Kevin Gausman is the latest former O's pitcher to break out


While Jake Arrieta is the prime example of an Orioles pitcher to struggle in Baltimore but take off elsewhere, he's not the only one to do so. Dylan Bundy has looked like an ace at times in Los Angeles, and now, the San Francisco Giants' Kevin Gausman is turning in a Cy Young-worthy campaign of his own.

Gausman was the Orioles' first-round pick in 2012, no. 4 overall, out of LSU. He immediately became one of the best pitching prospects in the sport thanks to his upper-90s fastball and wicked changeup.

The Orioles have a long history of struggling to develop even the most talented pitching prospects, though, and Gausman was no exception. After years of moving him between Triple-A and the majors, and between the bullpen and rotation, Gausman appeared destined to settle in a mid-rotation starter, without ever reaching the heights many envisioned for him.

As they embarked on their rebuild, the Orioles eventually traded Gausman to Atlanta. It didn't work out there either, nor did he find success with the Reds.

But now, with his fourth organization, Gausman is blossoming into a genuine star.

Gausman is second in MLB with 3.7 Wins Above Replacement in 2021. He has a 7-0 record and a 1.27 ERA for the league-leading Giants. He's second in the majors in ERA and WHIP, and he is eighth in strikeouts. Gausman currently has the fourth-best odds for NL Cy Young, which might actually undersell just how dominant he has been this season.


How has he made the leap? There are probably a few different factors at play.

Gausman's pitch mix has changed dramatically over the years. He's throwing his fastball just 50% of the time in San Francisco after throwing it nearly two-thirds of the time in Baltimore. His splitter usage is up, which has done wonders as the best pitch in his arsenal.

According to FanGraphs' pitch value metric, Gausman's fastball has been the fourth-most valuable in baseball this season. But his splitter has been by far the best in the sport, nearly tripling anyone else's in total value and more than doubling all but two other pitchers on a per-pitch basis.

Gausman has always been blessed with two great pitches, but now, they are both in an elite tier.

It also helps that Gausman is getting flyballs at by far the highest rate of his career. 31% of his allowed batted balls are flyballs, 10 percentage points higher than his career average. It helps that nearly all of this rise has come at the expense of his line drives allowed, which are the most likely balls to be base hits.

Normally, becoming an extreme flyball pitcher would mean more home runs - especially in the current offensive environment. But Gausman is playing his home games at arguably the most pitcher-friendly stadium in baseball, so the long ball hasn't hurt him.

Perhaps the Giants deserve most of the credit for unlocking Gausman's potential. Or maybe, at 30 years old, Gausman was always destined to put it all together. Whatever the cause for the turnaround, he has turned into one of the best pitchers in baseball and yet another example of "one that got away" from Baltimore.

This weekend, he returns to the East coast with the surprise Giants to take on the Nationals. When he does, it will be as a very, very different pitcher than the one traded away from Baltimore years ago.