmal results in Atlanta can be chalked up to bad luck. Hitters put up an unsustainable .345 BABIP against him in his time as a starting pitcher. And those batted balls tended to fall in at the least opportune times. As a Brave in 2019, Gausman faced 53 batters with two outs and runners on base. He struck out 18 of them, but opponents hit .406 on balls in play in those spots. If just a handful of those batted balls had found defenders’ gloves, his ERA would’ve looked quite a bit better. Luck isn’t to blame for all of Gausman’s trouble in Atlanta. He did allow more hard, airborne contact than ever before, which is a bit worrisome. Nevertheless, it’s fair to point out things beyond his control contributed to his struggles.
The rotation-needy Giants signed up for a potential Gausman rebound this offseason. He’ll get another crack at cementing himself as a rotation piece at pitcher-friendly Oracle Park. He doesn’t throw as hard as he once did, but he still sits 94+ MPH on his fastball. That pairs with a knockout splitter that’s allowed him to handle left-handed hitters throughout his career. At the very least, he should be well-equipped for the three batter minimum if he ends up back in the bullpen at some point.
Surely, though, SF is hoping for a successful return to the rotation for the still-young hurler. Perhaps the organization can unlock further upside by coaxing a usable breaking ball. David O’Brien of the Athletic reported last summer Gausman had toyed with a curveball while rehabbing from the aforementioned injury, but he was almost exclusively fastball-splitter in the big leagues. Even a mere return to form would position Gausman well when he hits the open market next offseason. The Giants don’t appear likely to contend in 2020, so the righty could find himself changing uniforms for the third straight season.