When Should We See Kyle Gibson?

When the Twins drafted Kyle Gibson in the first round last year, I did a fist pump, but with trepidation. Being a college baseball fan (and a Kansas Jayhawks fan) I was familiar with Gibson’s exploits at Missouri. But of course I was wary of his stress reaction in his forearm that caused his velocity to drop near the end of the 2009 college season. In the end I decided it was an acceptable risk: there was a chance that Gibson would struggle with injuries and flame out, but there was also the chance he could become a very good #2/fringe ace type.

Fortunately, it appears we have the latter (so far). In A+ Fort Meyers, Gibson had a 1.87 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. He allowed just 2.28 runs per 9 innings, earned or otherwise (which is a much better illustration of a pitcher’s skill, especially in the lower minors when defenses are often subpar). Those numbers were good, but in 3 AA starts he has been otherworldly: a .84 ERA, .79 WHIP and 1.27 R/9. Gibson also has a fucking 10 to 1 K/BB ratio. He is vaulting up prospect charts and has an outside shot to be a top 10 prospect at the end of the season. He might have surpassed Aaron Hicks as the team’s #1 prospect.

There is some legitimate talk about seeing Gibson this season. But should there be?

One minor red flag is Gibson’s BABIP, which was .274 at Ft. Meyers and .263 at New Britain. Now, part of the effect of batters hitting the ball harder is going to be offset by the fact that the Twins infield defense is very good, but it stands to reason his BABIP would go up. Still, as sabermetrically inclined as I am, keeping Gibson down solely for BABIP is a bad move.

Another point in Gibson’s favor is his ground-ball rate. It was 68% at Ft. Meyers and 64% at New Britain. With the Twins infield defense, that is certainly a positive.

While on the surface I wouldn’t have a problem throwing him in September, perhaps to skip a starter’s turn to set the rotation for the playoffs, I don’t want to see him in Minnesota until June 2011 at the earliest, for two reasons:

1. Health. Gibson has struggled with injuries and while he wasn’t overworked at Missouri, he threw 106.2 innings last year and decreased by roughly 20 innings each of the two previous years. For him to be throwing in September he would have to throw, depending on effectiveness, around 200 innings. (Gibson threw 43.1 innings in April. Measuring it crudely, that is to multiply his April innings totals by 5 months, you arrive at 215.5). I don’t think pitchers should be completely babied, but because of his injury issues and potential, Gibson should be treated cautiously.

2. Economics. With the Twins likely AL Central champs, there is no need to bring Gibson up and start his arbitration clock, as well as use up a spot on the 40 man roster. Waiting until June 2011 would keep him from reaching free agency for another year, and save the club millions of dollars. Of course, he still likely would be a Super 2 under that scenario, though I believe concerns about that are overblown. It would likely cost the Twins a few extra hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the benefit to putting one of your best 5 pitchers out there outweighs that tremendously. More on Super 2 and whatnot later this season.

So there you have it. While I would love to see Gibson ASAP, rationally it only makes sense to wait until next June to see the only Missouri Tiger I can tolerate.

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