Kevin Gausman deserves better this season
Another quality start, another disappointing outcome for Kevin Gausman. It’s a pattern that’s starting to become all too familiar for the Toronto Blue Jays ace early this season.
After tossing a gem against the Phillies, scattering three hits, striking out nine through six shutout innings and giving his team every opportunity to pick up their 22nd win, Gausman watched from the dugout as the Jays eventually threw away the game with a blown save and an extra-innings error.
With a 2-3 record through eight starts, the lanky right-hander deserves better than he’s gotten this year. There’s no debating that two of his losses are well-earned. With a disastrous 7-run first inning in Houston and an all-around dud of an 8-run outing against the Red Sox last week, Gausman, like so many starting pitchers this year, has had his share of turbulence in the opening six weeks of the season.
Then you look at his other six starts and scratch your head in amazement that he doesn’t have a 6-2 record.
Outside of his two shockingly uncharacteristic starts, the 10-year veteran has been a bonafide stud in his second season in Toronto, picking up where he left off last year. His other six outings have all been quality starts. He has thrown 40 innings, allowing only three earned runs (which all came in one eight-inning outing). That’s a 0.68 ERA.
Is Kevin Gausman having more bad luck?
So, is this a continuation of Gausman’s bad luck continuing from last year? Yes, and no.
The 32-year-old is missing bats at an impressive clip this year. His 34.2% strikeout is third among qualified starters behind some elite company in Spencer Strider and Shohei Ohtani. He has also been stingy with free passes again this season, sporting a fifth-best 3.6% walk rate.
Despite his dominance over hitters when they're in the batter's box, once the ball is put in play, Gausman's having a hard time buying much luck. He's among the league leaders with a .350 BABIP (the league average this season is .301). At least it's an improvement over last year's record-setting .363 BABIP.
Like the Sesame Street song "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others," you can look at the five highest BABIPs with the accompanying stats and immediately know that Gausman doesn't belong in this group of pitchers.
Much like last year, his splitter is underachieving compared to the expected stats. He has dropped the hard-hit rate from 22.4% to 20.6% this season, with a .192 batting average. That's a good average, but the expected average is .146. That 46-point difference is an even larger discrepancy than last year's 22-point difference.
What is causing some of Gausman's problems when the ball is in play is the hard contact he is giving up, measured by Statcast at 47.1%. That's one of the highest rates this season among qualified starters and by far the highest of his career. His four-seam fastball, in particular, is getting hammered at a 59.7% clip.
Below, you can see the upward trend of the hard-hit rate against his fastball over the past three seasons.
Gausman needs more support from his teammates
To make matters worse, the Blue Jays' top-10 offense hasn't exactly taken advantage of his incredible outings. With a season average of 4.8 runs per game, they've scored 3.1 runs per game in Gausman's starts. As if that's not bad enough, the defense has also let him down when he has needed it the most.
Take, for example, his season debut against the Cardinals. If you recall, Matt Chapman's throwing error resulted in three unearned runs. The offense could only muster a single run in support of Gausman's six-inning, seven-strikeout performance, leading to a 4-1 loss.
Then there was his seven-inning, 13-strikeout masterpiece against the Mariners. The bats were held scoreless by Easton McGee (no, you shouldn't be expected to know that name), who was making his first and only major league start. At least they won that one, 1-0, in extra innings.
That brings us back to yesterday's loss. After dueling with Zack Wheeler and baffling the Phillies for six innings, Gausman left with a 1-0 lead. The bullpen couldn't hold the slim margin and Bo Bichette picked an awful time to commit his first error in over a month, handing the Phillies the win. All Gausman could do was watch as another beautifully pitched game ended in defeat.
Whether it's bad luck or just baseball, Gausman deserves better than his early season results show.