Why the Blue Jays’ Kevin Gausman may be the unluckiest pitcher in baseball

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BOSTON (AP) — Kevin Gausman finished Thursday’s start, his 24th of last season in what eventually became a 6-5 Toronto Blue Jays win over the Boston Red Sox in 10 innings, with a perfectly solid ERA. from 3.15.

That’s a mark in the top 25 among qualified MLB starters. He also has a strikeout-minus-walk rate of 23.8 percent, a stat Gausman’s Blue Jays value highly, which ranks sixth behind a row of outright studs in Shane McClanahan, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, Aaron Nola and Corbin. Burnes.

But where Gausman has beaten all those guys — every guy in baseball, for that matter — is FIP. As in independent fielding pitching, a stat that measures a pitcher’s performance using the separate results of the defense played behind them. Think of strikeouts, walks, hit batters, home runs. Gausman’s FIP is 2.01, nearly a quarter of a run shy of Rodon’s second-place mark. And they are the only two pitchers rated below 2.54.

So a 3.15 ERA versus a 2.01 FIP: a difference of more than one run. Only two other pitchers who pitched at least 100 innings this season, a sample of 94, have a larger discrepancy. Patrick Corbin, whose ERA is 6.81 and FIP is 5.01. And Lucas Giolito, who has a 5.14 and a 4.08. None of them even close to Gausman’s league.

How did this happen? Well, you strike out a lot of hitters (Gausman has a top-10 strikeout rate of 27.7 percent). He doesn’t walk a lot (Gausman’s 3.9 percent walk rate ranks in MLB’s 96th percentile). You downplay home runs (Gausman coughed up just 7 in his 134.1 innings pitched). And you get absurdly unlucky with balls in play (Gausman’s .373 batting average on balls in play is the best among qualified MLB starters, nearly 40 points ahead of second-place JT Brubaker and topping the MLB batting average of .289).

It is the story of the Gausman season. Stretches of brilliance interspersed with stretches of impossibly poor fortune.

“Yes, quite a lot. Unfortunately,” Gausman said when asked if his season had been defined by bad luck. “It sucks to say that. But many balls have passed and have been hits. Many weak contacts have led the guys to reach the base. I always base my outings on the contact I get. So, it’s hard on nights like this.”

It’s hard to watch Xander Bogaerts hit a full-count heater directly into the dirt in front of home plate at 78.7 mph and get a single out of it. A ground ball with a -50 degree launch angle is a good indication that a hitter is missing badly against a nasty, swooping pitch. But that extreme angle also robbed the ball of any speed behind her as it rolled slowly toward Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman, who hadn’t been holding out hope for an out early on.

It’s tough when, four pitches later, Gausman threw a brilliantly placed splitter low and far that came off the end of Christian Arroyo’s bat at 65.2 mph and floated into center field. The ball was hit so lightly that it rolled to a near stop 119 feet from home plate as Bogaerts ran to third. Two pitches after that, Arroyo was slipping to second base with just the sixth stolen base of his six-season career when Danny Jansen missed his transfer behind the plate.

It’s hard to see a flare from Reese McGuire (exit speed: 86.9 mph) drop just out of reach of Teoscar Hernandez on the right, setting up Bogaerts. It’s tough that Bobby Dalbec’s grounded single against the inning scored Arroyo. Two runs inside and the most hit ball in the inning was Dalbec’s at 91.2 mph. Things like this don’t just happen to Gausman. But it happens to Gausman a lot.

“I try to focus on the contact I’m getting. But obviously you want the results and the smooth contact. You just feel like you’re not beaten. They are not necessarily earning it. And they are, it is still a success. But there’s been a lot of ground balls that seem to be hitting the outfield,” Gausman said. “All I can really focus on is making better pitches before that happens, you know? Hit a boy. I’m on it. A lot of the bad things that happened tonight, I could have done earlier in the AB to prevent that from happening.”

That’s fair: Gausman didn’t just go undone because of bad luck. His fastball speed was down 1.5 mph from his season norm; his splitter also ticked slower than average. The Red Sox stole a couple of bases with his high kick pitch. He was beaten with a few fastballs, like the full count Tommy Pham singled in the third. And he didn’t finish some splitters, like the one Rafael Devers hit right to drive in Pham four pitches later.

But a .529 BABIP on the night certainly helped, just as it has all season. Rob Refsnyder started the fourth with a single off the pitcher’s mound, then went to second on a 0-2 count. Shortening at the plate, McGuire cut a changeup on the ground the opposite way, bouncing a dribbler into left field through the spot where an offset Chapman, running to cover Refsnyder’s steal attempt at second, was standing a fraction of an inch. second before.

That set up Dalbec’s sacrifice fly that scored Refsnyder from third. And though Gausman made his third trip through the Boston order, getting the Blue Jays past the fifth in a tied game, it wasn’t a particularly difficult choice for interim manager John Schneider to pick him up on 88 pitches. Gausman knew it too. He emptied the tank in that fifth, throwing three of his four hardest pitches of the night.

“You know, batting average on balls in play is tough. He has been unlucky,” Schneider said. “I was grinding a bit today, I think. And a couple of soft hits and stuff like that, Reese putting the ball in play with the running back moving there, kind of sums up his year.”

In the meantime, Gausman’s slowing speed should not be a concern unless it becomes a trend on multiple exits. He has 24 starts in his season now. He is fighting some things physically, as anyone in his position would be. But he has given the Blue Jays 30 2/3 innings with a 2.64 ERA this month and he still has another start to go. With or without his best fastball, Gausman found a way to get past him.

“Some days, the veil comes naturally to me. But it wasn’t so easy today. When I needed him, he was there. But it took a little bit longer to get there, for sure,” Gausman said. “I have definitely felt better than now. But that’s part of it. I’ll take my time between rides, maybe tweak a few things, give my body a little break. And I hope that in five days I feel much better.”

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays teed off Kutter Crawford with four runs on 10 hits, which was good enough to keep pace with what the Red Sox got from Gausman. And the clubs traded runs in the sixth on Danny Jansen’s solo shot and Jarren Duran’s double that drove in Dalbec, who reached on Bo Bichette’s two-out throwing error.

The fabric of space and time came to an abrupt halt right there, as the Blue Jays and Red Sox took turns blowing scoring chances in a seventh inning that began on his sixth birthday and an eighth that ended during his college graduation.

Bo Bichette reached second with one out in the top of the ninth but was stranded. The Red Sox loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the ninth against Jordan Romano, but Franchy Cordero struck out and Kike Hernandez grounded into a double play against a five-man infield.

But the Blue Jays were able to scratch zombie runner Cavan Biggio in the top of the 10th on a pair of ground balls from John Schreiber. Schreiber put up a contact play for second with George Springer at the plate and Biggio executed a perfect slide just under the tag of Red Sox catcher Kevin Plawecki. That set Romano up, going back for a second inning and upping his pitch count to 28, to retire the side in order in the bottom half and wrap things up.

The Blue Jays certainly had their chances to end the game long before that, putting runners in every inning except the second. And yet, they went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left 13 on base. One of those nights. It’s not often that you come out of them with a victory. And it’s not often you come out of a seven-game tour of Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park with a 6-1 record.

“It was an incredible job by the bullpen. The offense came. They dig in with the contact play at third, doing it right and having a fantastic slide at home. Everyone literally contributing today. That was a really good game,” Schneider said. “It’s impressive. There’s not much track left in the season. So, to go to New York and [Boston] and win both series and sweep [the Red Sox] in a tough environment, it says a lot about our guys.”

And Gausman’s night said a lot about his year. These things are hard to measure, but there can’t be a pitcher who’s been as unlucky as him, right? Sure, his strange season hasn’t all been factors beyond his control. His speed has fluctuated. He seemed to be tipping at one point. But when he’s been on, he’s really been on. The peripherals of it are spectacular; the evil of his things is evident. A 3.15 ERA doesn’t happen by accident.

Neither is a FIP 2.01. And how good does Gausman’s season look if there isn’t a huge gap between them? What if some of those switch hitters he’s been the victim of don’t get hit in the opposite direction? What if the Blue Jays play a stronger defense behind him? What happens if a double play is completed here and a ball doesn’t jump out of the bag there? What if some of those flares fell like blades of grass instead of just inches?

Who will tell? It’s an old baseball saying that a pitcher has no control over what happens once the ball leaves his hand. At least that’s what pitchers tell themselves to mitigate the terrible and persistent adversity the game throws at them so often. And at this point, Gausman is probably tired of hearing it.

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