Image Credit: Keith Allison

Since coming out of LSU in 2012, Kevin Gausman has been one of the more interesting Orioles pitching prospects. To me, he has been more likely to succeed than his contemporaries, Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, as I could see Gausman’s development hitting a fork in the road, and he dominates in either development path. He throws hard, which could translate to a dominant starter, i.e. a  right-handed, shorter Randy Johnson, or a flame-throwing reliever, your poor man’s Aroldis Chapman.
After seeing some of his performances in the 2015 season, digesting them, thinking about them and how they are going to translate into the 2016 season, I believe he can be at least a mid-range starter this year, and with time, develop into a top of the line starter.

Fangraph’s Tony Blengino seems to agree.

Gausman has indeed shown flashes of excellence in his parts of three seasons at the major league level, which have included 42 starts. He’s posted a cumulative 240/80 K/BB ratio in 273.1 big league innings, with a pedestrian 4.21 ERA and somewhat more appealing 3.79 FIP. Simply looking at his stuff, his size, his 95.2 mph average fastball velocity, and his pedigree, he’s already a prime candidate for an upward move in 2016. A big key is the number of innings he’ll be able to add to his 2015 majors/minors innings load of 134.1.

In 2015, his K/9 rate was 8.3, and his BB/9 dropped from 3 to 2.3 (2014-2015). These continuing positive changes in his output will be key in his development in 2016 and beyond.

Gausman has said he will be adding a hard slider to throw low and away from right handers. If he can successfully add this pitch, he will be able to throw well to both sides of the plate, as left-handers hit only .227 against him, most likely due to his very good change-up. Right-handers hit .278 off of Gausman, an almost .50 point difference.

According to BrooksBaseball’s PitchF/X data, Gausman has thrown a slider in the past, but in their scouting report on it, it’s considered more of a fly ball pitch –Which is something Gausman needs to avoid, because when he got into trouble in 2015, it was on the home run,  which he gave up at a rate of 1.4 every nine innings.

This slider is shown by the PitchF/X to have a mostly upwards vertical break, to which I shouldn’t really have to say, isn’t very good.

According to the data compiled by Blengino, 33.6% of Kevin Gausman pitched at-bats ended in a fly ball, while 44.7% ended in a ground ball. Hitters hit .308 on those fly balls, and only .279 on ground balls. Gausman’s new slider could push the ground ball percentage higher up, because pitching in the hitter’s paradise that is Oriole Park does not bode well for a pitch like his previous “slider” that stays up in the zone.

He also has a 17.1 line drive percentage, which is low, and keeps people off base.

Another positive sign in Gausman’s development is his 4.5 pop-up percentage, which ranks in the 72nd percentile, according to Blengino’s data compilation. Pop-ups are free outs, and any runner on base can’t do anything constructive with it, like they can with a flyball or grounder.

So hopefully, Gausman’s new hard slider is a lot different than the one that Brooks Baseball has charted, to where he has success with it, alongside his other dominant pitches, the fastball, changeup, and his splitter, which seemed to be a bread-and-butter off speed/breaking pitch in 2015.

This hard slider, if it drops the BAA for right-handers, can help Gausman become a dominant starter, getting both sides of the plate out effectively, going deep into games, and becoming the Oriole’s first real “ace” since Mike Mussina.