It took 17 starts, but on Tuesday night in Toronto, Orioles righty Kevin Gausman did not allow an earned run for the first time all season. He finished with a solid 5.2 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 K line. It’s not the turn-over-a-new-leaf performance we’ve been waiting on, but when you own an ERA north of 6.00, it’s a notable start.
The most important thing to notice from last night is he did not throw a single slider according to Brooks Baseball.
Of the 97 pitches, he threw 71 fastballs, 23 two seamers and two curveballs. And zero sliders. Why is this notable? Gausman’s slider has been horrendous. Of 56 qualified pitchers who throw a slider, Gausman’s is 52nd worst in weighted Slider Runs per 100 pitches (wSL/C) with a -1.99 mark. In short, it helps identify if a pitch has been effective. While the metric is not predictive, it’s the second year Gausman is hovering around that mark.
Excluding yesterday, Kevin Gausman has recorded at least a 10 percent slider usage rate in 13 of 16 pitches. In those 13 starts, he attempted to make it more than a show-me pitch, but often would leave it hanging and get crushed. For some reason, perhaps it may have been under the direction of new pitching coach Roger McDowell, Gausman upped his slider usage to a career-high 15 percent. But as you already know, the pitch wasn’t working out.
So against the Blue Jays, he turned into a two-pitch pitcher, relying on his fastball and splitter. Is that a better thing? It’s hard to say. Fangraphs writer Paul Sporer noted that his fastball, especially in the upper-third of the zone, has been absolutely demolished. It’s not just his slider causing headaches. But if Gausman can continue his tinkering and eliminate at least one thing hindering him, it’s a positive step forward.
Becoming a two-pitch pitch is not ideal, though, as it becomes harder to turn over a lineup a second and third time. In addition, it’s not impossible that Tuesday night’s pitch mix have more to do with the team he was facing. On the season against Toronto, he owns a 1.99 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 22.2 IP, just about the only team he’s had repeated success against.
Gausman’s final two first-half starts are v. TB and @MIN. He’s still not fantasy relevant, but if he records solid results with this new pitch mix, then he’ll be worth revisiting in the second half.