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.

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21 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.

    • 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.