Going into the 2020 MLB season, Kevin Gausman's career wasn't exactly living up to the billing of a former No. 4 overall draft pick. Through 2019, Gausman had a 47-63 record with a 4.30 ERA and 1.34 WHIP between three different organizations. He even was released by the Atlanta Braves in August 2019 after 16 starts and a 6.19 ERA.
But being claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds changed everything. Pitching coach Derek Johnson noticed Gausman was picking up his target too late, causing command issues in the zone. Gausman did research on a sport completely outside of baseball, and it worked greatly. He primary was used out of the bullpen by the Reds and had a 4.03 ERA (3.10 as a reliever) over 15 games in Cincinnati.
What sport did Gausman turn to? Archery, of course.
"I kind of did some research on my own, read some stuff about sharpshooters and I'm into archery myself, so I looked into some competitive archery guys and what they do," Gausman explained on MLB Network Radio. "The biggest thing was aim small, miss small.
"Going into last year, one thing I tried to focus on playing catch every day was just picking up my target and really trying to dial in on my command."
The Giants signed Gausman to a one-year, $9 million contract during the 2019 Winter Meetings as a reclamation project. That deal wound up being a steal for San Francisco. From Day 1, the former top pick served as the Giants' ace.
Gausman went 3-3 with a 3.62 ERA last season, his lowest since 2016. He appeared in 12 games (10 starts) and had career-bests in strikeouts per nine innings (11.9) and WHIP (1.06). His 2.4 walks per innings was his lowest since 2016 as well. In 2020, his strikeout percentage was in the 88th percentile according to Baseball Savant. His whiff percentage was in the 85th percentile and his walk percentage was in the 75th percentile.
"I feel like if I can throw the ball where I need to, at least with my fastball, I always feel like I have a chance," Gausman said. "Especially with how much I pitch up in the zone -- you gotta be able to throw the ball up in the zone where you want to. If you're yanking the ball down all the time, it doesn't make much sense pitching up.
"You really gotta be able to command that pitch up in the zone and it's a process learning how to do that."
The veteran right-hander didn't only learn from Johnson and the art of sharpshooters in archery. He even studied one of his Giants teammates, who is a much different pitcher than he is.
"My command, it just got better and better as the season went on," Gausman said. "I took some things from [Johnny] Cueto actually watching his bullpens, how he goes about challenging himself in his bullpens to really throw the ball exactly where he wants to. ... Those things that I did just kind of set me up for success."
Gausman signed the $18.9 million qualifying offer to remain with the Giants over the offseason. The Giants want to keep him in San Francisco long-term, and thanks to him thinking outside of the box, he should be set up for many successful seasons in his future.