For years, pitchers always seemed to improve after leaving Baltimore. Whether it was the dimensions of Camden Yards, the daunting lineups in the AL East or some other factor, hurlers who never lived up to the hype with the Orioles often did so after they were long gone.
Veteran right-hander Kevin Gausman is the current poster child for this phenomenon. Now 31, he’s enjoying a career year with the Toronto Blue Jays after garnering Cy Young votes with San Francisco in 2021.
Blue Jays broadcaster Caleb Joseph caught Gausman with the Orioles from 2014-2018. He knows exactly where it went wrong for Gausman in Baltimore.
“We just had his usage wrong,” Joseph said on Glenn Clark Radio June 15. “I’m going to be honest with you, we had everything wrong.”
From the start, Gausman featured a fastball with excellent natural movement and a deadly splitter to go with it. Drafted No. 4 overall in 2012 out of LSU, he debuted with the Orioles just one season later. During six seasons in Baltimore, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander pitched to a 4.22 ERA in 127 starts.
It was solid stretch but one that didn’t quite live up to what many knew he was capable of. The Orioles, Joseph said, were old school in their pitching approach at the time. They liked their pitchers attacking hitters in a traditional way, with fastballs down and away. But Gausman’s heater had natural rise, leading to frequent meatballs.
“You try to go down and away, you end up missing thigh high,” Joseph said.
The mismanagement didn’t end there, Joseph said. The catcher always loved Gausman’s splitter, but the Orioles wanted him to save it for two strikes. They also tried to force him to implement a slider more frequently, a pitch he never really figured out.
Four years removed from his last starts for Baltimore, Gausman now throws his splitter 34.7 percent of the time, his second-most frequently used pitch. Meanwhile, he’s almost completely abandoned the slider.
“We wanted to save it for two strikes,” Joseph said of Gausman’s splitter, adding that the club was “really adamant about trying to get him going with a slider, trying to figure out a slider. And goodness, I think he spent probably all of his entire career really stressing on that slider.”
Gausman was part of the Orioles’ fire sale in the summer of 2018, the start of an organizational teardown. He and reliever Darren O’Day were sent to the Braves for a few prospects, including lefty Bruce Zimmermann.
Gausman made 26 starts for Atlanta from 2018-2019. He was released by the Braves in 2019 and claimed by the Reds to finish out that season. He appeared in 15 games in Cincinnati, making just one start. That winter, he signed with the Giants.
Gausman pitched to a 3.00 ERA in San Francisco from 2020-2021, capped by a 2.81 ERA, 14-win effort in 2021. He finished sixth in Cy Young voting and was named an All-Star for the first time. And last November, the Blue Jays inked him to a five-year, $110 million contract.
“He figures out, because of the tech, his fastball actually plays best at the top of the zone and his best out pitch is that split,” Joseph said.
After being forced to try to locate his fastball down and away and limit the usage of his splitter, Gausman has become one of baseball’s top pitchers. He has a 5-6 mark and 3.19 ERA in 79 innings this year.
There are a couple other adjustments he’s made along the way, too. He now pitches exclusively out of the stretch as opposed to the windup. Joseph said it allows Gausman to use more weight from his back foot to get even more rise and velocity on the fastball.
Gausman also grew his hair out, now sporting long flowing hair out the back of his cap and down his neck. The new look goes hand in hand with the ultra-visible confidence Gausman has pitched with since leaving Baltimore.
“The confidence that oozes out of him is something that struck me right away,” Joseph said. “When I saw him three or four months ago I was like, ‘Holy smokes, this is not a guy that is searching anymore.’ And that’s the guy I saw every day unfortunately in Baltimore.”
For more from Jospeh, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays