Robert Gsellman’s quest to be an effective pitcher again

This time last year you could see my photo on the Robert Gsellman bandwagon and heck, it’s possible the picture was taken from near the driver’s seat. Seemingly from out of nowhere he came up and got the pitcher’s dream combination of strikeouts and ground balls and made improvement in his walk rate, too. After the Mets struck gold with Jacob deGrom coming up and exceeding all expectations, it looked like we were ready to see lightning strike again with Gsellman.

Oops.

Instead, Gsellman was unimpressive early, suffered an injury, spent time in the minors and mouthed off to his boss. Perhaps the only thing missing in his fall from grace last year was a Page Six scandal. But Gsellman apologized for his remarks and at the end of the season put up his best pitching of the year. After returning to the majors in mid-August, Gsellman made eight starts and in those 43.2 IP he recorded a 3.50 ERA and a 1.305 WHIP. While those numbers weren’t nearly as good as he put up in his MLB debut in 2016, they were significantly better than what he did earlier in the year and give hope that not all is lost for him going forward.

It’s good to have hope; sometimes that’s all you’ve got. While Gsellman’s results in those final 43.2 IP were encouraging, he had an ugly 16 BB/25 Ks ratio. Over a longer haul there’s simply no way you can survive with a 5.2 K/9 without a ton of luck. He had done better previously in 2017 with a 6.8 K/9 before August but that was still well beneath his 8.5 K/9 mark in 2016.

In addition to seeing his strikeout rate collapse, Gsellman also saw his strand rate tank while his HR rate ballooned. Overall, he performed slightly worse than his peripherals but it’s not like anyone should find solace in a 4.89 FIP and a 4.79 xFIP. So, what happened to him?

Gsellman saw a drop in velocity last year, he missed fewer bats and too many ABs seemed like the batter knew what pitch was coming. Gselllman still got a good number of grounders, as his 49.3 GB% was the highest mark on the staff among pitchers with at least 50 IP. But he was hurt by the poor infield defense not converting enough of those balls into outs and when batters elevated the ball, it was downright ugly.

In 2016, opposing batters had just a .369 OPS when they hit a fly ball against Gsellman. Last year that number jumped to a .934 mark, with 19 of the 22 hits going for extra-bases, including 14 HR. Regardless of which side of the plate opponents batted from, they were able to pull the ball with great success against Gsellman in 2017. RHB posted an .896 OPS when they pulled him and LHB had a .415 AVG and an .887 SLG mark when they hit the ball to right field.

So, how can Gsellman improve his results? Perhaps the new pitching brain duo of Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland can make some adjustments. Because batters apparently were sitting on his fastball, Gsellman had by far the best results when he threw his change. The problem was that he only threw it around 10 percent of the time. In Cleveland we saw Corey Kluber embrace his slider and Josh Tomlin ramp up the usage of his cutter. Could Callaway have Gsellman turn more to his change? Here’s a nice one he threw against the Pirates in early June.

Maybe it was higher than you’d prefer but it was moving away from the lefty, so even if he did make contact, he wasn’t likely to pull it and do the damage that haunted Gsellman in 2017. The FanGraphs Leaderboards show that Jason Vargas threw the highest percentage of change-ups last year, with a 32.7 rate. Vargas made the All-Star team last year with the Royals and won a career-high 18 games. Furthermore, the Leaderboards also show that two of the top three most effective changeups last year belonged to Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, both who worked under Callaway.

If Gsellman remains on the Mets, it seems likely that he will operate out of the bullpen, at least in the beginning of the year. If he doesn’t have to pace himself, Gsellman might recapture the velocity he displayed in 2016. More velocity and more change-ups might be just what the doctor ordered for a return to being an effective pitcher.

While relievers are taking on more importance, it will be hard for Gsellman to have the same impact in 2018 out of the bullpen as we hoped he would last year in the rotation. But an effective reliever would be head and shoulders above what Gsellman gave the Mets last year. It may not be what we anticipated a year ago but it would still be a good result for a 13th-round draft pick.

10 comments for “Robert Gsellman’s quest to be an effective pitcher again

  1. Jimmy P
    December 3, 2017 at 11:27 am

    When we debated Lugo or Gsellman for the pen last year at this time, I felt that Gsellman could potentially thrive in the pen because he’d theoretically gain 2-3 MPH on the fastball.

    I had a lot of confidence in him going into last season.

    Used to be a believer, now I’m back in Missouri.

    The sinker is a very tough pitch because it is so dependent on hitters chasing out of the zone. It seemed like last year the batters just took those pitches for balls. At which point . . . what does he throw? We see that with Familia, too. It could be that a little more velocity overall could make a difference in the chase rate, the need for a batter to start early.

  2. TexasGusCC
    December 3, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Nice piece Brian. While Gsellman didn’t speak directly to Alderson, he was kind of baited and told a reporter that he didn’t care what Alderson thought of his pitching when the reporter informed him that Alderson wasn’t pleased, but we don’t know How the reporter presented that information and being 24 years old, Gsellman probably reacted more than he would have liked. I say that, despite having conversations with Chris about his body language on the mound: It was carefree.

    Glad to see this all came out and hopefully all that got flushed out of his system. He was very lucky in his peripherals in 2016, but not very lucky in 2017. I’m expecting something closer to 2016, and would rather see Wheeler in the bullpen that Gsellman or Lugo.

  3. MattyMets
    December 3, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Good post. Of all the Mets pitchers, he’s the one that confounds me. If we have 5 healthy starters besides him coming out of ST, I’d be inclined to stash him in Vegas til we need a another starter. I like Wheeler in the pen and Lugo and Montero better as versatile long men. But that counts on Matz and Harvey being healthy and the Mets adding a starter. Odds are at least one of those two will be on the DL so that opens up Gsellman’s spot.

  4. MattyMets
    December 3, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Apropos of nothing here, I want to call out the first bad move of the off-season – not DFAing Robles. He’s arb eligible which means he’s no longer at minimum salary. He’s coming off what I view as a terrible year and I just don’t see a spot for him in this bullpen. Unless maybe Callaway or Eiland sees him as a pet project?

    • Chris F
      December 3, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      Completely agree Matt. Any question where Robles is the answer is bd news for the Mets. Robles is a train wreck. He is the epotime of Jeckyll and Hyde, and unfortunately there is zero way of knowing who shows up, except that bad Robles is more common.

  5. Metsense
    December 3, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    When looking at the starting pitching depth, Gsellman ranks 7th and this is before the Mets acquire a #3 or better starter. The pitching staff is also supposed to acquire another good short relief pitcher. “Slightly” compounding this is that Montero is out of options. Gsellman, Lugu and Montero will all be competing as multiple inning relief pitchers in the bullpen. Much can change before spring training. Barring any pitching injuries, I expect Gsellman to start at AAA in the beginning of year and be up and down throughout the season. He should be a positive contributor.

  6. Eraff
    December 3, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Gsellman seems “unfinished”. It’s interesting that you note a change in velocity— let’s hope he’s healthy.

    He could use several more Minor League starts to hone his selection, and especially his command. Wow—the thought of that happening in Vegas is depressing. I believe 5-10 starts would really help him, whatever his future as a Starter or as a Reliever.

    PS on all of that—will Syracuse be the Biggest Hot Stove Addition?

    • December 4, 2017 at 9:20 am

      It may be. But owning your top affiliate and permanently getting out of the musical chairs game that left the club in New Orleans and Las Vegas is a very good thing and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.

  7. HarryH
    December 4, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Bruce,Gordon,Shaw and another reliever. That would be a good start.

    • MattyMets
      December 6, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Harry H, I agree and I’d go for Tony Watson.

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