The Big Switch: Kyle Gibson
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The Twins switched their plan by including Gibson on the roster and he switched around the direction of their homestand. They had signed four free agent pitchers over the last two years to fill the five spots in their starting rotation. That left one spot. Officially, Gibson was one of the candidates, but by no means the favorite.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
The competition was supposed to be between three pitchers – Vance Worley, Scott Diamond and Sam Deduno – all of whom were out of options, meaning they would need to be offered free of charge to other teams if they didn’t make the Twins roster. Gibson was not out of options, so the Twins could send him to AAA without fear of losing him.
Instead, by the last week of March, Worley had been traded, Deduno had been moved to the bullpen and Diamond had been been demoted to AAA-Rochester. Gibson and his 2.20 spring ERA were traveling with the club to chillier climes. The colder weather has suited him. He won his first start of the year in Cleveland when it was 36 degrees with a 24mph wind.
The Twins are looking to switch things around this year. Every week, Metro Transit recognizes a Twins player who successfully switched the outcome of a game for the better.
But it’s his second start that garners the “Switch of the Week” award. The Twins had started their opening 2014 homestand 0-3 with the starting pitcher shouldering most of the blame in each of the three losses. One by one the free agents had dug the team an early hole. Kevin Correia had given up five runs in the first three innings of the home opener. Phil Hughes had given up four runs before the Twins got their first at-bat in the second game of the season. Mike Pelfrey gave up five runs in his first four innings on Thursday afternoon.
Gibson started down that road: a wild pitch led to a run in the first inning. But he limited the damage and then held the line for the next five innings while the offense rallied for seven runs to put the game safely away. He thus earned his second win in two starts, tying the total he earned over 10 starts last year. He also kicked off a string of quality starts through the remainder of the Royals series. Whether it a happy coincidence or not, the Twins starting rotation has looked totally different since Gibson took the mound on Friday.
It’s easy to be optimistic about his future. Before he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, Gibson was a top pitching prospect in the Twins minor leagues. After a year of recovery, his arrival last year was highly anticipated, which made the 6.53 ERA he posted that much more disappointing. But he was still recovering from the surgery, and approaching the team's innings limit for him when was recalled at the end of June. This year his arm should be more prepared for the challenges of a long major league season.
But there are also indicators the suggest some caution. It’s unusual for a starting pitcher to have long-term success with a below average strikeout rate. Through two starts, Gibson’s sits at just 4.8, far below the league average of 7. It’s also unusual for a pitcher to have success if he’s walking nearly as many batters as he is striking out. Gibson has walked more (8) than he has struck out (6).
So another switch isn’t out of the question, and it could be a switch for the worse. On the other hand, Gibson is a sinker ball pitcher – strikeout rate isn’t quite as important for a pitcher who relies on hitters hitting groundballs at his infielders. Whatever the future, though March and April, Gibson has been one of the Twins most pleasant surprises and most consistent starters, which is a switch that we all can embrace.
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