Gausman emerges as Cy Young candidate
There’s an old saying in baseball that “sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”
This general truth also applies to free-agent signings.
It is highly fortunate for the Toronto Blue Jays that they lost out on Robbie Ray after the ace left-hander opted to sign with the Seattle Mariners two off-seasons ago. The Jays then pivoted to right-hander Kevin Gausman who has become one of the best free-agent signings in Major League Baseball over the past two years.
On Wednesday, a couple of weeks after it was announced the 31-year-old Mariners pitcher was lost for the season, Ray underwent Tommy John surgery and a flexor tendon repair in his left elbow.
In the meantime, Gausman just keeps dominating hitters, start after start. If you recall, the Jays hoped to re-sign Ray after his American League Cy Young Award-winning season with Toronto in 2021. Instead, the lefty chose to go to Seattle on a five-year, $115 million deal. Once Ray was off the board, the Jays moved quickly to sign Gausman to a five-year, $110 million deal.
The lanky 32-year-old immediately slotted in as a nice number two starter behind Alek Manoah, who was a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award in 2022 (16-7, 2.24 ERA) that ultimately went to Justin Verlander. Gausman also had an excellent season (12-10, 3.35 ERA, 174.2 IP, 28 BB and 205 strikeouts) last year, his first with the Jays. In fact, the underlying numbers indicate that Gausman was even better as he had a league-leading 2.38 FIP, which measures a pitcher’s performance based on statistics that do not involve fielders, just the pitcher’s performance.
This season, Gausman (2-2, 2.33 ERA) has been Toronto’s best starting pitcher and one of the best in all of baseball. He has impeccable command and control of his pitches, as evidenced by the fact that he has walked just 35 of the 903 batters he has faced since last season (tops among qualified starters).
Gausman understands the importance of strike one as he has a 72 per cent first-pitch strike rate this season, which is sixth overall among qualified starters in the majors. He has excellent command of his fastball, which he has thrown for a strike 76 per cent of the time this season (second among qualified SP). He’s not afraid to pitch inside as he has thrown his fastball inside for a strike 75 per cent of the time since 2021, which is the best among starters with 140 IP or more. Once he’s ahead in the count, he doesn’t stop – he has 110 three-pitch strikeouts since 2021, which is the most in the game. He fills up the strike zone, pitch by pitch.
Gausman has a strategy that is very obvious. He likes to change the hitter’s eye-level by throwing his fastball up in the zone and his split-finger fastball down in the zone. Here is what the number say: He has located his fastball up in the zone for a strike 75 per cent of the time this season (second among qualified starters). Conversely, he has thrown his splits and occasional slider and change-up down in the zone 81 per cent of the time (tied for the most among qualified SPs).
When he’s in a jam with runners on base, he pounds the bottom of the strike zone 66 per cent of the time (third highest among qualified SPs). Gausman has the ability to get hitters to chase pitches out of the zone with runners in scoring position. He throws so many pitches in the zone for strikes that he can lure hitters out of the zone for a swing and miss as he works his sequence of pitches. His chase rate of 43 per cent with runners in scoring position since last season is the best among starters with at least 75 innings pitched. It is why it’s so hard to score on one of his pitches.
Gausman is as consistent as any starter in the game. There is no secret to his methods. He pounds the strike zone by working ahead in the count and then expands the zone to get hitters to chase pitches off of the plate. It is simple. He knows who he is and doesn’t try to be anybody else. He does what every pitching coach preaches to young pitchers. He just does it better than everyone else.
I have confidence that Manoah will get himself straightened out this season. But that being said, Gausman is a legitimate ace of the Jays pitching staff and one of the best pitchers in baseball. Not only has Gausman emerged as the ace of the Jays this season, but he is truly a Cy Young candidate.
A’s moving on from Oakland
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
The Oakland Athletics are moving to Las Vegas. Relocation is happening. Finally!
Fans in Oakland are upset. Politicians in Oakland say they can’t believe the A’s are really going to leave. But what did they expect? This has gone on for years.
The Oakland Coliseum is a dump. Sewage has backed up into the clubhouses. There is a possum living in the walls of the visiting broadcast booth. The attendance numbers have continued to dwindle. In fact, Monday’s game in Oakland between the A’s and Mariners had both starting pitchers taking no-hitters into the sixth inning. It was a fantastic pitchers’ duel that the Mariners ending up winning 2-1. But only 2,583 fans were in attendance. There are many minor-league teams that draw more fans than that per game.
The A’s have tried numerous times to find a new stadium development location. No team wants to leave their fans behind. Getting a new stadium, to play in front of the passionate A’s fans, was the club’s significant preference all along.
But there has always been a reason for Oakland’s city council to vote down a deal. Most recently, the city council voted to approve moving forward with a new location; however, it was a non-binding vote, which ultimately meant nothing. To the Athletics, it felt like they were being strung along again.
A third-party source familiar with the A’s’ pursuit of the most recent new stadium location in Oakland told me months ago that it wasn’t going to happen. The plan would fail.
So, after years of trying, the team made a deal to purchase land in Las Vegas to build a new baseball stadium and to give up in Oakland. I don’t blame the team in the least. There is a reason why they have lost the NFL’s Raiders, NBA’s Warriors, and NHL’s California Golden Seals and now MLB’s A’s.
The lease at the Coliseum is set to expire after the 2024 season. A new stadium in Las Vegas won’t be completed most likely until the start of the 2027 baseball season. The next few years will be in flux for the franchise, but this is a move that is best for the long-term health of the Athletics. They need to generate more revenues so they can consistently put a quality product on the field.
Oakland has had a build-it-up and tear-it-down roster for the past four decades. There have been far fewer good years than bad years. A move should be able to change this. The front office will soon be able to consider more impactful free agents rather than looking for bargain-basement options in the Moneyball model because they will generate substantially more revenue.
This move also brings the industry one step closer to expansion. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has long stated that the A’s and Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium issues needed to be resolved before expansion. Recently, the Rays have hope for a new facility in the St. Petersburg, Fla., area. Again, this was after a deal for a new stadium site in Ybor City, a town north of Tampa, fell through, and after the team moved on from a serious consideration to split their season between St. Petersburg/Tampa in the spring and Montreal in the summer.
Hope doesn’t mean anything in a stadium negotiation. Names on the dotted line on a binding agreement are needed.
Expansion around the corner
Once the Rays situation is certain, look for MLB to expand with two new franchises.
Reports are that Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Charlotte, New Orleans, Nashville, and Montreal are prime destinations. The franchise fee will be about $2 billion and will be split among the current major league owners.
Expansion will bring dollars, and, just as importantly, symmetry to the 30-team league. Thirty-two teams will bring balance and competitive integrity to the two leagues. The last time MLB expanded was in 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Rays joined the league.
Change is good in many cases, and this is one of them.