Consistency Earned Kyle Gibson the Fifth Starter Job
When it was announced Minnesota Twins pitcher Scott Diamond went unclaimed through waivers and would not be named the fifth starter, the left-hander doffed his cap to his competition in Kyle Gibson.
The decision was a tough one, with the left-hander being out of options, but Gibson’s strong spring showing ultimately won him the job. What solidified his spot in the rotation, in the manager’s mind, was a combination of his stuff and his demeanor.
“The big power sinker. Right out of the get-go his ball was at a great angle and it was diving down. He just didn’t look like he was overwhelmed,” said Ron Gardenhire after the final spring training game of the year at Hammond Stadium. “Last year in spring training we saw him yanking pitches, when he came to the big league we saw him misfiring quite a bit. Catcher would be setting up inside and he would yank it all the way across the plate.”
Gibson missed his spots often but pitchf/x data does not suggest he was missing out of the strike zone. In fact, Gibson was one of the most demerited pitchers when it came to pitches in the zone actually being called balls.
Speaking in general to the blossoming benefits of framing, backstop Kurt Suzuki was questioned how much influence the catcher has over the calls versus the reputation and execution of the pitcher.
“I don’t put too much stock in that,” Suzuki said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think that has a lot to do with it but at the same time, what a pitcher does has a lot to do with it. If he’s all over the place, he’s obviously not going to get those borderline calls, no matter how good you make it look. If you are around the plate consistently, you are going to get those calls.”
In part, Gibson’s shrunken strike zone last year may have, had to do with his catchers. After all, he spent 40 of his 50 innings paired with Joe Mauer and Mauer, while a very solid receiver at gaining extra strikes at the top of the zone, had a history of not getting the calls at the bottom of the zone -- precisely where Gibson liked to work his sinker. At the same time, he was admittedly erratic with his pitches and failed to establish control.
Gibson, who spent ten starts in Minnesota attempting to exploit the edges of the strike zone, said that in the moment he did not notice the scales perhaps being unfairly tipped to the hitter’s advantage.
“On borderline pitches whether you’re a pitcher, hitter, catcher, whatever, it’s tough to really tell where that was,” remarked Gibson. “The way umpires can actually call those pitches as well as they do is pretty amazing, honestly.”
To the naked eye, it is hard to call those pitches that fall within a fraction of an inch of the invisible strike zone. The cameras in the sky have a different perspective. According to the data, Gibson had just 73% of his in-zone pitches called strikes, well below the 81% average.
Gibson believes that, if there was an effect, it likely stemmed from his inability to locate his pitches consistently.
“What I was always taught in college was the more you get an umpire calling a strike, the more he’s going to call strikes on the borderline part,” he said. “And the fact of the matter was I was getting behind a lot and when it’s 1-0 and 2-0 and you’ve repeatedly shown that you can’t locate right there on the edge of the plate, you probably are not going to get that call.”
That is the area that Gibson would like to focus on the most: working ahead in the count. This spring, his three walks in 16.1 innings suggest he has made strides in that department, but he recognizes that the improvement needs to come north with him.
“Hopefully this year, if I am able to pound the zone and go back to those same pitches, then I might get more of those calls. But you've got to get ahead and earn the fact that you can hit that spot and I just wasn’t doing that.”
If his spring performance has been any indication, he should be ready.
“He’s been real consistent,” said Gardenhire. “Getting pretty close to the glove with a good angle and a hard slider and when he’s doing that, it’s hard for hitters to get on him. If he’s got that power sinker going -- at about 91, 92, 93 miles per hour. And that’s what he’s done this spring, really in control of himself.”