Gausman’s splitter is an excellent chase pitch, but it’s most effective when ahead of the count. That’s a problem when your fastball gets smacked around as much as Gausman’s did this past season. The four-seamer, which sat at just below 94 mph, coughed up an ugly .389 xwOBA and 12 home runs to opposing hitters. Gausman’s struggles this past year really illustrates his need for a third pitch, one that he can ideally get strikes with, to take some of the pressure off his fastball.
Like most splitters, Gausman’s wasn’t one that is featured much in the strike zone as it had just a 26.1% zone rate. Typically splitters rely on getting hitters to expand the zone and this past year the Gausman splitter did just that returning a massive 49.6% chase rate, the best since his rookie campaign of 2013. It also returned an excellent 40.8% whiff rate (22.7% swinging K rate).
A nice bump in K/9 to 10.03, Gausman’s split finger remained nasty as he bumped around from Atlanta to Cincy. It posted a 49.6% chase rate, 22.7% SwStr rate, .258 wOBA against, and a .089 ISO against. Trouble is, it was his only decent pitch!
There was some hope back in 2018 that Gausman was beginning to emphasize his slider a bit more as he threw it 14.3% of the time. That came crashing down in 2019 as he largely neglected it throwing it just 3.5% of the time. What we saw from the slider last year wasn’t great. A 31.3% zone rate, 22.7% chase rate, and just a 9.4% swinging K rate (33.3% whiffs). Gausman still really has just one plus pitch, the splitter. And when that’s not working? Duck.
A former bright spot in Gausman’s arsenal (9.8 pVal in 2016) is now a massive detriment. In 2018, this pitch sported a -7 pVal, another dip in velocity from 94.9 mph to 93.7 mph, and an increasing batting average against from .303 in 2017 to .314 in 2018.
Gausman had an extreme amount of confidence in his splitter throughout 2018 sporting his highest usage in a season (27.15%, or 807 times). Hitters were perplexed by the pitch as they batted .169 against the pitch, swung and missed 20.7% of the time, and chased outside of the zone 46.6% of the time. His splitter is the true key to continuing his success in Atlanta.
This pitch has never had a positive pitch value and 2018 was no different with a -1.2 pVal. However, the lone bright spot is that he lowered his walk rate and increased his strikeout rate with the pitch. Now, he needs to work on keeping the pitch from leaving the yard, as he has allowed 8 HRs off the pitch over the past two years.