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Kevin Gausman - 2019 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

No pitcher benefited from a mid-season trade more than Kevin Gausman in 2018. During his time in Baltimore, Gausman had posted a 4.43 ERA, five wins, and a 1.52 HR/9. Following his move to Atlanta, those numbers changed to an ERA of 2.87, five wins, and 0.75 HR/9. Albeit, the Atlanta metrics came in half the innings, but even so, the changes are there to be seen.

The question for fantasy owners entering 2019 draft season is which Gausman am I drafting? Is it the first, a disappointing, busted prospect with homer issues and a high WHIP, or the SP2 that owners saw after a move south. Well, with every fantasy prediction the answer is perhaps somewhere in the middle. What this article will not argue is that Gausman is winning a Cy Young this year. Instead, it will posit that he is much better than his Baltimore career numbers to date.

At the very least, even if “Gausman number one” is the same pitcher after his move to Atlanta, the other factors, like park and defense, alone are worth the increased draft stock. Read along to learn why even owners should target Gausman as a high floor SP3 with the potential for much more.

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Why Target Kevin Gausman?

The significant change that anyone would expect moving from Camden Yard to Sun Trust Park would be the homer rate, as the relative size of the park makes one of the true outcomes more apparent. In comparison, the park factor does change with Camden posting 1.09 home run factor since 2014, and Sun Trust only 0.88 since it opened. This means that Gausman will benefit from fewer homers in the aggregate, and from the intro, readers can see a HR/9 that is cut almost in half. This means that if Sun Trust leads to fewer bombs, then he will be a better-looking pitcher regarding runs created just on this factor alone.

One primary reason that homers hurt Gausman so much is that he does not strike many batters out. His best number was 8.72 K/9 in 2016, and this was also his best year with a 3.61 ERA. Coincidentally, the 2016 campaign was also his best year regarding strand rate, with an 81.2 LOB%, compared to 76% in 2017. When Gausman cannot work out of jams with his stuff, the defense behind him comes into play. Last season, Baltimore was one of the worst team defenses in the league, with -48 Rtot, according to Baseball Reference. This means that the Orioles made 48 fewer outs that they would have been expected to based on the positioning and fielding rates. In comparison, Atlanta was a plus 33 in this same metric.

For a player who relies on his defense, a gross swing of close to 80 runs is a huge factor in getting out of jams, when relying on the field. Atlanta should also be at least the same this year concerning skills on the field, so Gausman will once again benefit.


A developing arsenal

The final change, his pitch mix, gives owners some optimism to expect even more growth this season. In Baltimore, last campaign Gausman threw his changeup 2.8% of the time. In Atlanta, he threw the pitch 11.2% of the time. He also dropped his slider and fastball a bit after the move, allowing for the drastic gain with the changeup. Anecdotally, the change in the pitch comes from the decreased risk of the home run, as the changeup is easier to square up. Therefore, a decreased risk of the home run ball allows Gausman to throw all his pitches. This means that Gausman went from three pitches to an effective four-pitch mix for the first time in his career. Mastering that combination could be the catalyst for the breakout 2019.

Gausman is a good pitcher who needs to be on a good team and in an excellent park to play up for fantasy value. What owners are getting is a hurler who makes up for the lack of swing and miss with a sub-three walk rate, and strong ground ball numbers. He does give up a decent amount of hard contact, 34.7%, meaning that the gopher ball is a concern, but in a better park, will not play up as much. A better defense and overall team context mean that Gausman can post a sub-four ERA, with a bucket of wins in Atlanta, and keep stable ratios. Rotoballer has him ranked as the 58th starting pitcher, and this writer would have him closer to 40th overall. Buy Gausman for a 12 win, good ERA and ratio numbers, but stay for the increased changeup usage as the key to increasing the K rate overall.

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