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What has happened to Kevin Gausman?

Posted on 15 May 2017 by Luke Jones

There’s been plenty to dislike during the Orioles’ season-worst four-game losing streak, but the latest poor outing from Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman tops the list.

Seemingly poised to become a top-of-the-rotation starter after a superb final two months of 2016, the 26-year-old has instead been one of the worst pitchers in baseball to begin the new season.

The fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft entered Monday last among qualified American League starters with a 7.19 ERA over his first nine starts and is better than only the 43-year-old Bartolo Colon in the major leagues. In blowing a 5-0 lead in Sunday’s 9-8 loss to Kansas City, Gausman surrendered at least five earned runs for the fourth time in his last six starts, an alarming stretch considering he entered the season with a total of 12 outings of five or more earned runs allowed in his entire career. Forgetting any visions of Gausman becoming an ace, where’s the solid pitcher who posted a combined 3.77 ERA over the previous three seasons to serve as a middle-of-the-rotation starter?

That’s what makes his horrendous start so troubling. Contrary to the many frustrated fans comparing him to Jake Arrieta — though his sudden fourth-inning collapse against the Royals on Sunday was quite “Arrietian” in nature — and Brian Matusz, Gausman has had much more success than either of those two ever did as starters in Baltimore. The right-hander hasn’t struggled to this degree since early in his rookie season when he was a year removed from being drafted and hadn’t pitched above Double-A Bowie.

So, what’s wrong with the talented young pitcher?

A career-low 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a career-high 4.6 walks per nine are red flags that beg to question whether Gausman is healthy, but his average fastball velocity is nearly identical to what it was last year and is in line with where it sat when he was exceptional over the final two months of 2016, according to PITCHf/x data. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t still be hiding an injury as diminished command can be an early sign of an ailment, but manager Buck Showalter has volunteered more than once that Gausman is in a good place physically after dealing with bouts of shoulder tendinitis in 2015 and early in 2016.

Gausman has spoken more than once about his mechanics being out of sync as the novice can see how frequently his fastball has leaked to his arm side this season. Even his biggest critics over the last few years acknowledge that he never had a problem with issuing free passes after walking just 2.5 per nine frames over his first four seasons. If his delivery is out of whack and causing his poor command, what is new pitching coach Roger McDowell doing to help matters?

Regardless of how hard he’s been hit overall, Gausman simply isn’t throwing as many strikes — a career-low 60.6 percent of his pitches have been strikes compared to 64.4 percent over the previous two years — and that’s clearly a problem.

There have been some changes to Gausman’s pitch usage early in 2017 that could either help explain or merely reflect his overall problems.

The development of an effective breaking ball has been a well-documented obstacle throughout his professional career, but he revealed in the spring that he was going back to his slider after leaning more on a curveball the previous two years. Gausman is throwing the slider more frequently than ever — with the occasional curve mixed in — and his average slider velocity of 84.3 mph is much faster than he’s ever thrown it, but the results still haven’t been there.

Making matters worse has been the regression of his split-changeup, which had easily been his best secondary pitch over his first four major league seasons. According to Brooks Baseball, Gausman is throwing his split a career-low 14.8 percent of the time, and the sharp break and consistent command of the pitch just haven’t been there. Though that pitch has been more effective against left-handed batters and he did face some righty-heavy lineups early in April, a 1.5-percent decrease in lefty hitters faced from a year ago is hardly meaningful enough to justify such a decrease in his usage of the split.

Has his spring focus and increased velocity on the slider somehow compromised the reliability of the fastball-split combination that had made him consistently competitive in the majors over the last few years?

Only Gausman can know this for sure, but could at least part of the problem be mental?

Despite looking every bit the part of an ace over the final two months of 2016, Gausman had to hear about the increased expectations throughout the offseason, especially with veteran Chris Tillman sidelined throughout the spring and over the first month of the season. Has the emergence of Dylan Bundy prompted Gausman to put more pressure on himself to be great since the 24-year-old has spent a fraction of the time in the majors compared to him?

After Gausman received little run support a year ago, no one can complain about the lineup’s contributions as he’s received the best run support of his career so far in 2017. Staked to a 9-1 lead at Yankee Stadium last month, Gausman gave up five earned runs and was chased in the seventh inning of a game the Orioles inexplicably lost in extra innings. On Sunday, it took him only minutes to squander a 5-0 lead as MASN broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer questioned his concentration level during the telecast.

Whatever the explanation, the Orioles need Gausman to rediscover himself quickly. With Tillman not pitching at full strength and Bundy still in his first full season as a major league starter, Gausman is too important to the fate of the 2017 club to continue performing like this. His track record as a reliable middle-of-the-rotation arm for the better part of the previous three seasons makes him deserving of at least a few more starts to get back on track and start showing consistent improvement, but he can’t continue holding a rotation spot as one of the worst pitchers in baseball for the long term — even with the lack of viable alternatives.

Those offseason thoughts of Gausman finally becoming a No. 1 starter may look foolish at the moment, but, at this point, the Orioles would take him being the solid pitcher he’s been for most of his career.

Aside from a start or two, even that guy is nowhere to be found in 2017.

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Machado receives four-game suspension, will appeal

Posted on 09 June 2016 by Luke Jones

The punishment is in for Orioles infielder Manny Machado for his role in Tuesday’s brawl with the Kansas City Royals.

The 23-year-old will receive a four-game suspension and $2,500 fine for charging the mound and punching Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura, who was suspended nine games and fined for hitting Machado in the ribs with a 99 mph fastball in the fifth inning and had twice thrown inside to the shortstop in the previous at-bat. Both benches emptied before order was restored and both Machado and Ventura were ejected from the game.

Machado will appeal the suspension and was in Thursday’s lineup as the Orioles began a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Veteran center fielder Adam Jones said after Tuesday’s game that he intended to pay Machado’s fine, a clear show of support for his teammate’s actions.

It’s not the first time that Machado has been disciplined by Major League Baseball as he was suspended five games for throwing a bat two years ago in a weekend-long conflict with the Oakland Athletics. Unlike that incident, however, Machado’s actions on Tuesday have generally been viewed with more understanding while Ventura has been perceived as the main culprit.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-0 win over Royals

Posted on 09 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-0 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 58th game of the 2016 season.

1st Chris Tillman wasn’t sure when asked if he was carrying his best stuff of the season, but it looked like it as he pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings while allowing eight hits and matching a career high with nine strikeouts without walking a single batter. The right-hander commanded all of his pitches and was particularly good locating his fastball throughout the night. Not only did Tillman throw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 29 hitters he faced, but he got an impressive 19 swinging strikes as a struggling Royals lineup struggled to make contact and hit the ball hard. Though he entered Wednesday’s game averaging 3.7 walks per game and can struggle with command from time to time, Tillman went to three-ball counts on just two hitters and threw just 29 balls out of his 110 pitches. Simply put, Tillman was exceptional in his longest start of the season.

2ndRyan Flaherty is known for his versatility in the field but not for his bat, making his recent contributions at the plate a pleasant development. With the bases loaded and the game scoreless in the fifth, Flaherty doubled to right off Edinson Volquez to score two, which would be all Baltimore needed to earn its first three-game sweep of the Royals since 2011. The third baseman has now hit safely in eight of his last 10 games, batting .308 with two doubles, a home run, seven runs, and seven RBIs. Flaherty also turned a terrific double play in the second, catching a Jarrod Dyson bunt in the air and immediately firing to second to double off Cheslor Cuthbert.

3rdBrad Brach took over for Tillman with two men on and one out in the eighth and eventually escaped with the potential tying run at the plate after he had issued a two-out walk. The right-hander lowered his season ERA to a remarkable 0.84 by pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings with three strikeouts to close out the victory. The performance gave Brach his second save of the season as he now has 37 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings.

HomeHyun Soo Kim knocked in the final run of the night with an RBI single and also collected the first stolen base of his major league career in the fifth. He is now hitting .372 on the season. … The Orioles improved to a season-best 12 games above .500 and finished a 7-3 homestand to increase their lead in the AL East to 1 1/2 games entering Thursday. … Losers of seven straight, the Royals scored just two runs over the three-game series at Camden Yards and have plated only four in their last six contests. … Though he struck out a season-worst four times, Mark Trumbo made his first start of the year at first base as Chris Davis missed his first game of 2016 with a couple physical issues, according to Buck Showalter. … The Orioles recorded their third shutout victory of the season. … Tyler Wilson will go to the hill to open a four-game set in Toronto while the Blue Jays will start right-hander Marcus Stroman on Thursday night.

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Nothing good comes from Tuesday’s brawl for Orioles

Posted on 08 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Yordano Ventura was the culprit in Tuesday’s brawl between the Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, but don’t be fooled by the crowd’s chants for Manny Machado after he charged the mound.

There was nothing to be proud of from the confrontation. Nothing good comes from this for Machado or the Orioles, even if they weren’t the ones at fault. And let’s not sing the 23-year-old’s praises when it was just two years ago that he embarrassed himself and the organization by being on the wrong side of another conflict by flinging a bat at the opposition. He has his own reputation for being a bit of a hothead, which may or may not have made him a prime target for Ventura’s behavior.

If you want to see a fight, check out a UFC pay-per-view or even WWE Monday Night Raw, which offers more believable grappling than what you’ll find in 90 percent of baseball brawls. I’d much prefer using this space to focus on a 9-1 victory in which the Orioles clubbed four home runs to improve to 11 games over .500 and remain in first place in the AL East instead of the rubbish we witnessed on Tuesday — no matter who’s to blame.

In a perfect world, Machado bites his tongue in anger and walks to first base as the Royals starter is ejected for the deplorable act of using a 99 mph fastball — his fastest pitch of the night — as a weapon, but you can understand an emotional reaction when your livelihood is being threatened. The 23-year-old shortstop wasn’t entirely blameless and did play a part in escalating the hostility in the previous at-bat when Ventura twice came inside without hitting him, but no amount of jawing warranted being hit in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The real problem is Major League Baseball’s willingness to allow these types of incidents to continue with little consequence. Instead of pimping highlights of the skirmish via social media, the league should crack down on pitchers who decide to punish someone because they were terrible at their job in the way Ventura was on Tuesday night.

With his own past likely being considered, Machado will be suspended for a handful of games and should be for charging the mound and throwing a punch, but what will the consequence be for Ventura, who committed a more dangerous act and already has a concerning history in his brief career? A suspension that will likely amount to one or two missed starts?

Give me a break with that slap on the wrist.

Adam Jones may have made the most cogent point of the night when citing how Ventura faces no threat of stepping to the plate to face the same music that he dished out. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but at least it’s a deterrent that exists in the National League to help offset baseball’s lack of a backbone over matters such as these.

Manager Buck Showalter said after Tuesday’s win that there were no apparent injuries stemming from the brawl, but we’ve seen them occur before, including one that nearly cost Cal Ripken his consecutive games streak in 1993. Machado’s anger was understandable, but he also put himself in further danger and his teammates in harm’s way when he charged the mound and the playoff-hopeful Orioles will now be without their best player for some number of games in the near future.

But more importantly, Machado could have been seriously injured by a 99 mph missile from Ventura, a reality that needs to be taken more seriously by the league’s decision-makers. More extreme consequences for pitchers intentionally hitting someone would go a long way in not only making the game safer but also putting players’ minds at ease that they don’t have to take matters into their own hands.

There just has to be a better way than players and teams policing themselves because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

Perhaps everyone would be a little more cordial if they knew they’d be banned for many more games and lose much more money when getting caught up in such nonsense.

Make no mistake, Ventura was the villain and the big loser on Tuesday night.

But that doesn’t make Machado the winner, either.

And we primarily have baseball to thank for that.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-1 loss to Kansas City

Posted on 24 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-1 defeat to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday afternoon?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 17th game of the 2016 season.

1st — The Orioles managed just one hit in Yordano Ventura’s final six innings of work after grabbing an early 1-0 lead. The Kansas City right-hander threw 28 pitches in an opening inning that included a Mark Trumbo RBI single, but the Orioles made Ventura throw a total of 25 in the next three frames and pushed only one runner into scoring position after the first. The lineup simply couldn’t handle Ventura’s effective off-speed stuff to go along with his fastball and were retired in order a total of six times on Sunday afternoon. You knew it wouldn’t be an easy day against the talented 24-year-old, but the inability to even make him work set up the Orioles for a long day at Kauffman Stadium.

2nd — After pitching well through six innings, Mike Wright couldn’t handle a long leash in the seventh and suffered his second loss. It’s a shame that many will look at the final numbers and just assume that the Orioles right-hander was lousy, but Wright effectively mixed in his off-speed and breaking stuff to compete against a lineup that included five lefty bats. That said, he left a 92 mph sinker up and over the outer half of the plate on Alex Gordon’s fourth-inning homer and hung a curve on Eric Hosmer’s long ball in the sixth, showing lefties are still problematic for him. To be clear, Wright doesn’t receive a pass as he entered the seventh at only 87 pitches, but Buck Showalter could have had a reliever loosening in a 2-1 game as the inning began. Even if it had been a clean inning, you wouldn’t have loved the Orioles’ chances with Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis looming in a 2-1 game, which could explain why Showalter tried to push it a little more than normal with Wright instead of going to the bullpen at the first sign of trouble. Right or wrong, that’s a choice that sometimes needs to be made when thinking of the long-term status of a bullpen that’s working behind a poor starting rotation in 2016.

3rd — You never know if the seventh would have been different for Wright if not for Chris Davis’ misplay of a Gordon chopper down the first-base line to open the inning. The Orioles made a handful of shaky plays defensively like the Royals did in Saturday night’s contest, but Davis would be the first to tell you that he should have turned that into the first out — even if catcher Caleb Joseph thought the ball was foul. Instead, it opened the floodgates to transform a close game into a blowout. Yes, Wright needs to be able to shake it off and not give up doubles to two of the next three hitters, but Baltimore’s stellar defense can’t bend like that when you’re asking a young starter to work into the seventh inning of a one-run game.

Home — Dylan Bundy wasn’t able to keep the Orioles in it after the deficit had grown to 4-1 in the seventh. He allowed three of the first four hitters he faced to reach as the Royals busted it wide open with a five-run advantage and allowed two more hitters to reach in the eighth. … Manny Machado saw his 16-game hitting streak come to an end as he went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Only Davey Johnson had a longer hitting streak (17 games) to begin a season in Orioles history. … Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-3 and is now hitting .108 to begin the season. … Trumbo collected his club-leading 16th RBI, but all have amazingly come on the road. … Kevin Gausman will be activated from the 15-day disabled list to make his 2016 debut against Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer on Monday night.

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Gallardo leaves Friday’s start with shoulder discomfort

Posted on 23 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo left Friday’s start against the Kansas City Royals with right shoulder discomfort.

Manager Buck Showalter said on MASN after Baltimore’s 4-2 loss that the right-hander would travel back to Baltimore where he’ll be examined by team doctors. Gallardo allowed four runs, five hits, a home run, and a walk in just two innings before being replaced by T.J. McFarland to begin the bottom of the third inning.

With left-handed reliever Brian Matusz set to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday, it remains unclear whether Gallardo would be a candidate to be placed on the DL. Right-hander Kevin Gausman is set to be activated to start Monday’s game against Tampa Bay.

According to FanGraphs, Gallardo’s average fastball velocity entering Friday’s game was just 87.4 miles per hour over his first three starts of 2016, down from an average of 90.4 last season. It was no secret that his velocity and strikeout rate had declined over the last few years, but his dramatic drop in pitch speed this spring had prompted many to wonder about the health of his arm in his 10th major league season.

Of course, the Orioles restructured the original three-year, $35 million agreement with Gallardo in February after concerns arose about his shoulder during his physical and the sides eventually settled on a two-year, $22 million contract. Baltimore gave up the 14th overall pick of the 2016 amateur draft to sign Gallardo, making Friday’s news even more concerning beyond the short-term ramifications of potentially needing to fill his rotation spot.

In four starts this season, Gallardo is 1-1 with a 7.00 ERA over 18 innings and has struck out just nine while walking seven.

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Orioles shouldn’t overlook defense entering critical offseason

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Improving the starting pitching, re-signing Chris Davis, and upgrading corner outfield production top the consensus list of priorities as the Orioles’ offseason needs.

Though maddeningly inconsistent during the 2015 season following the free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, the Baltimore lineup still produced eight more runs than it did a year ago. A bullpen that didn’t retain postseason standout Andrew Miller finished third in the American League with a 3.21 ERA, only slightly worse than its 3.10 mark in 2014.

But an Orioles starting rotation that finished fifth in the AL with a 3.61 ERA in 2014 was almost a full run worse with a 4.53 mark that ranked 14th out of 15 AL clubs this past season.

That explains much of the Orioles’ drop-off in a nutshell, right?

Not exactly, even if the starting rotation clearly needs to be upgraded this winter.

Below is a look at a mystery team compared to the Orioles in just a few categories with their 2015 AL rankings included in parentheses:

  Mystery team      Orioles
Runs scored       724 (6th)   713 (7th)
Starter ERA   4.34 (12th)   4.53 (14th)
Starter FIP   4.32 (12th)   4.47 (14th)
Quality starts   71 (14th)   72 (11th)
Bullpen ERA   2.72 (1st)   3.21 (3rd)
Bullpen FIP   3.56 (4th)   3.48 (3rd)
Team ERA   3.73 (3rd)   4.05 (8th)
Team FIP   4.04 (6th)   4.11 (10th)

 

Though you’d conclude that the mystery team was better than the Orioles in 2015 — by 14 wins, in fact — the comparison shows two clubs sharing a similar profile in terms of runs scored and a reliance on a strong bullpen to overcome below-average starting pitching. But the smaller gap between these clubs in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) compared to the difference in ERA helps illustrate arguably the biggest difference between the Orioles and the World Series champion Kansas City Royals in 2015.

Defense.

Now, traditional fielding statistics — that don’t take into account factors such as range, arm strength, and an ability to make the more difficult plays — would suggest the Orioles were the best defensive team in the league in 2015 as they committed the fewest errors of any AL club and owned the highest fielding percentage. Meanwhile, the Royals committed 11 more errors and ranked only sixth in fielding percentage.

But a deeper look indicates the Royals were vastly superior to Baltimore in the field, leading the AL with 52 defensive runs saved (numbers constructed by Baseball Info Solutions) while the Orioles finished 11th at minus-9. On their way to its first AL East title in 17 years, Buck Showalter’s club led the league with 50 defensive runs saved a year ago.

This sterling defense in 2014 helped make an average Baltimore starting rotation that owned the 14th-worst FIP (4.18) in the AL one of the league’s best in terms of ERA with a 3.61 mark that ranked fifth. In other words, superb defense helped compensate for starting pitchers who still finished in the bottom third of the AL in strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed.

So, what happened to the defense in 2015?

Using defensive runs saved — only one metric, but viewed by many as a reliable one — below is a position-by-position look at how the Orioles performed in 2014 compared to 2015:

Position    2014    2015    Difference
C    -1    4    +5
1B    15    1    -14
2B    8   -7    -15
3B    6    10    +4
SS    5    -2    -7
LF    7    4    -3
CF    6   -1    -7
RF    5   -8    -13
P   -1   -10    -9

 

According to defensive runs saved, the Orioles improved at only two positions in 2015: catcher and third base. Caleb Joseph starting the majority of the games led to the overall improvement at catcher as he finished second on the club with 12 defensive runs saved in 2015. The overall improvement at the hot corner should come as no surprise with a healthy Manny Machado starting all but six games at third base and leading the club with 13 defensive runs saved overall in 2015.

Based on defensive runs saved, the largest drop-offs occurred at first base, second base, and right field. At first base, the 2015 defense wasn’t atrocious, but it was only average after both Chris Davis and Steve Pearce played superb defense there a year earlier. In 2015, Davis was still better than average (+4), but other options such as Pearce, Ryan Flaherty, and Chris Parmelee were either average or slightly below average at the position. Whether Davis ultimately returns or the Orioles are looking at other options for the position in 2016, they’d clearly prefer a return to 2014 defensive levels at first base.

The dramatic drop-off at second base can mostly be attributed to the long-term knee injury suffered by Jonathan Schoop, who finished with an impressive 10 defensive runs saved as a rookie in 2014. Virtually everyone who played the position this past season — including Schoop (-1) — was either average or below average. Fortunately for the Orioles, it’s reasonable to expect Schoop’s defense to bounce back with a full winter to strengthen his knee, but that will be something worth monitoring early next season.

Of course, right field was manned by the unspectacular but very steady Nick Markakis in 2014, but other options such as Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce also played solid defense in limited opportunities in right. The Orioles’ revolving door at right field in 2015 was nearly as painful in the field as it was at the plate with no one playing good defense including the two-time Gold Glove winner Gerardo Parra (minus-7 defensive runs saved) after he was acquired at the trade deadline. The Orioles simply must find a better all-around option in right field than the ones they ran out there in 2015.

Other positions with drop-off can primarily be attributed to starters missing time due to injuries. At shortstop, J.J. Hardy saw his defensive runs saved dip from 10 to four, but the Orioles will only hope the injuries he’s battled the last couple seasons won’t zap his defense as dramatically as his offense.

Despite the Orioles’ overall decrease in center field in 2015, Adam Jones slightly improved in defensive runs saved from a year ago, but his replacements did not play well in the field. Though turning 30 this past year, Jones has a track record of durability that doesn’t make this position much of a concern after a variety of ailments limited him to just 137 games in 2015.

As for defense on the mound, it’s apparent that pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti will need to make improving defense a point of emphasis during spring training. However, it’s worth noting that the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez was the biggest pitching culprit at minus-4 runs saved in 2015 as he is very poor at holding runners on base.

These defensive numbers aren’t to suggest that the Orioles don’t need to improve their starting pitching or go all out to sign Davis or another impact bat or two this winter, but much of their success over the last few seasons can be attributed to exceptional defense, something Showalter’s club did not play in 2015. And given the organization’s track record for not spending big money on free agents, improving the defense at a few positions is probably a more realistic task than overhauling the starting rotation or even re-signing Davis at this point.

Would that alone be enough to make the Orioles a contender?

No, but playing underwhelming defense in 2015 went a long way in exposing a mediocre starting rotation and ultimately leaving the Orioles on the outside looking in for the postseason.

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Jim Williams recaps the 2015 World Series

Posted on 03 November 2015 by WNST Staff

 

 

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Tom Gatto talks 2015 World Series Champion Royals

Posted on 02 November 2015 by WNST Staff

 

MLB 2015 Postseason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bristol, CT - May 23, 2013 - Studio A: Doug Glanville on the Baseball Tonight set.(Photo by Joe Faraoni/ ESPN Images)

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Doug Glanville breaks down thrilling first week of MLB playoffs

Posted on 13 October 2015 by WNST Staff

Bristol, CT - May 23, 2013 - Studio A: Doug Glanville on the Baseball Tonight set.(Photo by Joe Faraoni/ ESPN Images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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