Minnesota Twins: Is Kyle Gibson Primed for a Breakout Year?
The Twins have struggled out of the gate in 2015, eclipsing a previous franchise record (11) for innings without scoring a run to start the season (18 and counting). The 80 game suspension issued to de-facto ace Ervin Santana has Twins fans frustrated, the baggage of four miserable seasons combined with losing their record free-agent acquisition has some Twins fans unnecessarily lining up at the top of the cliff.
Santana’s suspension has brought about the return of Mike Pelfrey. Despite a solid spring, Twins fans are understandably wary of the lumbering righty after an injury riddled and just plain awful 2015. I won’t comment on Ricky Nolasco’s Tuesday start; suffice to say, he still has a lot to do to justify the four year $49 million deal he signed with the Twins prior to the 2014 season.
If the Twins intend to return to respectability (is that .500 or just not 90 losses?), the pressure on Kyle Gibson is at an all-time high. Minnesota’s promising 1st round pick from 2009 was initially derailed in his journey to the majors after Tommy John surgery in 2011. In his first full year in 2014 he was extremely inconsistent, looking at times unhittable and at others, well, more like Nolasco. Gibson rounded out the year with approximately league average numbers, his teams’ defense certainly not doing him any favors as his ERA of 4.47 didn’t match his FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 3.81.
Gibson benefited from the spacious confines of Target field and ended up as more of a fly ball pitcher than his pitch mix would suggest. In spite of this he did a great job in 2014 limiting home runs (1.6% compared to 2.4% league average) , extra base hits and walks, all three figures improving significantly from his big league debut in 2013. Gibson did struggle to generate ground balls and strikeouts (his 14.1% falling well below the league average of 20.1%).
Gibson committed to improving his changeup this off-season and in spring training in an attempt to have ‘an equalizer pitch’ against right handed hitters. Gibson threw the pitch just 12.5% of the time last season and is hoping to mix in more with his typical sinkerball (62.6%) and slider (21.8%) mix. Gibson also saw his velocity increase over spring, his fastball velocity frequently hitting 94 mph compared with his 2014 average which fell in a range of 90-92 mph.
Gibson had solid spring numbers, posting an ERA of 2.75 and WHIP of 1.02 to go along with an opponent’s batting average of just .186 in 5 March spring starts. While a notoriously poor predictor of regular season performance there are certainly signs that point towards Gibson continuing to make strides in his development into a reliable number 3 type starter for the Twins. 2015 will be a landmark year for Gibson, where he will be relied on to pitch a high volume and quality of innings. Gibson will have his chance to repay Twins’ fans patience and quietly anchor an embattled rotation until the return of Santana and the possible 2015 debuts of Trevor May and Alex Meyer.
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