Sunday Notes: Strings Attached, Kevin Gausman Grew as a Giant
Kevin Gausman had a career year with the San Francisco Giants last season. Pitching a personal-best 192 innings, the 31-year-old right-hander won 14 of 20 decisions while logging 227 strikeouts with a 2.81 ERA and a 3.00 FIP. Buoyed by that performance, he was bestowed a five-year, $110M contract by the Toronto Blue Jays, who inked him to a free-agent deal in December.
Gausman’s Giants experience was as educational as it was successful. Signed to a less-lucrative free-agent deal with San Francisco prior to the 2020 season, the LSU product embraced not only his new surroundings, but also the organization’s pitching development process.
“Their big thing over there is pitching to your strengths, and we’d do things to kind of teach ourselves what we’re good at,” explained Gausman, who’d previously pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves, and Cincinnati Reds. “For me, it was pitching up in the zone. My bullpens would be focused on strings up in the zone, trying to throw above them, and then on splits down in the zone.”
Brian Bannister, who Gausman called one of the best pitching minds he’s ever been around, played an important role. The righty pointed to Bannister’s knowledge of how grips work for each individual pitcher, how an arm path works, and “what you can do to manipulate a ball.” Gausman wasn’t the only beneficiary. San Francisco’s Director of Pitching also helped Anthony DeSclafani have a career year.
“His stuff took another step,” Gausman said of his former Cincinnati teammate, whose personal bests included a 3.17 ERA. “[Bannister] showed him some little things. We would call it seam-FX. It’s seam-shifted wake, and DeSclafani’s sinker is one of those pitches. I think he told him, ‘If you could just move your wrist a little bit more, you’re going to get this much more run on your two-seam.’”
For Gausman, the grip adjustment was on his breaking ball. Shortly after he joined the Giants, Bannister showed him the “little gyro slider” that now complements his fastball-splitter combo.
“It’s been the best slider I’ve had in my career,” said Gausman. “I throw a lot of fastballs, and coming out of my hand it looks more like a fastball. In the past, I’d always tried to make it a big slider, and it was recognized earlier by the hitters. He showed me the grip. I moved my finger back — my pointer finger sort of towards me — almost like a semi-spike. I’m kind of getting it out of the way, so that I’m pulling down. That’s how you get the gyro spin.”
Gausman made his Blue Jays debut yesterday, going five innings and allowing three runs with five strikeouts in Toronto’s 4-3 win over Texas. Per Statcast, he threw 34 four-seam fastballs, 29 splitters, 10 sliders, and seven changeups.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Kole Cottam cited a young Giants pitcher when I asked him about impressive and/or unique arms he worked with last fall in the Arizona Fall League. After initially chewing on my question, the 24-year-old Boston Red Sox catching prospect name-checked San Francisco’s No.7-rated prospect.
“Gregory Santos, for the Giants, throws really hard,” Cottam said of the 21-year-old right-hander. “He throws upper-90s to low-100s. He’s got that slider-changeup kind of mix going for him too. I’d say he was unique, mainly because of [the velocity]. He threw the crap out of the ball.”
I proceeded to ask about another up-and-coming San Francisco pitcher, one whom I’d interviewed in Arizona and subsequently profiled here in November. That would be 23-year-old R.J. Dabovich, who is No. 17 on our Giants Top Prospects list.
“Dabovich, absolutely,” responded Cottam. “They had some really good arms there, and Dabovich was great, too. He’s another guy that runs it up there, and he also spins the ball really well — both his fastball and his curveball. That plays well top of the zone, bottom of the zone. He’s got a very exciting future.”
Cottam, Dabovich, and Santos played for the AFL’s Scottsdale Scorpions. All three were named to the Fall Stars East Team.
There were no plans to make this column Giants-centric when I talked to Cottam on Wednesday afternoon. Gausman was already on tap as the lede, and while the AFL question was asked with inclusion in mind, there was no way to predict which pitcher, and the organization he plays in, would be cited. And then it happened again.
On Friday, I interviewed high-profile San Diego Padres outfield prospect Robert Hassell III for a forthcoming installment of my “Talks Hitting” series. At the conclusion of our conversation, I asked a question that was likewise earmarked for this column: Which of the pitchers you’ve faced in pro ball has most impressed you?
“There have been a few of them,” said Hassell, who logged 516 plate appearances last year between Low-A Lake Elsinore and High-A Fort Wayne. “Kyle Harrison, who was actually my roommate for team USA when I was 18, is a lefty with the Giants. He’s mid-to-upper 90s with a really good slider. I remember him from high school, and he was really gross last year. He’s a beast.”
No. 4 on our Giants Top Prospects list, the 20-year-old Harrison had a 3.19 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 98-and-two-thirds innings last season with Low-A San Jose. His first outing of the current campaign was every bit as impressive. Pitching for the High-A Eugene Emeralds, Harrison allowed two hits over four scoreless innings. He walked none and fanned seven.
Which active player with at least 3,000 plate appearances has the highest career batting average?
The answer can be found below.
MLB Opening Day rosters included a total of 275 players (28.2% of all players) representing 21 different countries and territories outside of the United States. The Dominican Republic (99), Venezuela (67), and Cuba (23) are the most-represented, with the Houston Astros (16) having the most internationally-born players on their roster.
The New York Mets have hired Jake Eisenberg to be part of their radio play-by-play team. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Eisenberg has been calling games for the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers.
The Baltimore Orioles have hired Nate Rowan as their new Senior Coordinator, Baseball Communications. A graduate of Concordia College, Rowan spent the last seven years as director of communication for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, have hired Steve Goldberg as a broadcasting and media relations manager. A University of Missouri graduate was with the Double-A Mobile BayBears from 2017-2019.
A group of fans in Detroit has started a GoFundMe for former Tigers outfielder Ike Blessitt, who is battling serious health issues — this while living in a house badly in need of repair, and without the help of an MLB pension or health care. Information can be found here.
Tommy Davis, whose 18-year MLB career included eight seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, died last Sunday at age 83. Primarily an outfielder, the Brooklyn-born-and-raised Davis won the National League batting crown in 1962 with a .346 average, and in 1963 with a .326 average.
The FanGraphs Audio episode that aired on Opening Day was a treat for two reasons. In one of the segments, Jay Jaffe talked to the always-entertaining Craig Calcaterra about the latter’s new book, Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game. The other was my conversation with Matt Bowman. Currently pitching in the New York Yankees system, the 30-year-old right-hander is a bona fide pitching nerd/analytics geek. Among the many topics addressed was Amir Garrett’s slider.
“Amir was always a little bit of an outlier,” Bowman said of his former Cincinnati Reds teammate, who now pitches for the Kansas City Royals. “I’m sure you’ve actually touched on this; I feel like I’ve read a FanGraphs article on how Amir is an outlier when it comes to what makes his slider good. As some of us know, it’s a gyro slider that isn’t necessarily a perfect zero-zero bullet spin. It has a low spin rate to it.
“Amir doesn’t really know either,” continued Bowman. “I don’t think anyone really knows what makes it good. It’s one of those factors that we can’t quantify yet. There’s a deception factor. It isn’t a traditional slider that profiles extraordinarily well, but obviously, for the most part, it tends to play very well.”
The podcast conversation also includes Bowman’s thoughts on the Yankees’ pitching-development process, the type of pitchers the Tampa Bay Rays target, what technology has taught him about his curveball and sinker, and much more.
Roki Sasaki delivered arguably the greatest pitching performance in Japanese baseball history last night. The 20-year-old Lotte Marines phenom not only threw a perfect game — NPB’s first since 1994 — he tied an NPB record with 19 strikeouts. Sasaki also set a record. After retiring the first two hitters he faced on ground balls, the right-hander fanned 13 consecutive Orix Buffaloes batters. Pitch counts weren’t a problem. Sasaki reportedly completed his perfecto having thrown just 105 pitches.
Matt Shoemaker made his NPB debut with the Yomiuri Giants yesterday, allowing one run over six-and-two-thirds innings in a 3-2 win over the Yakult Swallows. The 35-year-old veteran of nine MLB seasons got a no-decision.
Jesse Biddle has made five relief appearances and thrown an equal number of scoreless innings for the Orix Buffaloes. The 30-year-old left-hander is in his first NPB season after pitching for four teams — primarily the Atlanta Braves — over parts of the last four MLB seasons.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto was credited with his third win in as many starts on Saturday as the Buffaloes beat the Chiba Lotte Marines 4-2. Unscored upon in his previous two outings, the 23-year-old Orix ace — last year’s Sawamura Award winner as Japan’s top pitcher — has a 0.82 ERA over his first 22 innings.
SSG Landers beat the Kia Tigers 9-5 on Saturday and at 7-0 remain the KBO’s lone undefeated team. Former MLB layers on the SSG Landers roster include Shin-Soo Choo, Kevin Cron, Wilmer Font, and Iván Nova.
Mike Tauchman has 11 hits in 23 at bats with the Hanwha Eagles. The 31-year-old outfielder is in his first KBO season after playing with the Colorado Rockies, New York Yankees, and San Francisco Giants.
Shortly after watching an opposite-field live drive sail over Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field, a Twitter post informed me that the well-struck ball wouldn’t have been a home run in any of the 29 other MLB ballparks. With one eye on the Friday afternoon game and other on my keyboard, I proceeded to Tweet the following:
A ballpark-by-ballpark leaderboard of opposite-field home runs by right-handed hitters would be interesting to see.
An answer came minutes later, via @NaturallyKatz11. Per his Statcast query, with 2015-2022 set as the parameters, I now know that Yankee Stadium is indeed baseball’s most oppo-friendly venue for righties. And it’s not close. Coors Field had the second highest total, with 165, and the majority of ballparks had fewer than 100. Yankee Stadium had 281. The list is here.
Rachel Balkovec got her first managerial win on Friday as the Tampa Bay Tarpons (Low-A, Yankees) topped the Lakeland Tigers by a count of 9-6. Balkovec is the first full-time female manager in affiliated baseball history.
The West Michigan Whitecaps (High-A, Tigers) opened their season by winning the 2,000th game in franchise history. Parker Meadows, the younger brother of Detroit outfielder Austin Meadows, went deep for the Whitecaps in the 5-1 conquest of the Great Lakes Loons.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand has gone 9-for-10 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in his first two games with the Cedar Rapids Kernels (High-A, Twins). The 22-year-old third baseman was drafted by Minnesota in the 4th round last year out of Oklahoma State University.
David Hamilton had a single, a triple, a stolen base, and pair of home runs — one of them a grand slam — as the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs beat the New Hampshire Fisher Cats 11-6 in their home opener on Friday. First featured here at FanGraphs last May, Hamilton was acquired by Boston in the off-season deal that sent Hunter Renfroe to Milwaukee.
Nick Pratto homered in both ends of a doubleheader for the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers on Thursday. The 23-year-old first baseman — one of the top prospects in the Kansas City Royals system — went deep 36 times last year between Double-A and Triple-A.
Damon Jones made a six-paragraph appearance in this column a few weeks ago, with the 27-year-old southpaw telling of last summer’s failed efforts to buy dinner for one of his Philadelphia Phillies teammates. Left on the cutting-room floor from my spring training conversation with Jones was what he told me about his subsequent Arizona Fall League experience.
“I kind of found my curveball again,” said Jones, who fanned 14 batters while allowing just one run over 10-and-a-third relief innings for the Peoria Javelinas. “I’d kind of ditched it and just gone fastball/slider during the [regular] season. I’m slider heavy to lefties, and being a little bit more up-and-down, the curveball gives me something to combat righties. Having that third pitch gives me another look.”
How did the lefty find his curveball in the AFL?
“I couldn’t tell you,” admitted Jones. “I lost the feel for the slider, at first — everything was kind of pulled, and they moved a little bit too much. Then, one day I was playing catch with [Phillies prospect] Erik Miller and just started spinning the curveball again. For some reason it just clicked. I think most of my strikeouts on righties were on curveballs down.”
Jones made six appearances with the Phillies this spring and allowed one hit and one run, with eight strikeouts in six-and-third innings. He broke camp as a member of the Philadelphia bullpen.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Sports Illustrated, Howard Megdal wrote about how 23-year-old Kelsie Whitmore has become the face of women’s baseball progress.
B-Ref has made biographical updates and added new data for Negro Leagues players. Jonah Gardner has the specifics at the Sports Reference Blog.
The first radio broadcast of a Boston Red Sox game occurred on April 13, 1926. Donna Halper wrote about it for the SABR Game Project.
A three-year study into the working conditions of minor-league baseball players found that a $35,000 minimum salary would “bring players above the federal poverty line and put them in line with living wage standards.” Brittany Ghiroli has the details at The Athletic (subscription required).
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Houston Astros have won 10 of their last 11 Opening Day games. The Detroit Tigers have won nine of their last 11 openers.
The Cleveland Guardians are 61-61 all-time on Opening Day. They are 23-23 when opening the season at home, and 38-38 when opening on the road.
Bryan Shaw has made 714 career pitching appearances (including the postseason) and has never had a plate appearance.
Whit Merrifield led the American League in doubles (42) and stolen bases (40) last season, becoming the first player to top the circuit in both categories since Charlie Gehringer did so with the Detroit Tigers in 1929. Gehringer had 45 doubles and 27 stolen bases, as well as a league-leading 19 triples.
Ned Garver, a right-handed pitcher for four teams from 1948-1961, finished his career with 881 walks and 881 strikeouts. As a hitter, he finished with a .283 on-base percentage and a .283 slugging percentage.
The Detroit Tigers signed Ruppert Jones to a free-agent contract on today’s date in 1984. The left-handed-hitting outfielder proceeded to log a 139 wRC+ in 237 plate appearances to help the Tigers capture the American League pennant, then beat the San Diego Padres — Jones’s previous team — in the World Series.
Players born on today’s date include Frankie Pack, whose career comprised one game, and one plate appearance, for the St. Louis Browns in 1949. The Morristown, Tennessee native pinch-hit for Sherm Lollar and was fanned by New York Yankees right-hander Vic Raschi, a.k.a. “The Springfield Rifle.”
Also born on today’s date was Howdy Groskloss, who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates for parts of the 1930-1932 seasons. An infielder who appeared in 72 games, Grosskloss was the oldest living former big-leaguer when he died in 2006 at age 100. Fittingly, the current oldest big-leaguer is George Elder, who celebrated his 101st birthday last month.