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What the Giants lose with Kevin Gausman

© Darren Yamashita | 2021 Oct 2

After two of the best seasons of his career, Kevin Gausman is leaving San Francisco. 

The All-Star signed a five-year, $110 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays Sunday night, reportedly turning down more money from the New York Mets. The once-waived Gausman’s new deal is worth almost 2,000 Bitcoins. 

Gausman won’t be in the Giants’ league anymore. He won’t even be playing home games in this country. Though his career trajectory for the next five years is a mystery, Gausman is taking one of the most dominant pitches in baseball and unmatched dependability to Toronto. 

Fans — and radio hosts — can debate the merits of giving a 30-year-old pitcher a lucrative long-term deal. But the fact remains: the Giants had an All-Star caliber pitcher for the last two seasons, and now they don’t. A clubhouse already bereft of Buster Posey will now be down another beloved figure. 

As a person, Gausman provided the Giants with an upbeat, cool, professional personality. His mentor-mentee relationship with Logan Webb was real, and he seemed to prioritize winning over individual accomplishments. 

Before a mid-August game in the Oakland Coliseum, weeks after returning from family emergency leave because of his wife’s pregnancy complications, Gausman showed Jarlin García his split-fingered fastball grip in the right field bullpen. García had approached Gausman because he’d been struggling with his changeup. 

Gausman told me — on my first day on the beat — that scene was common. Pitchers often sought out his advice, inquiring about the splitter his junior varsity coach taught him. He was always happy to try to help, wanting his teammates to succeed.

Gausman had faith that García could implement the splitter, perhaps tinker with it in the winter. While that may be true, I’d come to learn that Gausman only had positive things to say about everyone — except for maybe himself after poor outings, when he’d always hold himself accountable. 

Gausman didn’t have to patiently explain his splitter grip to García (or me) that August day in the Coliseum. He also didn’t need to pump up Webb when the 24-year-old, not Gausman, got the nod for Game 1 of the NLDS. When news broke that Gausman was signing with the Blue Jays, Webb tweeted a gif from the sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” that said “Alright. I’m gonna go cry.”

Alex Wood, a veteran who wasn’t underneath Gausman’s wing, had a similar reaction. 

You could see how much the Giants admired Gausman when they celebrated just a little bit harder when he hit the game-winning sacrifice fly that he called “one of the coolest moments of my life.”

On the mound, though, Gausman’s career to this point can essentially be split in two: pre-Giants Gausman and Giants Gausman. 

Adjusted ERA is a stat that measures a pitcher’s effectiveness while accounting for opponent and ballpark factors. 100 is the MLB average. For the first seven seasons of Gausman’s career, from 2013-2019, he posted a 99 ERA+. During his two years in the Bay, he posted a 138 ERA+.

Cy Young finished his career with a 138 ERA+. Christy Mathewson’s career ERA+ is 136. Seven-time All-Star Chris Sale is currently at 140 for his career. 

With the Giants, Gausman matched a career low in walks per nine innings and set a new high in strikeouts per nine. Before 2021, Gausman had allowed less than a home run per nine innings just once (2014). 

Gausman dominated with one of the most unhittable pitches in baseball. Over the last two seasons, opposing batters hit .126 against his splitter with a 43% whiff rate. When Gausman could consistently locate it for strike-balls — pitches that appear to be strikes then fall out of the zone — nobody could touch him. 

For old school stats, Gausman was 47-63 in 154 starts with a 4.30 ERA before San Francisco. With the Giants, he went 17-9 with a 3.00 ERA. He made his first All-Star team and received the first Cy Young and MVP votes of his career. 

That’s why Gausman signed with San Francisco for $9 million after having been waived just a year before, and why he’s leaving as one of the highest-paid starters in MLB. 

It’s also why filling the void he leaves is a tall task for SF’s front office. 

When the Giants re-signed Anthony DeSclafani, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi repeated an adage that’s become a philosophy of the San Francisco Giants organization. 

“We’re not shopping for a five-man rotation, we’re shopping for 162 games started,” Zaidi said. 

Well, Gausman led the National League in starts with 33 last year. He started 12 games in 2020, one shy of the MLB best. Gausman hasn’t had any major injuries, and he’s been as reliable as anyone. 

Gausman could be a late-bloomer who mastered a devastating splitter late in his career and will thrive into his 30s. He could also be an average pitcher who benefitted from San Francisco’s ecosystem that seems to take coffee beans and turn them into espresso martinis. 

The conclusion will come in Toronto. In the meantime, the Giants have been rumored to be interested in just about every free agent starting pitcher. Some connections could be simply Internet Chatter, others may be more legitimate. 

Regardless, the Giants now have a hole the size of 33 starts in their rotation. Replacing them at the dependable, quality level Gausman provided for the past two years will be a challenge. Even if SF signs a top-bill free agent starter, they’ll have more work to do. That’s how productive and reliable Gausman was in San Francisco. And it might be even harder to restore his clubhouse presence.

 

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