The Reds acquired Kevin Gausman via a fairly nondescript waiver claim in early August. It presented a chance for the Reds to find a potential bullpen option for 2020. So far, the right-hander has impressed since converting to a relief role.

In 14 innings as a Reds reliever, Gausman’s stuff has undoubtedly ticked up. He has a 3.86 ERA, and the peripherals point to an even stronger showing. Behind an eye-popping 34.5% strikeout rate and minuscule 5.2% walk rate, Gausman holds a 3.07 FIP and 2.07 xFIP. He’s also generating more grounders — 47.1% versus 37.0% as a starter. He already has an immaculate inning under his belt, and he struck out the side with the bases loaded and nobody out in Saturday’s loss to the Diamondbacks.

Batters aren’t just swinging and missing at his pitches over one-third of the time; they’re looking silly doing so. Gausman owns a 43.6% chase rate, meaning batters are swinging at more than two out of every five pitches outside the strike zone.

Gausman switched to a two-pitch approach in 2019, ditching his slider altogether. He now relies on a fastball-splitter combination exclusively.

It didn’t work as a starter, which didn’t come as a huge surprise. Few starting pitchers succeed with two pitches in their arsenals, and any success is often fleeting (see: Tony Cingrani). However, it’s a more viable option out of the bullpen, as opposing hitters usually only see relievers once per game.

The fastball ticks up to 94 mph, but its mediocre spin leaves it susceptible to getting crushed. Gausman’s splitter is what stands out. was already among the best in baseball. Since 2014 — Gausman’s first full season — only three pitchers have a higher Pitch Value with their splitters. Only nine have a higher swinging-strike rate (21.8%), and 10 have a better xwOBA (.241).

Since he transitioned to the bullpen with the Reds, the splitter has been almost unhittable.

  • .185 BA (.219 xBA)
  • .222 SLG (.254 xSLG)
  • .194 wOBA (.225 xwOBA)
  • 30.1% SwStr%
  • 47.2% Whiff%

Those are insanely dominant numbers, albeit in a small sample.

Despite all the promising signs Gausman has shown in his short stay with the Reds, his acquisition has always come with a caveat: money.

The transaction was a salary dump for the Braves. Gausman already makes $9.35 million this season and is eligible for arbitration one final time in the offseason. The Reds will certainly be able to afford that contract next year.

Their payroll at the start of 2019 was approximately $127 million, a team record. Matt Kemp ($14.75 million), Yasiel Puig ($9.7M), Scooter Gennett ($9.775M), Tanner Roark ($10M), David Hernandez ($2.5M), Jared Hughes ($2.125M), and Zach Duke ($2.0M) are already gone. Alex Wood ($9.65M) and Jose Iglesias ($2.5M) will become free agents. That’s $63 million off the books compared to the start of the season. Of course, that doesn’t account for any arbitration raises or extensions for players who will remain on next year’s roster. But the Reds will have some money to spend.

The question is: Should they spend such a large chunk of it on a reliever? Gausman won’t get a huge raise after a disappointing 2019 season. But he’ll be the Reds’ highest-paid reliever even if his salary remains exactly the same, assuming they don’t go over that mark with a free agent signing. Only eight relievers (who were actually signed as relievers) make more than that right now: Kenley Jansen, Wade Davis, Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, Zack Britton, Andrew Miller, David Robertson, and Craig Kimbrel. Gausman isn’t in that league unless he continues pitching as well as he has in a small sample for the Reds.

All that’s to say the Reds could probably find a similar bullpen arm for much cheaper. When factoring in general reliever volatility, spending nearly $10 million per year is often unwise. The Reds could shift him back to a starting role, but it seems unlikely that he’d beat out a group of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, and Tyler Mahle for the job.

2020 is shaping up to be a true all-in year. The Bauer trade signaled that. For the Reds to truly compete, their biggest investments have to be in acquiring offense. They’ll need to add to the bullpen as well, but Gausman’s salary may ultimately make him expendable.

Photo Credit: Ian D’Andrea. Licensing can be found here.

31 Responses

  1. AllTheHype

    While it is true $63 M is off the books from the start of 2019, it should be mentioned that a large chunk of that is already spent on raises for current and acquired (Bauer) players. Probably half of that will go to raises and Bauer in 2020. So realistically, there is only $30 – 35 M available. Maybe that changes the perspective of spending $ 10 M of that on an (unproven) reliever? It does for me. It’s a non-starter basically, in more ways than one.

  2. CFD3000

    The Reds are going to need to spend money to improve if they intend to compete for a division title next year. Does it really matter if that’s on relief pitchers, offense, starting pitching, bench or coaching? If Gausman is a key part of a stronger bullpen, and we all know the bullpen has to get better or next year will be death by a thousand cuts, then pay him. The only reasons not to are if a) the WORST man in the bullpen is as good as Gausman, and b) that same $10M wouldn’t mean the difference in acquiring an even bigger upgrade for the offense or starting staff. If there’s no bigger opportunity cost, and they need another strong bullpen arm, the Reds should keep Gausman.

  3. Mason Red

    Sorry but I just can’t get amped over waiver wire pick ups. This is a team where players land and get to find out if they still have what it takes to play Major League Baseball against real live big league players. The Reds are the dumpster of the major leagues.

    • TR

      It’s not only the Reds. Teams that don’t have a year in year out amount of money to throw around often go the dumpster route.

    • Pete

      Yup. The guys who run the Reds aren’t good at their jobs, they are up against the big boys and have no clue. Give them all the money in the world, they will waste it and set the organization even further back than it is. Every day these guys hang on is one more day we sink further down the hole.

      A couple of predications: 2020’s DP combo is Freddy and Iglesias, the Reds will sign Gausman to a foolish contract to be a reliever, they will trade R. Iglesias with no real plan for a closer and he will be an All-Start in 2020, ML will not get an opportunity to be an everyday player nor will Josh VanMeter, Joey Votto’s skills will continue to deteriorate but he will start 150 games. We will sign one over-priced aging free-agent to a 3-5 deal. The new player will be a financial burden to the team going into his second year and block youngsters who shouldn’t be blocked. The club’s record in 2020 will be worse that 2019 and David Bell will be given 2021 to straighten it out. We will clamor for more dead-end FA’s same time next year, and the cycle will repeat.

      • Pete

        “At that point let go of all family members, hanger-oners, and Reds for lifers. Bring in a new head of baseball operations, from a winning organization, and let them make all personnel decisions. “

      • Curt

        Ha! Nice Pete. It’s pretty maddening and the cycle may very well repeat again. David Bell is sure trying his hardest to make sure it does. I’m at 50/50 on the FO. They seem to be letting the year play out in Bell’s hands without tipping theirs though at a cost, as valuable evaluation time is being wasted with so few games remaining. There have been some good moves made by the FO but there have also been at least a couple major mistakes. Will they have the stones it’s gonna take to fix the mistakes and if they don’t, will we keep coming back?
        The Reds have been their own worst enemy. They have had a hard time getting out of their own way. Will they allow this young group of players, Senzel, Aquino, VanMeter, O’Grady, Castillo, Gray etc to rise up organically and claim this club as their own, will they nurture that and believe in it? Or will they beat back the tide at every opportunity with every cast-off, waiver claim, hot-streak, darling of the moment, reclamation project they can find? And how does the old maple tree planted at 1B truly fit into the picture?
        At this point, the future is unwritten but there is a clear road to it should the owners decide and it starts with Senzel and the boys. Better yet, let them decide…

        Or in the words of Bob Dylan…

        “Your old road is rapidly agin’
        Please get out of the new one
        If you can’t lend your hand
        For the times they are a’changin”

      • Ed

        oh man- yeah it feels like the grim reality is that there’s a whole new rebuild that should be happening right now, sparing only some starting pitchers

      • Curt

        @Ed: for some optimism, I don’t think the reality needs to be or is that grim. And a “whole new rebuild” if there even has been one in recent years (?) isn’t necessary either. The Reds have talent and depth, it’s just not being managed properly nor in a manner that allows for it to come to fruition together in the same window of time.
        It might not even require that many moves but they will need to be big ones, probably unpopular and maybe even controversial at first but done right the end result will be a stronger team that can contend for multiple years because it will have youth at its core.
        And it wouldn’t take years, it could all happen right now and be in place for 2020 if the owners were so inclined. They just need the stones to pick the course and fearlessly stick to it.
        Will it happen? Ha, like I said, I give it 50/50 at best.

  4. Shawn

    I don’t see him making the starting rotation. What has he done to show he is better than Mahle and Simms? There is no way we will pay a reliever 10 million. He will not be offered arbitration. The only way he will be on the team is if they can agree to a contract for much less money than he is making this year. Maybe 2 million, and I don’t see him agreeing to that. He will try to find someone to give him starter money.

  5. BigRedMike

    No. Paying relievers a lot of money is not a great plan. The variance of results from year to year is too risky. The Reds have plenty of cost controlled pitchers that can be utilized as relievers.
    Just because the Reds have money to spend, doesn’t mean they should just spend it on journeymen relievers.
    The Rays and A’s do more with less money, they are the example that the Reds should follow.

    • Pete

      Agree Mike, signing, a castoff off, for $10M/per is throwing money around.. If the Reds are good enough to pay this kind of money at middle relief we’ll be WS contenders. I find the idea laughable.

      The best thing that can happen to the Reds is go on a long losing streak to end the season. If this doesn’t force Bob C’s hand nothing will. At that point let go of all family members, hanger-oners, and Reds for lifers. Bring in a new head of baseball operations, from a winning organization, and let them make all personnel decisions. Send Walt packing and hopefully Bob will stop meddling. This team could spend $200 million and miss the post season. Don’t you realize any player with a bright future wants to avoid the Cincinnati Reds like the plague – money isn’t everything. Sober up folks.

  6. RedsFan11

    Why oh why does everyone say the Reds only have that $63mil coming off the books to spend??…….

    If Bobby is truly invested (which is always questionable) he should pony up at least another $23mil. You get to a $150mil payroll (that would still only be 13th highest in MLB….) then maybe you can argue you at least spent the money and tried.

  7. Eric

    If the Reds decided to test-drive The Opener in 2020, it seems to me that Gausman might be the right man for the job.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      He might be but in my opinion, not for $10 million.

  8. Doc

    What has Mahle done to show that a 2020 rotation spot is his to lose? At this point he should one, among however many, who is competing for that fifth spot. Maybe Derek Johnson has a few tricks up his sleeve that return Gausman to the pitcher who earned a $9+MM contract. That said, he is not worth what Sonny Gray is getting paid unless he pitches like Sonny Gray.

  9. old-school

    Great info Matt. I guess I don’t see any team paying him $10 million dollars a year if the Reds non-tender him. So why not sign him proactively to a 2 year deal at say $8-10 million with some incentives or a club option for a third. If the Braves dumped him for salary reasons- he’s going to be motivated to avoid that scenario again. If he’s transitioning to a bullpen role, it would also seem he would want to stay with the Reds and DJ where he is finding some success in a new role.

  10. Mike

    My opinion is a big NO on Gausman. Way too much money for what you will get. The real issue is the manager. If Bell was managing the BRM, then I suspect that he would platoon Griffey, Foster, Concepcion, and The Chief, and on days he did not platoon them, he would double switch them out by the sixth inning.

  11. jim walker

    What is somebody likely to pay Gausman as a free agent if the Reds non-tender him. I’m sure his agent will have an idea and so should the Reds. Either they hammer something out together ahead of the non-tender date or send him on his way.

  12. Sabo-metrics

    I would lean towards paying him. Good, experienced arms are hard to find.

    I don’t usually trust a young arm until he has failed and overcome. It appears that may be the case with KG.

    Offense is a dime a dozen these days.

    • AirborneJayJay

      “Offense is a dime a dozen these days.”
      The Reds don’t have 2 dimes to even rub together.

  13. ChrisMo

    Mariano Rivera was a pretty good two pitch pitcher from what i hear…….failed as a starter, found some success in the bullpen.

    AND we can only speculate at the the Reds payroll target for next year.
    How much team money is available has no bearing on an individual players worth.

    No team will pay him at $10M a year, but there could be a market for him in the 2 year $6M range. Yes its a pay cut, but with advanced statistics this sport is now valuing projected peformance, relievers generally make less than starters, and 14 innings does not a strong projection (or hall of fame career) make. If the coaches like what they see and want him back, the front office should make an appropriate offer. If it fits within their budget and plan.

  14. DocProc

    Offer him 3 years, 15 mil and use him as a stud reliever. His splitter is Bruce Sutter filthy.

    • KYPodman

      Exactly! There is nothing written (except his current contract) that says you cannot renegotiate his contract. If he looks good over the final 3 weeks offer him a 2 or 3 year contract for less money. He gets the security of a multi-year deal and the Reds get a good bullpen addition (from what they have seen so far) at a good rate.

  15. Big Ed

    I am in favor of keeping Gausman; he has way, way too much arm talent to just non-tender. The Braves have some pitching depth in the system and could let him go. The price is steep for a probable reliever, but one year at that price isn’t going to kill the Reds.

    I would be very surprised if Derek Johnson didn’t have some major input on the decision to pick up Gausman, who pitched in the SEC when Johnson was at Vandy. Johnson may well be having him work on the third pitch even as we speak, plus Gausman may well develop into an elite closer.

    I think picking up these waiver-wire free looks is a very smart move, particularly with a team with a lot of roster/payroll flexibility for next year. It is the equivalent of signing non-tenders, which worked out well for the Red Sox with David Ortiz. Gausman is a talent; talent is good to have at this level.