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Back to the future: Twins RHP Kyle Gibson has returned to his roots and quietly has become the pitcher we hoped he would be.




Twins Video

Originally published at The Tenth Inning Stretch


In a cold May evening about 5 years go, give or take a week, I witnessed one of the most dominating pitching performances I have seen in person: Twins' first round draft pick in 2009, righty Kyle Gibson, about a year removed from his return from Tommy John surgery, shut down the Lehigh Valley IronPigs with a three-hitter, carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning. This was when the Twins were on their way to another season flirting with 100 losses and were conflicting reports regarding Gibson's pitching, so I really wanted to see what Gibson could do. In person. Here is how I described his performance 5 years ago:


I was very lucky to be there because this was a magnificent pitching performance by Gibson. I came in with an open mind and nothing to expect and I left a strong believer in that Gibson is the best starting pitcher the Twins have today. A bit about his performance, and I am not going to get into things like numbers, which you can read elsewhere: He had four pitches that he threw when he wanted with a great command. His fastball was his primary pitch and was sitting from 92-94 all night long. It spiked to 95 a few times and went to 91 a couple. It was at 94 in the 9th inning as well. in the first 5 innings he mostly threw his fastball and his slider, which ran from 84 to 86 and really kept the IronPigs' hitters off balance, causing a lot of swings and misses. Have to mention that Gibson had impeccable command of the fastball: he would locate it up and down and inside and out. And throw it at the dirt when he wanted to. In the latest innings he started throwing more his change up that was running from 81-83 mph with a good late motion; also he featured a tight slow curve (78-80 mph) that I did not realize he had. He threw that pitch a few times late in the game. He was totally on top of his game today. In addition to what he did on the field, a thing that really impressed me was his composure in the dugout, knowing that he was having a no-hitter: he was sitting there cheering his teammates and clapping when they were batting, instead of being "in his own world" and apathetic about the game. This was a dominating performance that, I think that won him his first trip to the majors. Frankly, I thought that I will witness history and it was that close...


After the game ended, Gibson was interviewed in the dugout after the game, and when that was done, I yelled something like "Great game! See you in Minnesota soon, Kyle!" towards him, and he smiled and dismissed the Minnesota part with a hand gesture. My answer was a "We'll see!".


LENIII penned this about that game the next day:


Class AAA Rochester righthander Kyle Gibson had his best outing of the year on Sunday, taking a no hitter into the eighth inning before finishing with a three-hit complete game shutout as the Red Wings beat Lehigh Valley 11-0. Gibson needed just 93 pitches for his gem – 58 were strikes, 35 were balls. He walked two and struck out eight as his record Improved to 3-5 with a 3.25 ERA


In retrospect nobody noticed the fact that Gibby threw only 62% of his pitches for strikes or noted that it might have been something undesirable, because you cannot argue with the results.


Fast forward a bit over a month. June 29th. I was happened to be in the East suburbs of St. Paul that week for work. A friend of mine who is a season ticket holder treated me to one of his tickets at the Delta sky360 club, so I got to witness, Gibson's first major league start. In that game, he beat the Royals (who were actually starting Wade Davis) in a six inning, 8 hit, 5 strikeout, 2 run performance. He threw 91 pitches and 64 for strikes (70%).


The next several years have been up and down for Gibson, until his 3 game demotion to Rochester last season. He came back and pitched 11 games, of which the Twins won 9, striking out 8.4 per 9 innings, and walking about 2.1 per nine, while throwing only 63% of his pitches for strikes. And nobody thought that this was a bad thing. In 8 games that season, of which the Twins have won 5, he has been striking out 10.1 per nine, walking 4.4 per nine, and throwing 59% of his pitches for strikes (which only some Twins' TV broadcasters think its a bad thing, based on the comments in his Angel's start.)


What happened to that Kyle Gibson of five years ago in my back yard, and what happened for him to slowly appear to be back?


My hypothesis is that Kyle Gibson got Ricked and Neiled out of shape, being forced to be a pitcher he is not. Both Rick Anderson and Neil Allen, his previous pitching coaches have been stressing "pounding the strike zone" and inducing soft contact either with the sinker or the changeup. And this approach had been a top to bottom approach in the organization, in the previous Twins' front office. Change happened and it is a good thing. The new pitching approach throughout the organization is try to get ahead of the count and then let them chance, either outside, or inside or high.


And this has been working for Kyle Gibson who went back to his roots. In Saturday's game against the Angels, he even brought back his rarely thrown and ever rarer for strikes curveball when he faces certain batters the second time. That description up there of his performance with Rochester, against Lehigh Valley five years ago, would be pretty close to what he did against the Angels, save a hit or few... Gibson has been pitching to his strengths and it took an organizational overhaul to allow him (and the rest of the Twins' pitchers) to do that. Other than Fernando Romero who pitched only two games and will be the Twins' future ace, Gibson leads the Twins' starters in ERA, FIP, K% and K/9, fWAR, and is second only to Berrios in innings pitched per start.


It seems that Gibson is finally the pitcher we all thought that he will be five years ago. Better late than never, and I hope that it is here to stay.


And a parting food for thought about those who might be bothered by the strike percentage and Gibson's walks: This season Gibson's K/9 and BB/9 numbers are up there. The pitcher who struck out the most batters in baseball, has a career 9.5 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9, both worse than Gibson's numbers this season. Not that Gibson is close to Nolan Ryan; however strikeout pitchers walk hitters as well, and hitters strike out often on balls and hit strikes. It is ok. Results are what matters.



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