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Player Background

Kevin Gausman was drafted in the sixth round by the Dodgers in 2010 out of high school in Colorado but decided not to sign, opting for college instead. After two seasons at LSU, he was selected with the fourth pick in the first round of the draft by the Orioles in 2012. He ascended through the minor-league ranks quickly. He made five starts between Low-A and High-A during his draft year, started the 2013 season in Double-A, and made it all the way to the majors by the end of the 2013 season.

Since he made his major-league debut, Gausman has been sent down and called back up several times. He has also been shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation several times, inviting criticism from outside the Baltimore organization about jerking him around and the potentially deleterious effect it could have on his development. In 2016, it seems like the Orioles finally committed to deploying Gausman as a starter.

It’s easy to see why the tall righty was drafted so high and rose through the ranks so quickly: his fastball. The 26-year-old’s four-seamer averaged 95.9 MPH last season. Naturally, he leans on that big fastball quite a bit, throwing it 63 percent of the time last season. He also throws a split-fingered fastball in the mid-80s and a curveball that sits in the low-80s. Every once in a while he’ll mix in a sinker or a changeup, but he’s mostly a three-pitch guy with the four-seamer, the split, and the curve.

What Went Right in 2016

The main thing that went right for Gausman in 2016 was that the Orioles stopped jerking him around, leaving him in the rotation all year. He responded by making 30 starts, throwing 179 2/3 innings with a 3.61 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP, 174 strikeouts, 47 walks, and nine wins. That’s not exactly the line of an ace, but it’s pretty good, especially the 3.7 K/BB.

On the surface, his 2016 line was better than it was in 2015. However, his underlying stats in 2016 were virtually indistinguishable their 2015 levels:

Year

IP

ERA

WHIP

BB/9

HR/9

K/9

GB%

FIP

DRA

2015

112.3

4.25

1.23

2.3

1.4

8.3

46%

4.07

3.58

2016

179.7

3.61

1.28

2.4

1.4

8.7

46%

4.06

3.56

His FIP and DRA were practically identical, as were most of his peripherals. Gausman made only 17 starts in 2015, appearing seven more times out of the bullpen, while he made 30 starts in 2016 with no relief appearances. The Coloradan also allowed fewer runs, posting a noticeably lower ERA despite the fact that his FIP and DRA were essentially unchanged.

What Went Wrong in 2016

The easy answer to the question of what went wrong for Gausman in 2016 is that he started the year on the DL. He experienced discomfort in his throwing shoulder in spring training that was diagnosed as tendinitis. The Orioles eventually decided that he would not be able to start the season in the majors, sending him out for a few rehab starts in the minors shortly after the season started to build up his innings count before having him make his first start of the season in the majors. Then, adding injury to injury, he was struck on the knee by a comebacker in one of his rehab starts, cutting that outing short and necessitating an extra rehab start. He made his season debut with Baltimore on April 25 and made every start on schedule through the end of the season.

On the fantasy side, his nine wins were a bit disappointing for roto players, but we all know how variable and random and silly wins can be. And you can’t really blame the win total on the bullpen considering that the Orioles’ closer, Zach Britton, had what was probably the best season of any closer in baseball in 2016.

What to Expect in 2017

With Chris Tillman on the shelf until at least the middle of April, it looks like Gausman will be the Orioles’ Opening Day starter. That’s not a category in roto leagues, but it’s a decent signal that his team won’t be sending him back to the bullpen any time soon.

Considering the stats in the table above, the most obvious expectation for Gausman in 2017 is more of the same. His FIP and DRA fell within very narrow bands over the last two seasons, giving us a good idea of where they’re likely to fall in 2017. And unlike in 2016, he’s expected to be at full strength on Opening Day.

The Great Beyond

He’s 26 years old, has a 96 MPH fastball, and has several seasons in the majors under his belt already. Gausman also finally has a guaranteed spot in the rotation. He didn’t light the league on fire right off the bat like some rookies have in recent memory, but he has shown the ability to rack up innings and perform reasonably well. Even if he doesn’t advance much beyond his current level of performance, he’s a useful starter in mixed leagues and downright solid in AL-only leagues. But given his youth, his big fastball and his prospect pedigree, Gausman offers a little upside on top of his demonstrated stability.