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Keeper League Conundrum: Keep Kevin Gausman?

To keep or not to keep Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. That is the dilemma that I face in my AL-only keeper league heading into 2014.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you in AL-only or NL-only keeper leagues, deciding on your keepers is tougher than in mixed leagues, because the talent pool is thinner, especially in deeper "only leagues". I participate in two NL-only keeper leagues and one AL-only keeper leagues, and last night I was pondering what I should do with Orioles young starter Kevin Gausman.

For a little background, I joined this league two years ago and promptly held a fire sale, rebuilding a roster that was light in young, cheap talent. I think I finished in last in my first year in the league, and after a season rebuilding, I finished in fourth last season. That wasn't good enough, so I have hopes in 2014, but before the draft occurs, I have to decide on which players to keep.

In this 12 team, AL-only league, we draft a 23 man roster, and are allowed to keep up to 13 players from year to year. I have a good idea who I want to keep heading into 2014, but am on the fence with Gausman. Before yesterday, I was going to throw him back after a disappointing 2013 debut. But after reading Jason Park's scouting report on him yesterday morning, I am second guessing myself.

Here is what he wrote about Gausman in his Orioles top 10 prospects for 2014:

Gausman is a beast, with a near elite fastball, a plus-plus changeup, and the makings of a plus slider. If the command stays sharp and the slider takes a step forward (in confidence and consistency), Gausman has all the necessary ingredients to be a frontline starter. The stuff can be a little visible, and he’s hittable when he throws too many strikes and not enough good strikes (control vs. command), but the floor is obnoxiously high, and the ceiling suggests he could be one of the better arms in baseball very soon.

Everyone knows that young starters are so unpredictable, but after reading what Parks had to say about him, I may just keep him.

Taking a closer look at his performance in 2013, I see that he went 3-5 with a 5.66 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 3.04 xFIP, with a 1.34 WHIP, and a 49-13 strikeout to walk rate in 47.2 innings of work. He made just 5 starts, but made a total of 20 appearances, so 15 out of the bullpen. In his 5 starts, he gave up 21 runs on 34 hits, 6 walks, 7 home runs and 20 strikeouts in just 24.2 innings. In other words, he was pounded. But, out of the pen, he was dominant. In 23 innings, he gave up just 9 runs on 17 hits, including just one home runs, while striking out 29 and walking 7 in 23 innings of work.

In the first half, he gave up a triple slash line of .296-.343-.526, while in the second half, he limited hitters to a low .208-.268-.327 triple slash line, all out of the bullpen. Progress.

Could he close for the Orioles now that they traded two time 50 save closer Jim Johnson? He could, but I doubt the Orioles keep him in the pen. I imagine they did last season to restore some of his confidence. If they put him in the rotation like they should, he is bound to show improvement in 2014, as he was very unlucky in 2013. He gave up 7 home runs and 21 runs in 24.2 innings, so his .328 BABIP allowed and 18.4% HR/FB rate will drop in 2014.

In addition to striking out more than nine batters per nine innings, and limited the free pass to under 2.50 last season, he induced ground balls at a 42% rate, so he has the potential to perform much better than he did in 2013.

Should I keep Gausman at $5 for 2014, or should I toss him back?