A former first round pick for the Twins, Gibson has never lived up to the promise after being selected 22nd overall in the 2009 draft. A college pitcher out of Missouri, the expectation was that he could rise through the system quickly, and be an impact arm at the highest level. The numbers in the minors were acceptable, but probably not as glowing as the Twins brass would've hoped. Then there was Tommy John surgery, and further delays on getting him to the big leagues. Now with five big league seasons under his belt, it's been somewhat of a roller coaster ride.
Gibson's 2nd and 3rd major league seasons (2014/15) had the makings of a guy who could be a rotation fixture. Despite the club's struggles, Gibson was a reliable arm that you gave you something consistent, even if it wasn't top-of-the-rotation stuff. The past two seasons, the former Tigers pitcher has been optioned back to Triple-A, looked like a non-tender candidate, and then turned things back in what has appeared a relatively unpredictable manner.
Going into the 2018 season, the big question mark for Kyle was whether or not his pitching down the stretch for the Twins could be considered a new norm. Over his final 11 starts, he owned a 3.55 ERA and a .720 OPS against. Shrinking the sample to his final eight starts in 2017, Gibson's numbers were even better with a 2.92 ERA and a .684 OPS against. For a guy who seemingly had already developed the book on himself, this was uncharted territory. He had gone from a question mark for the upcoming year, to being a virtual lock in a Twins rotation that would open a season with postseason aspirations for the first time in a long while.
Now five turns through the rotation in 2018, and Gibson has done nothing to dispel the notion that the end of 2017 was for real. He's compiled 27 innings of work and has a 3.33 ERA to show for it. The 10.0 K/9 is a career best, and nearly four strikeouts more than the 6.4 K/9 career average he has to this point. Gibson's 1.259 WHIP is a career low, as are his 6.7 H/9 and 0.3 HR/9 numbers. If there's something to nitpick at, it's the 4.7 BB/9 he's currently conceding, which is definitely a career worst.
So, what do we make of it all? Well, despite being an extremely small sample size, there's clearly something going on here. MLB's Daren Willman pointed out recently that Kyle Gibson's slider is currently producing the most swing and miss results in comparison to any pitch thrown by any other player across the entire league. What's equally as impressive, is that Gibson's curveball comes in third on the list. Looking at his career usage rates, Kyle is deploying his slider and curve at almost identical rates to what he has always done. That suggests that the pitches themselves are not getting batters of balance. There's something else at play here.Top 20 pitches with the highest swing & miss % (Min 50 pitches thrown). Kyle Gibson 👀 pic.twitter.com/KbyCBJxC03— Daren Willman (@darenw) April 29, 2018
here. It's not that Gibson's numbers are exceptional when compared across all of baseball, but they are noteworthy among starters, and definitely jump off the page in comparison to his previous output. Generating a better pitch quality, while also garnering more movement across the zone is something that has absolutely help the Twins former first round pick.
Thanks to the improvements to his pitch quality, Gibson's results are currently correlating directly with the process. A 70.2% contract rating is the lowest he's ever allowed in his career, and represents and eight percent improvement in that category. He's also getting swinging strikes at a 13.1% clip, which is over a 3% boost on his career average. The best part of all of this, is that things look somewhat sustainable.
Quality of contact ratings (soft/med/hard) are virtually identical to where they were a season ago for Gibson. His 4.2% HR/FB ratio is probably going to rise as it normalizes a bit, but being a sinkerballer, the home run has never been something that's plagued him too heavily. The .275 BABIP is lower than his .328 mark in 2017, and .308 career total, but it isn't completely out of whack either. In fact, Gibson owns a 3.11 FIP number to date, which suggests that his controllable production is even a bit better than what the actual output has dictated.
To step out from behind the numbers, there's a few things that we can say with near certainty. First and foremost, we're dealing with a small 27 inning sample size. There's a possibility that this portion of the season becomes and outlier as opposed to a reflection of change. That being said, we can also determine that two pitches Gibson throws are being tossed across the plate in their best forms of his entire career. At the age of 30, he's developed strong secondary pitches, and pairing that with his sinker has been a very nice development.
I don't expect Gibson to strike out double-digit batters per nine innings over the course of 2018, and thinking he'll walk nearly five per game seems foolish too. There's no doubting that his repertoire boost has worked to his benefit however, and that could be the key that unlocks all of his potential, whatever that may be.