The Blue Jays lost two of the best players available on the free agent market, with Marcus Semien heading to Texas after signing a stunning seven-year, $175 million, and also Robbie Ray, the 2021 Cy Young Award winner in the American League, after he signed with the Mariners.
Toronto wasn’t able to find a like-for-like gain in Semien yet -- and probably won’t -- but they were able to find a replacement for Ray in the form of Kevin Gausman. Gausman joined the Jays on a five-year, $110 million deal on December 1, the last day that contracts could be finalized before the lockout.
Simply put, it was the breakout season for Gausman that many fantasy managers were waiting for. Drafted fourth-overall pick of the 2012 draft by the Orioles out of LSU, the 31-year-old helped the Giants dominate the regular season while posting 14 wins with a 2.81 ERA over 192 innings. He struck out 227 batters against just 50 walks in that timeframe, and he registered a miniscule 1.04 WHIP over his 33 starts. That strong campaign saw him finish sixth in NL Cy Young balloting, and earned him the hefty contract listed in the paragraph above.
Gausman’s numbers on the whole were impressive, and the advanced stats mostly back that up. Because of his quality stuff and his deceptive delivery, he’s able to get hitters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone, and that led to a chase rate that ranked in the 92nd percentile of all qualified hurlers. That also helped him put up a well above-average whiff rate of 31.3 percent, and he was among the best in the sport in terms of expected ERA with a 3.52 mark.
You’ll notice that that expected ERA -- while very good --is a good deal higher than his actual ERA, and that’s partially due to the fact that when hitters did make contact off Gausman, it was often quite hard. In fact, he ranked below the 50th percentile in both hard hit percentage and exit velocity allowed, and his maximum exit velocity of 115.3 mph was among the worst in baseball. That last stat is not very telling in terms of projection, but it does speak to the fact that the right-hander wasn’t flawless in 2021. Those flaws were particularly noticeable in the second half of the season for Gausman, as he was dominant in the first half with a 1.73 ERA before limping home over the final few months with a 4.43 mark.
It’s also worth noting that Gausman is joining the AL East; a division that on paper looks loaded again after having four teams win 90-plus games in 2021. One of those teams is the Blue Jays, and that loaded lineup is going to provide him with plenty of run support with one of the most talented lineups in the sport. He’ll also get a chance to face one of the worst teams in baseball -- again, on paper -- in his former club Baltimore, but matchups against the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays are tough. The Dodgers and Padres weren’t exactly Triple-A lineups either, but it’s hard to say Gausman’s difficulty level didn’t take a step up with the move to the new league.
If Gausman is the same pitcher he was for the first half of the 2021 campaign, fantasy managers are going to get a true ace; one who can miss bats at close to an elite level while keeping self-inflicted damage down at a similar ability. The second-half version of the right-hander isn’t useless by any means, but the difference is palpable, and it’s something that will have to be considered before investing a high draft pick or salary cap funds. Ultimately, he should be a quality option who can provide innings and strikeouts, but be prepared to take some bitter with the better.
Quick Hits: According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, the Mets have hired Eric Chavez as their hitting coach … Devin Williams (hand) said Wednesday in an interview with The Athletic that he expects to be fully healthy for the start of spring training after undergoing right hand surgery in October … Gregory Polanco has signed a one-year contract with the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball … Reds signed RHP Ben Lively to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … Zack Scott was acquitted of DWI charges on Thursday morning in White Plains City Court. The former Mets GM was also found not guilty of a lesser charge of "driving while ability impaired" stemming from his highly-publicized arrest this past summer in White Plains, New York.