Blue Jays: Get ready for a Cy Young season from Kevin Gausman

Wild Card Series - Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Two
Wild Card Series - Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Two / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

When Kevin Gausman walked off the field last October with a sixth-inning 8-1 lead against the Mariners, it appeared that he had punctuated his terrific year with a sparkling Wild Card performance that would save the Blue Jays' season, at least for a day.

Instead, Gausman watched helplessly as his team's postseason imploded in an unlucky yet somehow fitting end to his stellar campaign.

It's been well-established that he had the worst luck among starters in 2022, with a historically high BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). He couldn't even catch a break when he left the field.

Despite the lousy luck, Gausman was among the top pitchers in many stats. He even led the AL with a 2.38 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), perhaps the best indication of a pitcher's quality based on factors within their control.

Fast forward to this season, and the second-year Jay looks even better this spring. His strong Grapefruit League performance has prompted talk among industry experts of a Cy Young for the 32-year-old, who finished ninth in the award voting last year.

Spring stats are irrelevant once the regular season gets underway, but it's hard to ignore what Gausman did to Grapefruit League hitters. Against 51 batters, he gave up only eight hits, with 18 strikeouts and three walks. He finished his 13.2 innings with a 0.80 WHIP and zero earned runs.

What's more, pitching stats guru Eno Sarris of The Athletic reveals that Gausman has the most improved Stuff+ this spring, leading him to boldly predict that Gausman will win the AL Cy Young (subscription required).

If you're unfamiliar with Stuff+, FanGraphs provides a good explainer of the metric, which analyzes the physical characteristics of a pitch and, per Sarris, is "the most powerful small-sample stat in the business."

As for Gausman, "he's showing the most ride on his fastball in seven years," Sarris explains. "And his slider has changed shape and is registering as a good pitch for the first time too."

Combined with his fearsome splitter — his best weapon last year — his resurgent fastball and new slider give the lanky righty an elite arsenal heading into his season debut against the Cardinals. For reference, he registered 126 of his 205 strikeouts with his splitter in 2022 and generated weak contact to the tune of a .169 xBA.

Sarris lays out his other arguments for his Cy Young prediction, which all make perfect sense and lead one to believe that maybe it's not such a bold prediction after all. He mentions the bad-luck BABIP, facing fewer AL East opponents due to the new schedule and the Jays' prolific, high-scoring offense.

This is all without mentioning the suspect defense and the ineffective shifting that hurt him last season, which includes giving up the most hits on balls with a sub .200 xBA, per Sportsnet's Chris Black.

Everywhere you look, there are reasons that point to positive regression and even better results this season for the 10-year veteran. It's probably why Sarris isn't the only big name in the industry with a Kevin Gausman Cy Young on the mind.

MLB insider Jeff Passan of ESPN recently told Sportsnet's Jeff Blair and Kevin Barker that Gausman is his pick for the AL Cy Young, in addition to a Blue Jays World Series.

Aided by years of experience and the humbling nature of the 2022 season, per's Keegan Matheson, Gausman isn't focused on his personal numbers or the results from last year.

"To be honest, it sounds bad to say, but I don't really care about those things," Gausman told Matheson earlier this spring. "I just want to go out there and give this team a chance to win every five days. If I'm the worst pitcher in the league and we win the World Series, I'm going to be happy."

There's no chance that Gausman will be the worst pitcher in the league. Despite not getting the 2023 Opening Day nod, he is poised to take the mantle of staff ace this season and will undoubtedly compete with the sport's best for the Cy Young.