Written By Brandon Warne (ZoneCoverage.com)
This is a series of evaluations that will be done this offseason on every player who closed the season on the 40-man roster for the Minnesota Twins throughout the winter until each player has been evaluated. The plan is to start with Mr. Belisle and move all the way through the pitchers, then to the catchers, infielders, outfielders and finally those listed as designated hitters on the club’s official MLB.com roster. That means we’ll wrap it up with Kennys Vargas sometime before the season starts.
- Name: Kyle Gibson
- 2017 Role: Opened year as No. 3 starter, pitched so poorly he was sent to Triple-A. Returned and was incredible for a nine-start stretch before slowing again over the final three games.
- Expected 2018 Role: Probably penciled in as the No. 3 starter until the Twins sign or trade for someone. In other words, No. 4 starter with a lot to prove.
- MLB Stats: 3.22 ERA, 3.79 FIP in 36.1 innings with Twins; 7.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.27 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR, 0.6 bWAR.
- MiLB Stats: 2.00 ERA, 3.00 FIP in 27 innings at Triple-A Rochester; 6.7 K/9, 1.0 BB/9, 1.00 WHIP.
- Contract Status: Arb-2, eligible for free agency after 2019. Still unsigned for 2018 with arbitration scheduled for next month.
It would be extremely easy to look at Gibson’s 2017 and write it off as identical to the year before. It probably wouldn’t be far from the truth, either. In 2016 and 2017, Gibson pitched to identical marks in ERA (5.07) and fWAR (1.1), posted K and BB/9 rates in relatively the same vicinity and also threw fewer than 160 innings — but more than 145 — in each year.
He also pitched to high BABIPs (.330 and .328), induced a ton of grounders (roughly 50 percent overall) and gave up way too many homers for someone with his pitch profile.
But 2017 wasn’t a total failure for Gibson. No, not even an age-29 season where he was sent back to Triple-A for the first time in nearly five years can be termed an abject failure for the tall righty the Twins took in the first round of the 2009 draft.
That is because to know where you’re headed is to know where you’ve been.
If the seasons for Gibson the last two years looked the same, they couldn’t have looked much different for the Twins, who lost 103 games in 2016 and won 85 this past season. For Gibson, he had his own version of that kind of turnaround within the 2017 season alone.
At every month stop, Gibson’s ERA was ugly, right down to the 5.07 mark he ended the year with.
- End of April – 8.06
- May – 7.85
- June – 6.11
- July – 6.08
- August – 5.59
- September – 5.07
But what we see here is a steady climb from the depths of despair to the neighborhood a team might be comfortable with from their fifth starter.
The depths of Gibson’s roughest patch of the season came to a head in early May, when the Twins sent him to Triple-A Rochester after he posted an 8.20 ERA through six starts. It wasn’t the only trip Gibson made to Rochester — though the one in July was more of a numbers crunch after the team checked out a copy of Jaime Garcia from their local Blockbuster video — but it was the primary one in terms of him working on some new things.
Once late July hit — in fact, right before he was sent back down for a hot minute — Gibson moved on the rubber to see if it might give his pitches a bit more desirable action. Gibson shifted over to the third-base side of the rubber to see how the action would affect his pitches. Gibson said it allowed him to go down and away to righties and in to lefties more. The concept he worked with was to keep the ball in the “hitting zone” as long as possible for potential deception to hitters, with the exception of the comeback sinker, which he wants to nick the corner at the last possible second before it’s received by the catchers.
The entire interview with Gibson can be found here.
The move on the rubber came against the Detroit Tigers on July 22, and from that point on, he turned a 6.29 season ERA to that point into a 3.57 mark the rest of the way. There are a lot of encouraging signs in Gibson’s numbers here, including an 11 percent swinging-strike rate (10 percent is about average), a K/BB ratio of 64-18 in 70.2 innings, a collective slash-line against of .262/.317/.382 and just eight homers allowed in that stretch. Normally that would be a little on the high side for 70.2 innings, but keep in mind Gibson’s penchant for allowing homers and the general state of the league last year in terms of finding the seats.
The other encouraging part about this 12-start stretch is that it’s not just an arbitrary pull of games when he was good, and only good. His final three starts of the year were rocky, and he still put up those numbers.
For the (arbitrary) fun of it, these are his numbers for the nine-start stretch where he allowed no more than three earned runs in any outing (July 22-Sept. 12): 2.83 ERA, .652 OPS against, 11 percent whiff rate, 44-11 K/BB ratio in 54 innings.
If you’re getting a bit of a Case Keenum vibe off these numbers, you aren’t alone. It’s worth wondering how sustainable this performance is, though fortunately, the Twins won’t have to invest a huge chunk of money to find out. Regardless of how his arbitration case settles, he’ll still make under $5 million next year.
And unlike Keenum, there’s a bit more precedent for Gibson being good. Keenum crushed it in college, but played at Houston, a non-Power-5 team that certainly doesn’t play the schedule of an Alabama, Florida State or USC. As a result, he went undrafted and has had to fight and scratch for everything he’s accomplished. Kudos for that, by the way.
Gibson, on the other hand, comes with the pedigree of being a terrific pitcher at Missouri — the same place Max Scherzer was at, though they missed intersecting by just one year — and a first-round pick who reportedly might have gone higher in the draft than No. 22 overall if not for forearm issues. Gibson eventually needed Tommy John surgery, and as a result is already 30 despite having thrown just over 700 MLB innings.
By comparison, Mike Leake is less than three weeks younger than Gibson, also was drafted out of college (Arizona State) and has already thrown 1,446.1 MLB innings. Here’s another fun fact about when Gibson was born — it was between Games 5 and 6 of the 1987 World Series.
We all remember who won that World Series.
Nevertheless, the Twins have as many as two more seasons — this and next — to figure out what they have in Gibson, but the reality is that it’s probably 2018 or bust. Even a repeat of 2017 would probably give Gibson a salary boost over $5 million — he posted the same ERA last year to this year and is getting a raise of about $1.5 million or so — for his last year of arbitration, and it’s likely the Twins would balk at tendering him a contract at that rate.
Another option for Gibson in the future might be working as a reliever. Though it almost certainly won’t happen with the Twins based on where he’s at salary-wise, it’s not unprecedented to see a sinker-slider guy pick up a few ticks in relief and become an absolute weapon out of the bullpen.
Grade: C-. A strong stretch near the end of the season kept it from being an abject failure, but he still has a lot to prove heading into his age-30 season.