Kyle Gibson and the Influence of Neil Allen
The most notable factor in the Twins remarkable first half of 2015 has been their starting pitching. Through the All-Star break, the Minnesota rotation has put up an MLB 11th best 3.86 ERA, over a full run better than their 2014 iteration (5.06). While the Twins starters are still subject to similar strengths (few walks – 5th best in MLB) and shortcomings (few strikeouts – 4th worst in MLB) undeniably, there has been a remarkable improvement.
This progress has been punctuated by an almost-All-Star caliber first half from 2009 1st round pick Kyle Gibson – who serves as a microcosm for the Twins’ pitching development. Gibson has put up impressive numbers thus far in 2015, the 8 game winner has already pitched over 113 innings and has ironed out some of his consistency issues from an up and down 2014 campaign. Gibson’s ERA of 2.83 is perhaps unsustainable given his xFIP (which measures what ERA might look like if a player was subject to league average results for balls in play) of 3.76 (would you even be mad if this was his ERA?) but looking at his other peripherals paints a pleasing portrait of improvement.
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Gibson has kept his steady walk rate in 2015. His K/9 has improved dramatically, from 5.37 in 2014 to 6.18 in 2015. Additionally, Gibson has stranded almost 81% of baserunners this season, well above his average for his previous two seasons (around 66%). While this rise maybe linked to an extremely low opposing hitter BaBIP of .268, Gibson’s increased consistency and higher propensity for striking out opposing hitters are undeniable. So what is the secret to Gibson’s 2015 success? Look no further than Twins pitching coach, Neil Allen.
Neil Allen has had a positive impact on the Twins entire rotation
Gibson has begun to use his changeup significantly more in 2015, almost 18% of the time, compared to around 12.5% in his previous two seasons. This may seem like a minimal increase, perhaps amounting to 5-7 pitches per start, but it certainly seems to have been impactful. Gibson has thrown his change 313 times in 2015, almost as many as he did in all of 2014. In that time, his changeup has led to the 2nd lowest opponent batting average of his pitches, just .193, compared with .242 in 2014. Gibson has also doubled the number of Ks his change has produced in 2015, up 11 to 22 by the All-Star break and second only to his slider. Opponents are swinging at Gibson’s changeup 60% of the time in 2015, compared with closer to 50% in 2014. Finally, 65% of changeups hit were ground balls, enabling it to become a significant weapon in Gibson’s arsenal.
Gibson has also given manager Paul Molitor some credit for his 2015 success. “He (Molitor) and our analytics guys have done a good job with positioning guys.” Molitor helped transform the defensive mindset of the Twins in his capacity as a coach under Ron Gardenhire, helping the Twins use 553 shifts in 2014, up from just 87 in 2003. Molitor has shown no fear of getting extremely creative with his infield alignments, even deploying a 5-man infield to back up Tommy Milone.
Gibson’s dramatic 2015 improvement has a variety of antecedents; Neil Allen’s influence and his pitch mixing, the development of his changeup as well as an upgraded defense and more creative positioning by Molitor. Even if Gibson doesn’t maintain his elite level through the second half, he’s given Twins fans a reason for optimism and is a key piece of a rotation that has put Minnesota in contention for meaningful September baseball.