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Kevin Gausman: Year in Review

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Gausman had a magical season as the Giants #1 starter, exceeding all expectations and anchoring a rotation that was 3rd in baseball by ERA.

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants - Game Five Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The last time the San Francisco Giants had a pitcher finish in the top-10 for Cy Young voting, it was 2016, and they had two: Madison Bumgarner, at 4, and Johnny Cueto, at 6. This year, in a league dominated by spectacular pitching performances, the Giants had another top 10 finish: Kevin Gausman, at #6.

Certainly when Farhan Zaidi extended the qualifying offer to Gausman last winter, this was the kind of season he was hoping for, but only subtly, the way you keep some wishes to yourself. Likely Zaidi would have told you that he was expecting a season like 2020 out of Gausman: a solid pitcher with a mid 3s ERA, able to give you 5+ innings a start, with good strikeout numbers and the ability to limit walks.

So what did Zaidi get, for his $18.9 million?

2021 Review

We’ve already mentioned that Gausman finished 6th overall in NL Cy Young voting. The question is, what numbers did he need to get to validate that kind of finish? With the caveat that Gausman’s first half was significantly better than his second half, let’s take a look at his overall numbers:

Gausman 2021 Stats

Stat Value Rank (MLB)
Stat Value Rank (MLB)
ERA 2.81 6th
xERA 3.55 16th
WHIP 1.04 7th
FIP 3.00 7th
xFIP 3.28 6th
SIERA 3.42 8th
fWAR 4.8 8th

By nearly every stat (except xERA), Gausman was top-10 in baseball. The best predictor of future performance has been shown to be SIERA and xFIP (see the wonderful statistical analysis done here), and Gausman ranked 8th and 6th in those, respectively. Both SIERA and xFIP are metrics that attempt to take factors outside of the pitcher’s control out of the equation: SIERA stands for Skill-Interactive ERA, and differs from FIP in that it takes into account balls in play (BABIP, etc.) xFIP, meanwhile, stands for eXpected Fielding-Independent Pitching, and it tends to rate pitchers along strikeouts, homeruns, and walks (things that seem to be more controllable than how cleanly a ball is fielded, for example).

What this means for the 2021 Giants is that Gausman gave them 192.0 innings of ace-level pitching, anchoring a rotation that was otherwise filled with a bunch of question marks. It’s easy to look back at the 2021 Giants and laud the ability of their pitching staff, but recall, at the beginning of the season the only even slightly stable pitcher was Gausman: Webb was a young rookie, Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani were on one-year “prove it” deals, and Cueto was coming off a few injury-ridden years. Gausman more than held down the fort: he retained a dynamic 1-2 punch with Logan Webb’s emergence in the second half as a near-ace himself.

Gausman did it with a wicked arsenal, but mainly relied on two pitches: a 4-seam fastball he could run up to 97mph, and a nasty splitter that usually came in around 85mph. The velocity difference between the two and the way the splitter dove out of the frame was a major reason for his 10.6 K/9—just watch:

Role in 2022

Because Gausman was on a one-year qualifying offer, he’ll get his payday this offseason. The Giants are certainly in on him, but Gausman deserves his payday: it’s unclear whether the Giants would be willing to give him the years he wants. (The Mets reportedly might, though).

Gausman’s role in 2022, therefore, depends on factors entirely out of control, including the pitching market, whether the Giants want to make a run at Marcus Stroman, and more. Still, I think everyone on the team wants Gausman back, including his buddy Logan Webb, who just retweeted this:

Grade: A