Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Kyle Gibson Now Looking The Part

Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports
If you asked a handful of different credible Twins sources who they were excited to see pitch coming into the 2015 Major League Baseball season, one of the most common answers would have been Kyle Gibson. The former first round pick is now 27 years old, and there were stretches that looked very promising over the course of the 2014 season. Hoping he was close to putting it together, the upcoming season provided plenty of intrigue. Now just over a month in, the former Missouri Tiger has not disappointed.

Gibson made his major league debut at the age of 25, and while that is relatively old for a top prospect coming out of college, his late start was not due to talent related issues. Undergoing Tommy John surgery while still in the Twins farm system, Gibson had to battle back and work his way back into the fold. Getting his first cup of coffee in the middle of the 2013 season, it was 2014 that Gibson finally broke into the rotation full time. His first full season at the big league level was filled with generally mixed results, and he owned a 4.47 ERA with a 3.80 FIP.

At nearly every level through the system, Gibson has been the same kind of pitcher. He's more reliable than overpowering, and despite strikeout numbers near 10.0 K/9 during the 2012 season, it was always somewhat expected that he may be more of a finesse pitcher at the major league level. Having owned a 5.4 K/9 mark in 2013, the Twins were no doubt hoping that the ratio would continue to climb as he settles into big league pitching.

Now with seven starts under his belt in 2015, Gibson has exploded out of the gate, and owns the 13th best ERA in the American League. At 2.70, Gibson trails only Mike Pelfrey (2.62) in the ERA department amongst starters. While generally there may be some concern for regression due to Gibson's high 4.52 FIP, the recipe currently in play could actually benefit him for the long haul.

As has been noted plenty this offseason and in the early portion of the year, the Twins have some significant defensive deficiencies. That being said, the largest liabilities in the field reside in the corner outfield positions. With outfield defense improving somewhat with the call up of Aaron Hicks, there still remains little doubt that fly ball pitchers will be hurt by the guys in the grass behind them. For Gibson however, this isn't exactly an issue for him.

For groundball pitchers such as Gibson, lifting a ball into the outfield because somewhat of a relative chore. In turn, the most taxed defensive players with Kyle on the mound become the infield, and they have played to his favor. Gibson has generated 50.3% ground balls this season, while giving up fly balls on just 27.3% of his batted balls. Better yet, of the fly balls he has given up, just 7.7% (a career best) have landed over the fence.

A sinkerball pitcher, there's always going to be an increased ability to keep the ball on the ground. As Pelfrey has noticed too however, the infield has done an exceptional job of taking care of the guy on the mound. Despite the major league leading nine errors, Danny Santana has proved invaluable in getting to 15 balls deemed out of his zone already on the season. Trevor Plouffe greatly expanding his defensive acumen has been a welcomed sight, and Brian Dozier continues to be a strong second basemen.

Statistically speaking, regression due to an out of whack FIP (fielding independent pitching) mark would make sense, but Gibson could continue to benefit from the greater whole as well. Generating ground balls on the mound, and his infield making plays behind him, Gibson is well on his way to his best season as a pro. No doubt his best start of the year, Gibson went 7 innings giving up just five hits, one run on a solo home run, and striking out six while walking none against the Tigers.

If the strikeout numbers can hold, and everything else stays the course, Kyle Gibson could continue to be one of the best stories for the Twins in 2015.

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