Kevin Gausman returned to the Baltimore Orioles on Monday after spending the beginning portion of the season on the DL. Gausman hurled a 5.0 IP start, but most impressive with his velocity of his fastball in the upper 90’s and high strikeout rate of seven batters over the short start.
While the velocity was impressive, it mirrored what had been accomplished during 2015 (Figure 1). This isn’t to say that it’s not impressive. However, it only yielded 8.07 K/9 during the season. This is league standard for this velocity, but in order to develop into a dominant pitcher he would need to develop his secondary and tertiary pitches.
Primarily, Gausman has relied on his split-changeup that yields some effective results as an out pitch. Over his career, the split-changeup has generated above a twenty percent whiff percentage leading primarily to the pitch being used when Gausman had two strikes. The issue with this pitch selection was that players would often sit on the pitch waiting for it. As Gausman’s career has been ongoing, he has seen the slugging percentage increase from .219 in 2013 to .402 in 2015.
Development of a tertiary pitch, either a curve or slider, has been a discussion point for several years. Most of his minor league development has focused on this work and Gausman has discussed the Orioles approach to this development when he first came in the league.
“I’m not throwing the curveball right now. Me and Rick Peterson sat down and talked about it and felt like, me going forward as a pitcher, the biggest thing will be that consistency with my slider. Possibly, I’ll throw it again in the future.” -Kevin Gausman, August 2012
Last year, Gausman moved back to more of a curveball approach. The Orioles may have come to realize that Gausman could never develop a truly effective slider. Based on the movement, the pitch was a cross-between a curve-slider or a “slurve”. This pitch looks like the following from the catcher’s perspective.
Gausman has typically utilized this tertiary pitch around 8-10% of the games. It’s a pitch he has struggled to command and see effective results. However on Monday, Gausman came out and utilized his slurve at a blistering rate of 28.5%. Even more interesting, he utilized the pitch 38% of the times when he had two strikes against RHH in comparison to 7% last year.
If Gausman is feeling confident with this tertiary pitch, what role does the splitter have in his arsenal? By all aspects, it should still be an excellent whiff pitch. Balancing the usage of the splitter and slurve could be devastating to RHH with the fastball. However, Gausman and the Orioles have to be careful to not become to fascinated with the slurve. Allowing the slurve to be utilized at this rate could prove disastrous for hitters that wait on it to come up and into the outside lower portion of the strike zone. However, it’s a nice toy to have with some very effective results so far in 2016.