Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Gibson Keeping Hitters Off Balance With Offspeed
Forever, Gibson has been noted as a ground ball pitcher. Despite owning just a 50% ground ball rate for much of the year, Gibson is a sinkerballer that has always had more talk of his wormburners than action. That began to change over the course of his last eight starts though, and since July 22nd, the Twins have ran him out every fifth day feeling pretty good.
Prior to July 22, Gibson had made 17 starts for the Twins. He owned a 6.29 ERA and was allowing a .920 OPS against. In that timespan, he'd posted just three quality starts, and was in general, being hit around the yard. On the 356 balls put in play, 25 of them (or 7%) were barreled. Roughly one in five fly balls left the yard, and his 16 homers allowed only helped to inflate already egregious numbers.
Since that point, the Twins former top prospect has made eight starts to the tune of a 3.19 ERA. Allowing just a .682 OPS against, Gibson has tallied four straight quality starts, and hasn't given up more than three earned runs in any of those outings. When allowing contact, with 184 balls in play, he's given up just four barrels (2%). To get that kind of turnaround, essentially halving the numbers, there has to be a monumental shift right? Well, the answer is, not so much.
Looking at Gibson's repertoire before and after July 22nd, not a whole lot has changed. He's still a sinkerballer first, and then turns to his two offspeed offerings. Throwing both a slider and changeup, it's on the heels of those pitches that opposing hitters are kept off balance. What's been integral for Gibson however, is a slight jump in usage for each.
Early in the season, Gibson was throwing his fastball just under 60% of the time, while dishing up sliders about 16% and changeups right around 15%. Fast forward to today, and his last eight starts have him going with the fastball 55% of the time (at a slightly higher velocity), the slider almost 19%, and the changeup 17% of the time. In cutting out some of his fastball usage (and curveball as well), he's been able to throw offspeed pitches forcing batters to stay back.
The results have translated to a hard hit rate down to 32% from 38% earlier in the year, but more importantly, a HR/FB rate cut from 20% to 9.4%. Gibson is generating ground balls 2% more often (53.1%), as well as giving up fly balls 5% less often. While keeping the ball in the yard, and giving his defense an opportunity, he's found success in utilizing one of the Twins greatest assets.
Now, nothing says the Gibson has found a sure fire path to rest on his laurels. Opposing hitters have a BABIP that's only six points lower (.331) during this good stretch. That number still falls within a normal realm across the big leagues, and in general, leaves plenty of room for success to be had. For a guy that has just a 9% SwStr rate as well as a 15.8% strikeout rate, he's always going to need a push for balls in play that resemble routine outs. As the pitch mix continues to morph though, it seems the current structure is something that can work.
Pitching coach Neil Allen is a big believer in the changeup, and there could have been some work done in getting Gibson to use it more often. The 17% usage rate would be the best single season mark since 2015, when he offered the pitch a career high 19.7% of the time. Maybe not so coincidentally, the Twins hurler relied heavily on his changeup and slider that season, en route to a career low 3.84 ERA.
Now five years into his big league career, and 29 years old, Twins fans are probably through with hoping Gibson has found it. All along though, it's seemed like if he could just hone this or that small thing in, effectiveness was sure to follow. As Minnesota eyes the Postseason, a steadying rotation presence was needed, and Gibson has definitely provided that. Only time will tell how effective the current tweaks are, but right now, all parties have to feel very encouraged.