Prospect Profile: RHP Robert Gsellman


Robert Gsellman looks like he keeps a surfboard in the back of his 1960s pickup truck. He pitches that way, too. Calm and smooth without a care in the world. As a foil to the seriousness and intensity synonymous with the Mets’ young rotation fixtures, Gsellman is atypical in his approach. The results, however, have been typical—at least to the extent that we’ve grown used to seeing young Mets pitchers dominate.

Bluntly stated, Gsellman was a middling prospect entering the 2016 season. He was perched atop several Mets prospect lists because he was still a prospect. The real pitching talent had shed their prospect statuses over the past several seasons. Gsellman was the best of the rest. Under any circumstances, being a top Met pitching prospect in the current climate is promising, but Gsellman was not the type to inspire much confidence, and the prospect of Gsellman making high leverage starts at any point during the 2016 season was not one Mets fans wanted to consider.

Fate saw differently in 2016 and Gsellman was called upon to pitch big games down the stretch. Rather than bring trademark Mets intensity to the mound, he brought a smile and ham and egger stuff. Or what looked like ham and egger stuff. He featured a decent fastball that wasn’t overpowering, a decent slider that wasn’t deceptive, and command that was good enough to throw strikes, but not good enough to knock the balls off a fly.  To an untrained eye, he looked like a back end pitcher who was outperforming his stuff. But to understand why Gsellman succeeded, we need to look below the surface, statistically, and we will put to test the predictive powers of small sample sizes.

We can go over Gsellman’s Minor League career and how he rose through the ranks to assume an important role in the current rotational outlook, but it’s simpler to look at what he did across 41 innings as a starter in 2016. Mets fans know what the basic stats say. Gsellman was good.  41 innings pitched as a starter with a 2.63 ERA, a respectable 1.268 WHIP, and just 1 HR allowed.  Of course it isn’t a stretch to say Gsellman played a pivotal role in saving the Mets’ season.

But over 41 innings as a starter, have we seen enough of Gsellman to confidently say what he will be as a pitcher going forward? Rather than try to project Gsellman using Minor League stats, let’s take a look at three things Gsellman did exceptionally well as a starter in the Majors, with the caveat that we are using a very small sample:

1) Gsellman had a GB% of 55.5%. Among starters with at least 40 IP last season, Gsellman ranked 11th, between Carlos Martinez and Aaron Nola. Gsellman is a frustrating pitcher for hitters to face. Although the stuff doesn’t look exceptional, the majority of contact against him ends up on the ground because he throws deceptively heavy stuff.

2) At 26.5%, Gsellman ranked 10th among starters with at least 40 innings pitched in hard contact allowed. Coinciding with the high groundball rate, Gsellman did not give up many hard hit balls. Groundball rate and hard contact allowed are self-explanatory—if guys are not putting the ball in the air and they are not hitting the ball hard, they’re not making much quality contact in general, and they’re producing fewer runs. This remained true with Gsellman, obviously, based on his ERA, but his ability to force poor contact also resulted in a HR/9 of 0.22, which led all starters with at least 40 innings pitched. Gsellman was more or less unscathed as a starter regarding the contact he allowed.

3) Stepping away from the deeper peripherals for a moment, we’ll look at what I consider the quintessential pitching stat in today’s game. As a starter, Gsellman produced a K/BB ratio of 3.33. With greater emphasis being placed on striking batters out and limiting walks, a 3.33 K/BB ratio in today’s game is good but not great. However, among 40 rookies who pitched at least 40 innings as a starter, Gsellman ranked 7th in K/BB ratio. Under Dan Warthen’s tutelage, we have seen most Mets starters excel in this area, with Gsellman being the latest standout.

I chose to focus on these three areas because I consider them legitimate pitching skills. Pitchers can only control so much on a baseball field. The type of contact a pitcher allows and how often he allows contact versus how often he gives away free bases are things a pitcher controls. So despite the small 40 inning sample, what Gsellman did on the mound promises to translate long-term because his results were predicated on fundamental pitching skills.

There are more peripherals to dig into with unlimited time. For everything Gsellman did well, he experienced some bad luck, ranking 178th with a .336 BABIP. Obviously a limited-range defense was unfriendly, as it was with almost all Mets pitchers. But given the type of contact Gsellman allows, he gives up a lot of cheap hits. The cheap hits make the K/BB and HR/9 ratios all the more important. If those cheap hits are not converted into outs more often going forward, Gsellman should still be able to rely on his established skill set to limit damage.

When I first contemplated Gsellman’s Major League outlook, I was resigned to the idea that he is a back of the rotation pitcher, because of what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t throw multiple plus secondary pitches and he doesn’t throw exceptionally hard. But the statistics tell a different story—a story of what Gsellman does do. He perpetually frustrates batters.

Given potential needs for the Mets this season, between injuries and perhaps a 6-man rotation, Gsellman will be a frequent flyer in the rotation.  Although he was once an unheralded pitching prospect—one of the leftovers—his results last season speak volumes about who he is as a pitcher, and the peripheral statistics portend sustainable success. Gsellman is a pitcher’s pitcher with refined skills for such a young age. From afterthought to active contributor, we will see continued success in 2017 from Robert Gsellman.

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  1. Greggofboken

    i’m into the groundball rate. And his moxie under pressure sure seems like he’d be a good back-end-of-pen candidate. I share your high hopes for him. I’m more up on him than I am on Lugo.

    • Chris Malia

      Lugo will probably be my next piece. He’s a weird case. The things in this article that say Gsellman’s production is sustainable–GB%, hard contact, K/BB ratio–say the exact opposite about Lugo. As a betting man, I’d say Lugo is in for a rude awakening in 2017…but there’s something about his stuff that I can’t shake. As for Gsellman, I think the Mets will find it hard to justify using him in the pen when he is outperforming some starters, which I believe is actually a realistic possibility. This guy is better than advertised, or so the stats say.

      • Greggofboken

        Lugo had the statistical bright new toy in spin rate — which it seems is going through a period of popularity as execs and studious fans try to target the next exploitable data point which might reveal a diamond in the rough.

        Much was made about Colin McHugh a few years ago for this but it did not end up fully bearing fruit. It’s going to be extremely interesting to see what happens w/Lugo this year. It would not have broken my heart to have shopped him this offseason.

  2. Chris from Islip

    I will be honest. I missed on Gsellman. I really didn’t see him as being anything more than a swing guy or a 5th starter. I didn’t take into account the poise and moxy the kid has on the mound. He is one of those guys that bares down when the pressure is on. I get the feeling he will be a very big part of the Mets rotation this years. I hope I am wrong and the 5 horseman make it through the year healthy, but I would say it’s a pretty safe bet RG is called upon to pitch a decent amount of innings.

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