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Kevin Gausman improved his 5x5 stats immensely in the second half of 2016.

However, a player’s stat line for the year as a whole trumps a strong second half unless there is a clear reason otherwise. Two possibilities include overcoming an injury or a more favorable second half schedule.

This article will explore (1) whether Gausman’s 5x5 improvement in the second half was due to injury or schedule, or (2) whether the improvement was due to luck or something else, and (3) what that means for his 2017 stats.

Editor's note: Be sure to also check out our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It's already loaded up with tons of great rankings articles and draft analysis. Aside from our tiered staff rankings for every position, we also go deep on MLB prospect rankings, impact rookies for 2017, and dynasty/keeper rankings as well. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.

 

Kevin Gausman - 2017 Fantasy Baseball Outlook

2016 Stats By Half

GS W-L ERA IP SO WHIP
1st Half 15 1-6 4.15 86.2 82 1.30
2nd Half 15 8-6 3.10 93.0 92 1.26

 
 
Was Gausman’s Improved Second Half Due to Injury Recovery or a More Favorable Schedule?

Gausman suffered a shoulder injury in spring training and missed the first few weeks of the season. However, his velocity actually decreased in the second half of the season, dispelling the notion that he grew stronger as he recovered in the second half.

Gausman did not face any teams in September mailing it in, with the possible exception of the Yankees on October 2. However, Gausman had the Yankees’ number all year (3-1, 1.10 ERA, 0.95 WHIP in six starts), which brings up another theory: did the fact that Gausman faced the Yankees four times in the second half as opposed to two in the first half account for the improvement? Below are his first and second half stats removing the Yankees’ games. Even removing the Yankees’ disparity, the ERA and WHIP gaps are about the same, with only a slight difference in K/9 gap. It does not appear the schedule was responsible for the improvement:

GS W-L ERA IP SO WHIP
1st Half 13 1-6 4.83 72.2 73 1.39
2nd Half 11 5-4 3.82 66.0 66 1.33

 
 
 
Was Gausman’s Improved Second Half Due to Luck and thus Not a Breakout at All?

(A)    Peripherals Suggest that Gausman was Simply Luckier in the Second Half

FIP Xfip K:BB K/9 BB/9 HR/9
1st Half 4.27 3.75 4.32 8.5 1.97 1.56
2nd Half 3.95 3.78 3.29 8.9 2.71 1.26

 

In the second half, Gausman went deeper into games, increased his strikeouts per nine, decreased his WHIP marginally, and significantly improved his ERA and win-loss record. However, his walks increased and his fielding independent pitching indicators improved slightly (FIP) or stayed nearly the same (xFIP). (FIP attempts to estimate ERA given average fielding, while xFIP also makes a pitcher’s HR/FB rate average). Thus, the second half “breakout” may merely be a slight improvement, as the peripherals suggest his big ERA drop is luck-related and a win-loss record could reflect the lowered ERA or good luck.

(B)    A Closer Looks Suggests a Change in Approach was the Actual Reason for Improvement

In the second half of 2016, Gausman threw at a lower velocity and traded off more walks for fewer hits and home runs, just as he did in 2014. This approach of lower velocity and nibbling (2014, second half of 2016) rather than throwing as hard as possible and seeing what happens (2013, 2015, first half of 2016) has led to Gausman allowing fewer runs. One major reason Gausman’s 2016 second half exceeded his 2014 numbers was that he threw more first pitch strikes, and he performs significantly better after a first pitch strike (career .819 ops after 1-0, but .620 ops after 0-1). Combine the first-pitch improvement with his K-rate increase for the third straight year, and we have our pitcher from the second half of 2016.

Importantly, FIP and xFIP would not have viewed this improved approach as an improvement, because those metrics penalize walks and xFIP assumes the lower HR rate is sheer luck. Moreover, Gausman pitched better with a lead in the second half than he had previously, which if due to a further improved mental approach, could lead to a better win-loss record in 2017. The main issue with basing 2017 projections off these theories is Gausman showed this approach in 2014, but appeared to abandon it in 2015 and the first half of 2016.

 

2017 Projection

For these reasons, I give Gausman a slight boost on his overall 2014 and 2016, but I do not accept the second half 2016 5x5 stats as the new normal until he continues down the path. I project him for a 3.45 era, 8.8k/9, a 1.25 WHIP with a 15-10 record. This projection is slightly lower than his 2014 and 2016 ERAs, but higher than 2016 second half, and reflects his increasing K rate.





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