Braves Way Too Early Free Agent Targets: Kevin Gausman

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The Atlanta Braves rotation has been a strength this year, working to a 3.73 ERA among the starting pitchers still on the 40-man roster, but all good things come to an end.

The rotation is a large reason why the Braves have been able to stay in the playoff hunt even with a streaky offense and bullpen. If the Braves do end up winning the division, it’s largely because of their incredible starting pitching depth.

Unfortunately, two of the arms currently in the rotation are pending free agents in Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly, who have been excellent since the start of June with ERAs of 2.92 and 3.32, respectively.

There is always a chance they return, and at this point in their careers, they may both take a low-risk one-year deal to stay in Atlanta. However, Charlie has flirted with retirement in the past, and Smyly seems to have been the typical pillow contract to build his value before hitting the market, much like Josh Donaldson (not that they are in the same realm of talent).

Could this pending free agent be an option for 2022? 

Sure, it is early, and there is still plenty of baseball left this season, but is it ever really too soon to look forward to the free agency market? Absolutely not.

A look ahead to 2022 shows that if Mike Soroka can get healthy — which is a big if at this point — the rotation might consist of a mix of him, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Muller, and possibly Touki Toussaint.

Injuries can ruin the brighter of outlook, though, as we saw last season. The 2020 rotation looked very promising, and then the injury bug took over, resulting in a rotation ERA of 5.46, almost two full runs worse than the 2021 rotation. You can never have enough starting pitching. A littler veteran leadership would also be helpful to this group of talented young arms, so it would make sense to add a solid rotation piece via free agency.

Enter former Atlanta Brave Kevin Gausman

Sure, Kevin Gausman may have left a sour taste in some fan’s mouths after pitching to a terrible 6.19 ERA, which was 24% below league average in 2019 for the Braves. Even though this expected ERA (xERA) was much lower, 4.73, showing that he had some terrible luck, it is challenging to remove those days from our memory. However, the Braves must if they want to get their hards on potentially the best pitcher to hit the market this winter.

Since the start of 2020, Gausman has been excellent
When Gausman moved to the west coast to pitch for the Giants, something changed. He has channeled his potential and has been pitching like a staff ace.

Since the start of 2020, here are some impressive stats:

  • 156 ERA+
  • 2.70 ERA
  • 241 strikeouts to only 59 walks
  • 1.01 WHIP
  • 6.0 WAR

Considering 2020 was only a 60 game season, these numbers are elite across the boards, and his underlying metrics show this is no fluke.

In 2021, Gausman has been one of the best pitchers in all of MLB. Check out these metrics from Baseball Savant:

  • Expected Weighted On Base Average Against (xwOBA) – Top 83%
  • Expected ERA (xERA) – Top 83%
  • Strikeout Percentage – Top 83%
  • Expected Batting Average Against (xBA) – Top 75%
  • Expected Slugging% Against (xSLG) – Top 71%

Could the Braves pursue him?

There is plenty of uncertainty when it comes to free agency. Do the Giants offer him a contract he cannot refuse since he has been a key piece to their resurgence? Do Gausman and the Atlanta front office have bad blood after the way they parted ways?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, the Braves need to at least kick the tires on a potential reunion with Kevin Gausman. He has obviously figured things out and provides the boost needed for Atlanta to make a World Series run in 2022.

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