Detroit Tigers: Kevin Gausman should be a free-agent target

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The Detroit Tigers need starting pitching help in 2021. We start looking at free-agent targets if the Tigers decide to spend this off-season. We start with Kevin Gausman.

We saw the struggles of the starting rotation for the Detroit Tigers throughout 2020. Ivan Nova, who was signed to eat innings, only pitched 19 innings before he was shelved for the season. The “curse” of the Tigers picking up free-agent pitchers such as Matt Moore and Tyson Ross continued.

So exactly what would Detroit be getting with Kevin Gausman? It has been reported by Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle is opening to coming back to the Bay Area. However, the biggest thing to mentioned in these free-agent pieces we are going to roll out throughout the off-season and almost like a disclaimer is if Detroit is going to spend money. So the hope is, they will. Their rotation needs help.

Pitch Mix

The former number four overall back out of LSU in 2012 features a four-seam fastball, a splitter, slider, and sinker according to Baseball Savant. The splitter has been described by Gausman as a “split-change” and you can see why in this video done by Robby Rowland that slows down his grip. It gets really good tumbling action.

In a great series you can find on Fangraphs when they talk to pitchers about their grip, Gausman goes into how he learned the pitch in high school.  The results speak for themselves in 2020 as his numbers showed an improvement from 2019. Batters were hitting just .106 against it and the average exit velocity against it was 79.3. The power pitcher had a strong K per 9 of 11.92.

Against lefties and righties, he gave up an equal amount of home runs with four each with righties hitting .220 against him versus .217 against lefties. He finished strong in September; 24 innings, allowing just six runs, 13 hits, and struck out 31.

His mix suggests it is heavy on two pitchers, which could put him into a reliever down the road again (he was used out of the pen by the Orioles in 2013) but with the exception of three starts in 2020, he went 5 or more innings.

Why Detroit?

The Tigers could use him on the top of the rotation and he could go at least 150 innings. He turns 30 in January so a two to three-year deal tops would make sense.  Granted, Detroit still has not signed anyone long term since Chris Ilitch has taken over ownership but it checks off what the Tigers need in their rotation. A strikeout pitcher who can provide at least five to six innings of solid work. It is definitely a different direction in their recent signings because he was a strikeout pitcher in 2020.

The only downside to this and it was a trend among Detroit starters this season is that he has never thrown a complete game so far in his career. Matt Boyd was the only starter that threw a complete game in 2020. Granted, the strange season it was, it was disheartening to see Tigers starters struggle to get to five innings at times this season.

The other possible nitpick to consider is that his numbers in the National League were better than his six seasons in Baltimore. But to be fair, Gausman was rushed to the majors and that can play a role in a pitcher’s development. He once threw a good slider but that pitch continues to use less frequently.

The qualifying offers are $18.9 million and as Jeff Young from our friends at Around the Foghorn, points out, projection models likely do not see Gausman being worth that much. However, if he rejects the qualifying offer and the Tigers signed him, the Giants would gain a Tigers draft pick. I think based on their pitching prospects below Double-A, I think it’s worth the risk.

If Detroit wants to compete in 2021, a pitcher like Kevin Gausman would allow them to do so.

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