FACTS/FLUKES: Gallen, Gausman, McMahon, Grisham, Slater

Gallen picking up where he left off ... Zac Gallen (RHP, ARI) was terrific in 15 starts in 2019, recording a 2.81 ERA and 29% K%. He was shaky in his first start of this season, as he issued 5 BB in 4 IP against San Diego, but still only gave up 1 ER. Since then, he has faced the Dodgers, Astros, and the Rockies at Coors, and come away with 19 IP, 6 ER allowed, 22 K, and just 2 BB. Is it safe to count on excellence going forward?

Year   IP   ERA/xERA   Ctl/Dom/Cmd   SwK    Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  HR/F  BPX
====  ===  =========  ============  =====  ====  ========  =====  ====  ===
2017*  92  4.54/4.96  2.4/5.3/2.2    N/A    N/A     N/A    32/71   N/A   51   
2018* 134  4.08/5.41  3.2/7.9/2.5    N/A    N/A     N/A    37/76   N/A   77
2019^ 172  2.54/2.51  2.8/9.9/3.5   13.2%  92.9  39/24/37  26/81   11%  130  
2020   23  2.74/3.38  2.7/11.0/4.0  12.4%  93.1  46/19/35  30/87   20%  N/A  
*MLEs
^Includes MLEs

Gallen looks like an ace in the making:

  • He has scaled back on the fastball usage, throwing it just 37 percent of the time, and under 30 percent vs LHB, after using it on 48 percent of his offerings in 2019. All of his secondary pitches (curve, slider, change) can miss bats, and even though his SwK is down slightly, he should continue to pile up the strikeouts.
  • The control issues he had in the first outing of the season were uncharacteristic. He has since brought his Ctl down to his typical level, which is in line with expectations going forward.
  • Gallen is keeping the ball on the ground more, but has also been hurt by a pretty high home run per fly ball rate. He has given up his fair share of hard contact, ranking in the 36th percentile in Hard Hit % (per Baseball Savant), but fly balls won't continue to leave the park at that rate against him.

There is a lot to like when digging into Gallen's profile, starting with a wide arsenal, including four pitches that he throws more than 19 percent of the time. Though he's made just 19 career starts in the majors, the 25-year-old can be counted on for a respectable walk rate and plenty of strikeouts. Gallen has been helped by an 87 percent strand rate in 2020, but deserves a lot of credit for shutting down potent lineups in each of his last three starts. Look for him to continue to put up excellent numbers, and don't be surprised if he ends the season as a top-15 starting pitcher.


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Gausman looking good again in starting role ... After struggling mightily as a starter in 2019, Kevin Gausman (RHP, SF) excelled out of the pen, where he recorded a 3.10 ERA and 12.0 Dom in 14 appearances. He is starting again in 2020, and has posted a respectable 4.05 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning. Is it time to get excited about Gausman again?

Year   IP   ERA/xERA   Ctl/Dom/Cmd  Ball%/SwK    Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  BPX
===   ===  =========  =============  =========  ====  ========  =====  ===
2016  180  3.61/3.84   2.4/ 8.7/3.7  36%/11.3%  94.7  44/21/35  32/78  137
2017  187  4.68/4.44   3.4/ 8.6/2.5  37%/11.3%  95.0  43/22/35  34/73  101 
2018  184  3.92/4.21   2.5/ 7.3/3.0  35%/11.6%  93.6  46/21/33  31/75  102
2019  102  5.72/4.23   2.8/10.0/3.6  33%/15.5%  94.0  38/27/35  36/62  131
2020   20  4.05/3.52  0.9/10.4/11.5  N/A/14.3%  95.3  36/25/39  35/65  N/A

Gausman's skills have been strong early on:

  • His four-seam fastball velocity is the highest it has been since 2017, but he's also throwing the pitch at a career low rate, after batters teed off on it the past two seasons.
  • Gausman has never had a huge problem with walks, but the 2 BB in 20 IP isn't a rate that is likely to continue for the 29-year-old. His current Ctl in the chart above looks out of character, and is likely to normalize in the not too distant future.
  • He has been hurt by an inflated hit rate so far in 2020, though the high line drive rate suggests some of that is his own doing. He has ranked league average or worse (per Baseball Savant) in both Hard Hit % and xSlg each of the past three seasons, and ranks in the 36th and 31st percentile, respectively, in the categories this year.
  • He didn't get through five innings in either of his first two starts, but has built up his pitch count, and lasted 11.2 IP in his last two outings. In those games, he held the Rockies (at Coors) and Dodgers to a combined 1 ER, with 13 K and 1 BB.

Last season, it looked like the bullpen may be where Gausman belonged, but the Giants gave him another opportunity to start, and he is taking advantage. His velocity is the highest it's been in years, he's been stingy with the free passes, and is missing bats at a high rate. Gausman's track record says he won't be able to keep the walk rate quite this low, and he's still allowing a lot of hard contact. Therefore, his current ERA is probably closer to expectations than his xERA, but that still makes him relevant in most formats. 

 

McMahon slow out of the gate ... Ryan McMahon (1B, COL) provided plenty of power down the stretch in 2019, as he connected for 17 home runs in the second half. But he is off to a rough start in 2020, as he is hitting just .204 with one home run through 62 plate appearances. Can it simply be dismissed as an early-season slump, or is there cause for concern?

Year   PA  HR/SB    BA/xBA   bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX/PX/xPX  HR/F  xHR/F  Spd  
====  ===  =====  =========  =======  ========  ==  ===========  ====  =====  ===
2018* 436  13/3   .243/.242    6/68   46/24/30  33   85/114/99    14%   11%    88
2019  539  24/5   .250/.247   10/67   51/21/28  32  102/119/112   27%   22%    83
2020   62   1/0   .204/.185   11/54   43/23/33  36   80/100/138   10%   N/A   111
*Includes MLEs

McMahon usually strikes out a lot, and is doing so way more than usual in 2020:

  • In 2018 and 2019, roughly one-third of his official at-bats had ended with strike three. He entered play August 12 having struck out 25 times in 54 at-bats, and already had four games in which he whiffed three times.
  • On a related note, his recent BA/xBA marks show that even at Coors, he's not going to be an asset in the batting average category. He has now had 389 plate appearances on the road in his career, and put up a .201/.289/.309 line.
  • McMahon does possess above average power, albeit with a little boost from his home park. Just realize that a high home run per fly ball rate boosted the home run total in 2019, and his consistently low fly ball rate caps his power upside.

McMahon's season is off to a pretty rough start. Even with an inflated hit rate, he is barely hitting above .200, as he owns the 3rd highest K% and 10th highest SwK in the league. In addition to the power, McMahon does offer multi-position eligibility, and hits left-handed pitching even better than right-handed pitching, which lessens the risk of him being platooned. But he's unplayable on the road, and can't be expected to maintain his 2019 second half home run pace. Better days lie ahead for McMahon, but last year was as good as it's going to get.

 

Is Grisham breaking out? ... Trent Grisham (OF, SD) showcased an impressive power/speed combo in the upper levels of the minors in 2019, earning an August call-up upon which he had six homers and a steal. Both the speed and power have been on display in the early parts of 2020, but let's take a look at the whole picture.

Year   PA  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%   PX  xPX  HR/F  Spd/SBO
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  =======  ========  ==  ===  ===  ====  =======
2018* 394   7/10  .225   N/A   15/72      N/A    29   67  N/A   N/A  116/12%
2019^ 613  31/12  .267  .262   13/75   38/19/43  30  129   90   13%   97/11%
2020   79   4/3   .222  .232   19/68   31/19/50  26  141  165   19%  118/18%
*MLEs
^Includes MLEs

Grisham has a lot to offer, but still has some work to do:

  • His power took a huge step forward in 2019, and with more fly balls and a huge xPX jump in this year's small sample, he's proving that it wasn't a fluke. There is a lot of red on his Baseball Savant page, as he ranks in the 84th percentile in xSlg, 83rd in Barrel%, and 90th in Exit Velocity.
  • Grisham also brings plus speed to the table. He stole 37 bases back in 2017, and while he can't be expected to approach that pace, his 82.1 percent success rate (64 for 78) dating back to the beginning of that season bodes well for a green light.
  • His minor league contact rates have been pretty respectable, but whiffs have been a problem since his arrival in the majors. A 69 percent contact rate has led to a .228 batting average to this point in his young career, a mark that has full "support" from a .226 xBA.
  • Batting average is less of a concern when a player takes as many walks as Grisham does. He's getting on base at a .372 clip this season, which has made him a regular in the two-spot against right-handed pitching. 

Grisham has a lot to offer from a fantasy perspective, thanks to an exciting blend of power and speed. He is also very valuable to the Padres because of his outstanding defense and his ability to get on base. Grisham still has a few warts, as he is striking out often, and hasn't shown he can hit lefties, with a .196/.275/.326 line in 51 career plate appearances. He will likely be a BA liability, but should make up for it by contributing in a variety of other ways, and his value gets a gigantic boost in OBP leagues.

 

Is Slater's success sustainable? ... Austin Slater (OF, SF) has quietly been one of the biggest surprise performers during the first few weeks of the season. After compiling five home runs and one steal in 192 plate appearances in 2019, he is already up to three and five, respectively, in the categories in 45 plate appearances in 2020. Where did this come from, and can he keep it up?

Year   PA  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%  FB%  h%  HctX   PX/xPX  HR/F  xHR/F  Spd/SBO
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  =======  ===  ==  ====  =======  ====  =====  =======    
2017* 323   6/3   .277  .235    6/75   25%  35    73    71/48   14%   14%   121/8%  
2018* 435   4/13  .263  .251    8/70   16%  37    97    83/31    5%   14%  108/14%
2019* 467  13/5   .245  .246   12/65   23%  34   102   107/113  20%   32%  116/7%
2020   45   3/5   .342  .296   11/71   22%  42   117   141/130  50%   N/A  163/43%
*Includes MLEs

Slater is playing a little over his head right now:

  • He is making a lot of hard contact, but it's hard to hit many home runs when the ball doesn't get in the air very often. The sky high home run per fly ball rate is based on a sample of just six fly balls, and he's not likely to hit more than three home runs the rest of the way.
  • He hasn't always had a green light when he's gotten on base, but has consistently shown plus speed, and is now 27 for 32 on the bases since the beginning of the 2018 season. He has been running at every opportunity this season, and should continue to be a solid speed source.
  • He has hit for a very high average in the early going, thanks to a rebound in his contact rate, and more importantly, a very high hit rate. He does have a history of high hit rates, so he won't necessarily regress to his recent xBA levels, but the BA will soon come down significantly.
  • Slater did show improved patience at the plate in 2019, which may have also played a role in the uptick in strikeouts. He has pretty much held the walk rate gains to this point, while getting his contact rate back up.

Slater is off to a blazing start, as he is hitting for a high average, and also showing some pop and plenty of speed. With regular at-bats, he can continue to contribute on the base paths, though not quite at his current pace, and in today's game, his BA (projected .258 ROS) won't hurt owners. But Slater's power production is going to slow down, and he still hits near the bottom of the order against right-handers, against whom he owns a .239/.327/.357 line in his career. Bottom line, count on some steals from Slater, but this is more of a brief hot streak from the 27-year-old than a breakout season. 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.