Kevin Gausman stepped up and gave the Blue Jays their ace in 2023

Potential AL Cy Young finalist has become a veteran leader in the Blue Jays clubhouse, with serious foodie street cred outside it; that combination has made him an easy fan favourite in Toronto.
Wild Card Series - Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins - Game One
Wild Card Series - Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins - Game One / Stephen Maturen/GettyImages

Blue Jays ace Kevin Gausman pitched his heart out in year two of his five-year, $110M contract with Toronto. The 32-year-old is a potential AL Cy Young finalist this year, even if Gerrit Cole appears to have locked up the award. But it was his connection with fans over things like cinnamon buns and “the bougiest grocery stores” that really helped cement his place in the hearts of Jays nation.

Gausman later said, “I had so many recommendations [on where to eat]. I only had three days left in the home stand and I wasn’t able to go anywhere. I had so many companies, bakeries, ushers, security guards that brought me cinnamon rolls. I probably ate 20 in the last three days just because they’re there in front of me and I’m not going to not eat a cinnamon roll. There’s a lot of really good people up in Toronto that make good cinnamon rolls.”

So Gausman’s 5.3 fWAR, 12-9 record with a 3.16 ERA over 31 starts and 185 innings pitched, with 237 strikeouts against only 55 walks built up a lot of brownie points with Jays fans, so to speak. He led the American League in strikeouts, was tied with Twins starter Sonny Gray for the AL lead in fWAR for qualified starters, to go with the 4th lowest AL starter ERA, and the 10th most innings pitched.

If you strip out his four stinkers in those 31 starts - seven earned runs allowed in 4.2 innings in a 9-2 loss at Houston on April 17th; eight ER in 3.1 IP in an 11-5 loss at Boston on May 4th; six ER in 4.2 IP in a 7-6 win at home over Minnesota on June 11th; and, five ER in 5.1 IP in a 9-4 loss at home against Philadelphia on August 16th, his ERA was a minuscule 2.10 in his other 27 starts.

Blue Jays hitters only gave him an average run support of 3.55/nine innings which was amongst the lowest in baseball. Toronto was shutout eleven times in 2023, but four of those came in Gausman’s starts, including a 2-0 loss at home to the Yankees on September 26th, when he threw seven scoreless innings; and, a tough 3-0 loss to his former team in the Giants at home on June 27th, when he struck out 12 and only allowed one run in six innings. Gausman and the Jays were also shutout 7-0 by the Orioles, who’d drafted him fourth overall out of LSU in the 2012 draft, in a start away at Baltimore on August 23rd, where he only allowed two runs over six innings, with eight strikeouts.

And while, yes, opponent's BABIP against him was high again at .321 (after a league worst .363 in 2022), and ranked 41st among 43 qualified starters, he was able to get strikeouts to work out of jams, which helped keep his FIP low at 2.97. He struck out 31.1% of batters faced in 2023, and continued to generate a high whiff rate at 43% with his 86mph split finger pitch that he sets up with his 95mph four-seam fastball.

In two seasons with Toronto, Gausman has been worth every penny, pitching to a 24-19 record and 3.25 ERA over 62 starts and 359.2 innings, with 442 strikeouts and only 83 walks. He placed ninth in the 2022 AL Cy Young vote, and was named to the 2023 All-Star team. He also started game one of the ALWC this year, and while the results (three runs on two home runs in four innings) weren’t what anybody wanted, he deserved that nod after being in the Cy Young discussion for most of the season.

He’s also been a calm presence and leader in a Blue Jays rotation where six guys combined to start 158 of the team’s 162 regular season games this year. As Kaitlyn McGrath of The Athletic (subscription required) wrote ahead of his game one postseason start at Minnesota, “The 32-year-old Gausman is an easygoing, classic-rock-loving, cinnamon bun connoisseur, but on the mound he becomes the Blue Jays’ chainsaw, slicing through opposing lineups with his splitter and fastball combination. For the past two seasons, Gausman has put up ace-like numbers, but his teammates say regardless of the result, he’s the laid-back guy that he always is. His signature steadiness makes him one of the team’s go-to leaders.”

Gausman also can offer some interesting perspective to struggling starter Alek Manoah. He went from being the fourth overall pick in 2012, to being DFA’d by the Braves in 2019, to being a Cy Young contender this year. As Gausman said in the McGrath article, “We’ve all been through struggles. That was my overall message to him was like, ‘Hey, man, everybody has down years and this could be the worst year of his career by far.’ It’s just getting a young guy to understand that, but I also get it. When you’re young and (success is) all you know, it’s tough to understand that.”

And food apparently is a steady theme for a veteran clubhouse leader like Gausman, whether it be those cinnamon buns or - along with Chris Bassitt - treating the entire pitching staff to dinner when they were playing in New York last month. And if he can pitch the Blue Jays to a World Series Championship(s) over the next three years, he won’t have to pay for a meal or a cinnamon bun in Toronto ever again!

Grade: A

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