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Whiff Of Success: Gibson Making Bats Miss

WHIFF.

Ahh, that sweet onomatopoeia: the sound of a pitch whooshing past a bat untouched. Music to a hurler's ears.

It's a song Kyle Gibson hasn't heard as often as one would hope, or expect. Until lately.
Image courtesy of Dan Hamilton, USA Today
In 2005, the Twins used their first-round pick to draft Matt Garza, a pitcher who has gone on to throw 1,700 major-league innings in an altogether successful career (albeit one spent mostly outside of Minnesota).

Since then, the organization has used 10 first-round selections (including supplemental picks) on arms, with a woefully low hit rate. The list is a collection of washouts, disappointments and case studies in the perils of prospecting young pitchers – with two exceptions.

Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson. The former has entrenched himself as an ongoing rotation staple. The latter had seemingly erased himself from that conversation during the past two seasons.

But now, when the team needs him most, Gibson is making a late case by – at long last – getting the most out of his stuff.

I've always counted myself as a Gibson fan. I remember on draft day in 2009, when the Twins landed him with the 22nd overall pick, thinking what a steal he was. Following an outstanding career at the University of Missouri, he slid to the late first round due to concerns about a forearm issue, enabling Minnesota to snag a talent worthy of going in the Top 15. He was the prototype of a quality pitcher: tall and lanky, with a hard sinker that careened downhill from his big frame.

He made the Twins look smart with a phenomenal first year in the pros, rising all the way to Triple-A in 2010. He was on track for a fast MLB debut before Tommy John surgery in 2011 stalled his momentum, but came back strong and joined the big-league ranks in 2013.

Gibson followed the same progressive path that many young players do. He struggled mightily in his first exposure to the majors, then showed moderate improvement in Year 2, and finally seemed to come into his own the following season (Byron Buxton, anyone?).

That third year – 2015 – signaled that the right-hander was putting together all the pieces: he ranked among the top 10 grounder rates in the majors, posted the best strikeout rate of his career, and averaged more than six innings over 32 starts.

At age 28, he appeared poised to keep growing in 2016, but much like the team as a whole, it was Total System Failure for Gibson. All of his promising trends turned the wrong way as he struggled through a tumultuous campaign, finishing with a 5.07 ERA and 1.56 WHIP.

Afterward, he acknowledged he'd been dealing with back and shoulder discomfort for much of the summer, even outside of his five-week trip to the disabled list. He battled through 25 starts, frequently relying on anti-inflammatory meds.

Searching for answers, Gibson went through an offseason program that involved completely overhauling his routine and mechanics. As Star Tribune's Phil Miller put it, the revamp was "an entirely new way of delivering the baseball, about as fundamental a change as a pitcher can make."

Sounds like something that could take a while to coalesce, but during spring training it looked as though Gibson's efforts were paying immediate dividends. In Grapefruit League play, he was as good as ever, dominating opposing lineups while flashing electric stuff and, by his account, feeling great.

Once the season started, however, things went totally off the rails for Gibson. He didn't record a quality start for the Twins until June 8th, spending much of May in Triple-A. By late July, when he and his 6.08 ERA were sent back to Rochester in order to make room for newly acquired Jaime Garcia, it appeared Gibson had essentially played his way out of the team's plans.

But in August, the embattled starter came back with a vengeance. With an excellent outing in Toronto on Sunday, Gibson wrapped up the best month he's had in a long time. Suddenly, he had resolved the issues that plagued him for the better part of two years. He was throwing in the zone (seven walks in five starts). He was keeping the ball down (only three homers).

And most notably, Gibson was finally missing bats. His 12.8% swinging strike rate towered over his career norm, and is in line with the season rates for top-tier strikeout artists like Stephen Strasburg and Zack Greinke.

In his August 22nd start against the White Sox, when he tossed seven innings of one-run ball, Gibson induced 17 swings and misses. Only two Twins have produced more whiffs in a start this year: Ervin Santana (26 in a complete game win against the Padres on 8/2) and Berrios (19 in his 11 K game against Colorado).

With his hard sinker and sharp slider, Gibson always seemed like a guy who should get more hitters to miss. This month, it's been happening in fairly consistent fashion, and the results are beginning to reflect a pitcher with renewed confidence and legit comfort on the mound.

Is it possible his alterations and adjustments just took a few months to fully reach fruition? It is still too early to draw such conclusions, but lately Gibson is truly looking as good as he has in years. And he's doing it at a time where the Twins, in the thick of the postseason race, desperately need it.

Whiffs, grounders and wins. Music to their ears.

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124 Comments

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yarnivek1972
Aug 31 2017 02:48 AM
Is it possible that Toronto and Chicago are simply two last place teams with marginal talent and even less motivation?
    • Mike Sixel and mikelink45 like this
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AlwaysinModeration
Aug 31 2017 04:27 AM
Yes, it is possible. It is also possible your refrain is getting old. Nick brings up some interesting points in the article worth noting.

Gibson pitched a 3.90 ERA in 5 August starts. Getting 12.5% swinging strikes is a big deal - and it has helped him get out of some innings that he has otherwise been unable to escape.

If he really redid his motion, that is a big deal, and it makes sense that it would take a long time to solidify. Gibson also confirmed that he moved to a different spot on the rubber, giving himself a better angle.

Gibson has certainly been teetering for awhile. But maybe he isn't quite ready to get off the merry-go-round yet.
    • Nick Nelson, glunn, pbrezeasap and 5 others like this

 

Is it possible that Toronto and Chicago are simply two last place teams with marginal talent and even less motivation?

They are #14 and #12 in AL OPS. Surprises me about Toronto, that lineup was still pretty intimidating last week -- though maybe that's just the names involved.

    • Danchat and Sconnie like this

I'm surprised to be saying this but I'd be happy with the Twins bringing back Gibson next year. He's going to get a raise but it won't be prohibitive and this year showed that starting pitching depth is always an issue. I'm fine with him competing for the #5 starter job in spring training. Does he have any options left? If he does, definitely in. If not, he can be a long man I guess. I don't think he'd be the worst bullpen arm - he's got swing and miss stuff when he puts it together.

    • glunn, pbrezeasap, LA VIkes Fan and 2 others like this
My belief is if there is a real difference, it's that somebody convinced him to throw his four seam FB more, and throw at the top of the zone.

Hitters have to respect the increased velo, which helps keep them off his pedestrian two seamer and slider.
    • Brock Beauchamp, Carole Keller, glunn and 9 others like this
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Twinfan & Dad
Aug 31 2017 06:16 AM
Could he have learned something from watching Colon?
    • glunn likes this
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Brock Beauchamp
Aug 31 2017 06:50 AM

I'm not willing to say the Twins should bring back Gibson yet but I'm trying to keep an open mind.

    • Carole Keller, USAFChief, Yoke and 11 others like this

I was a big Gibson supporter - up until a few weeks into this season. After years of repeating "once he puts it all together" - I gave up all hope that he would, in fact, put anything together. By July I was in the same mindset as the Twins' FO - sit in Rochester, you're not needed. 

 

I'm hesitant to jump back in on the Gibson bandwagon. I've seen this too often to fully believe he's suddenly morphed into the pitcher we all had thought he could be all along. 

 

With that said, his recent success has moved me from mid-season cynic - "Oh, Gibson's on the mound tonight? Maybe I don't need to watch" - to interested to see how he finishes out the year. I'm not writing him off yet. Given his first few months - that's a pretty good endorsement. 

    • Brock Beauchamp, Carole Keller, USAFChief and 12 others like this

Sign him and let him fight for the 5th starter spot next year. He's got more potential than some of the other AAAA starters (Dillon Gee!!) that they've trotted out there.

    • glunn, markos, howieramone2 and 1 other like this

I'll bring this point up for anyone who shoots on a regular basis as reference. 

 

Anyone who has ever professionally instructed someone on the range can tell you almost to a point, it is far easier to teach/instruct a neophyte than a seasoned veteran. The neophyte has no bad or ingrained habits, and thus is moldable, more teachable and open to suggestion.  

 

The experienced shooter... not so much. Not that most are unwilling to listen or learn (those folks who aren't are REALLY fun), but they often have years of (sometimes cringe worthy bad) habits to undo. This takes time and often hundreds or even thousands of repetitions to learn new muscular and neural pathways. This also assumes that they are repeating the new and proper methods well... properly.  

 

Note: Practice does not make perfect. If you practice what you are trying to do wrong, or practice the wrong thing... you only get good at doing it the wrong way. Perfect practice makes perfect.

 

So after my wandering diatribe has hopefully focused enough to allow me to get to the point, I have to agree with Nick. Hopefully Gibson is finally comfortable with and trusts his new mechanics. This month's results seem to indicate that might be the case. 

 

Does it stick? I hope so, as I for one just can't understand why people (especially Twins fans) are actively rooting for him to fail. Gibson's stuff has never been in question, it's MLB quality and that is beyond question.  

 

I just really hope that he truly trusts it, and himself enough now to believe that.

    • Nick Nelson, glunn, brvama and 4 others like this

I don't know.  Seems to me that when we have written him off on here he makes a case that he can be good and when we post that he has turned a corner in the good direction, he tanks.  Cmon TD. We need to do our part also.  If his next start isn't quality get him out of here.

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diehardtwinsfan
Aug 31 2017 07:43 AM

 

I'll bring this point up for anyone who shoots on a regular basis as reference. 

 

Anyone who has ever professionally instructed someone on the range can tell you almost to a point, it is far easier to teach/instruct a neophyte than a seasoned veteran. The neophyte has no bad or ingrained habits, and thus is moldable, more teachable and open to suggestion.  

 

The experienced shooter... not so much. Not that most are unwilling to listen or learn (those folks who aren't are REALLY fun), but they often have years of (sometimes cringe worthy bad) habits to undo. This takes time and often hundreds or even thousands of repetitions to learn new muscular and neural pathways. This also assumes that they are repeating the new and proper methods well... properly.  

 

Note: Practice does not make perfect. If you practice what you are trying to do wrong, or practice the wrong thing... you only get good at doing it the wrong way. Perfect practice makes perfect.

 

So after my wandering diatribe has hopefully focused enough to allow me to get to the point, I have to agree with Nick. Hopefully Gibson is finally comfortable with and trusts his new mechanics. This month's results seem to indicate that might be the case. 

 

Does it stick? I hope so, as I for one just can't understand why people (especially Twins fans) are actively rooting for him to fail. Gibson's stuff has never been in question, it's MLB quality and that is beyond question.  

 

I just really hope that he truly trusts it, and himself enough now to believe that.

 

No one is actively rooting for Gibson to fail. Most everyone is out of patience with Gibson. I was willing to give him 2017, but he's been bad this year. The real concern as I see it is that he came on strong in the second half in 2014 and 2015. I'm glad he's doing it again in 2017, as we need it now.The question is whether this Gibson is what we can expect going forward or if this is just another April fools joke on Twins fans. I'm not sure I'm comfortable going into 2018 with Gibson in the 4 spot. But like Brock said, I'll keep an open mind.

    • Mike Sixel, brvama, mikelink45 and 4 others like this

 

No one is actively rooting for Gibson to fail. Most everyone is out of patience with Gibson. I was willing to give him 2017, but he's been bad this year. The real concern as I see it is that he came on strong in the second half in 2014 and 2015. I'm glad he's doing it again in 2017, as we need it now.The question is whether this Gibson is what we can expect going forward or if this is just another April fools joke on Twins fans. I'm not sure I'm comfortable going into 2018 with Gibson in the 4 spot. But like Brock said, I'll keep an open mind.

Sorry, should have said "some". Didn't mean to imply all.

 

And yes, I'd have to agree. I was very disheartened to see the first half of this year. Just hoping something finally clicks in his head, and we see the pitcher he truly could be. 

    • glunn likes this
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Taildragger8791
Aug 31 2017 07:53 AM

 

Does it stick? I hope so, as I for one just can't understand why people (especially Twins fans) are actively rooting for him to fail. Gibson's stuff has never been in question, it's MLB quality and that is beyond question.

 

Can we stop framing this as if people are actively rooting for him to fail? I haven't seen anyone hoping for that and it's rudely misrepresentative. I'm sure everyone here would be ecstatic if he leveled off to a reliable #4/#5 starter.

 

What I have seen is a lot of people that have lost trust in him and won't be quick to believe he's not the same Gibson that occassionally puts a couple games together against bad teams only to go off the rails again. He doesn't have any equity built up right now and needs to continue to perform over a longer timespan and against better lineups before he'll start to earn it back.

    • Mike Sixel, jimmer and Original Whizzinator like this

I just want the team to give the competition a real chance to knock Gibson out of the rotation.  If they can't he is #5 and we are okay, but if they do push him I do not want a veterans bonus point to be the difference.  Gibson has had 2 good years - not great - out of five.  https://www.baseball...gibsoky01.shtmlThat is not enough to guarantee him anything.  

 

What I want to see is one of the video comparisons that I see on so many of these pages - Gibson old versus Gibson new mechanics - has anyone really seen the difference other than the fact he has been jolted by demotions and used against losing teams?

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Brock Beauchamp
Aug 31 2017 08:10 AM

 

If you watch Gibson (like actually sit and watch, not background music for instagram), you'll see there are real improvements over the last handful of starts. He's figured something out.

While I agree that it appears he's been pitching differently - I haven't thrown up my hands in frustration watching 1-1 counts turn to 3-1 counts in two pitches - his most recent and pronounced success has come against two of the worst offenses in the league.

 

I'm going to need more data to show me whether Gibson is actually better or the offenses he's facing are worse.

    • USAFChief, glunn, Mike Sixel and 4 others like this

 

While I agree that it appears he's been pitching differently - I haven't thrown up my hands in frustration watching 1-1 counts turn to 3-1 counts in two pitches - his most recent and pronounced success has come against two of the worst offenses in the league.

 

I'm going to need more data to show me whether Gibson is actually better or the offenses he's facing are worse.

 

In a playoff race, I'm not sure if I want to see more data to show whether Gibson is better, or facing worse offenses. I think as far as playoff teams go, the Twins have the Yankees and Cleveland left to play in the regular season. I wouldn't feel confident letting Gibson start in those series.... 

 

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Brock Beauchamp
Aug 31 2017 08:45 AM

 

In a playoff race, I'm not sure if I want to see more data to show whether Gibson is better, or facing worse offenses. I think as far as playoff teams go, the Twins have the Yankees and Cleveland left to play in the regular season. I wouldn't feel confident letting Gibson start in those series.... 

But honestly, we should feel that way about 60% of the rotation.

    • USAFChief, PDX Twin, Vanimal46 and 3 others like this

I never felt that Gibson was as bad as we were seeing, but yes I can't explain or defend his seemingly eternal struggles.

 

It doesn't surprise me that he is pitching well. It doesn't change the fact that he is gone at the end of the year. The Twins should use him while he is pitching well, and I hope he has a good career in another uniform from next year on.

 

Maybe the Twins win a playoff series or two and he is lights out in the playoffs, then they can consider keeping him. Beyond that, I wish him well. I expect he will have an OK career post-Twins.

    • MN_ExPat likes this

 

But honestly, we should feel that way about 60% of the rotation.

 

Yeah... that's fair to say. Bartolo has grown on me where he'd be #3 on my confidence list. Mejia (when he returns) and Gibson are pretty much 4A and 4B.  

    • Taildragger8791 likes this

 

But honestly, we should feel that way about 60% of the rotation.

80%You need tofeel like your starter gives you a chance to win against the best teams in the playoffs

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Mike Frasier Law
Aug 31 2017 09:06 AM

Second half statistics:

 

Pitcher   IP   k/9   bb/9  hr/9  GB% ERA   xFIP WAR

Berrios   47    8.81  3.06  .77    34.6  4.21  4.46  1.1

Gibson   41    8.56   3.07  .66   54.9  4.17  3.62   1.0

Santana 55.2  8.89 2.75   1.46 36.8  3.88  4.58   0.8

    • glunn, LA VIkes Fan, Dave The Dastardly and 1 other like this

I am sorry but this article is way over optimistic about Gibson due to his success against two thoroughly mediocre teams. Also included in his 'great' month is a 3.90 ERA and 2 games where he didn't make it through the 5th inning.

I need to see a little (I mean A LOT) more before he is even an option for next year. That bridge has been burned for me to be honest. The Twins need starting rotation arms of any kind to finish the season and somehow stay in the playoff hunt but they should be completely prepared to find better options than a starter finishing his 4th full season with a very high 4's ERA that is trending higher.

Taking a split from the all star break is just a little too convenient for me. He just happened to throw one of his worst games of the season immediately before the AS break.

    • Mike Sixel and Vanimal46 like this
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Brock Beauchamp
Aug 31 2017 09:21 AM

 

80%You need tofeel like your starter gives you a chance to win against the best teams in the playoffs

Both Santana and Berrios qualify under those circumstances.

 

Will either of them beat Kershaw? No, probably not, but that's an unreasonable standard to hold a human being.

 

But both of them can give you a 3 ER, 6 IP game against the best teams.

    • Mike Sixel, Mike Frasier Law, beckmt and 2 others like this

I've brought this up on other threads, but it is probably worth bringing up again here: Since the end of May, Gibson has been perfectly fine as a #5 starter. Starting since his May 28 start against the Rays, he has:

4.55 ERA - AL average is 4.56
4.55 FIP - AL average is 4.58
53.1% GB rate

 

He has had very solid starts against TOR, CHW, DET, LAA (twice), SEA. He has had decent starts against CLE, TEX, HOU. Over the past 3 months, he has only had three starts where he has given up more than 3 runs. Yes, he is still giving up more contact than one would like. Yes, he is walking too many batters. And yes, he has definitely benefited by having a short lease. But overall, this level of performance is pretty good for the back of the rotation, even for a contending team. He has performed similarly to guys like Josh Tomlin, Tanner Roark, John Lackey and Jaime Garcia, not to mention just about anyone of the staffs of LAA, BAL, SEA and COL.

 

Also, I think it is a no-brainer to bring him back next year. He is going to get a modest raise in arbitration, but he still is only going to get something like $5-6M, which is perfectly fine for back-end starter on a 1-year-deal.

    • pbrezeasap, h2oface, LA VIkes Fan and 3 others like this

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