The Change: Kyle Gibson

This week’s column is about a surprisingly good change-up. Because as Kyle Gibson ascended the ranks in Minnesota’s farm system, there were questions about his change piece. He’s thrown over 300 of them now, and it looks good, and now the questions have changed. The new question may be harder to answer.

When it comes to the ten-mph gap that you want for whiffs from your change, Gibson comes up just a bit short at eight mph difference. But the change drops more than three inches more than his sinker, and that combo of velocity difference and drop has been effective. Where an above-average change-up gets 13% whiffs, Gibson’s has gotten 16.6% so far. And since he’s a ground-ball guy, it’s good to note that he’s got a 58% ground-ball rate on the pitch too. By all accounts, 343 change-ups in, it’s a good pitch.

That seems like a decent sample, even if it’s only about three full starts worth of pitches. Strikeout rate stabilizes near 130 batters faced, and at about four pitches per plate appearance across baseball, that’s around 500 pitches. Given we’re dealing with swinging strike rate and not strikeout rate, I’d say we can believe these stats on Gibson’s change-up.

And so Gibson has a 3.62 FIP against lefties and a 3.81 FIP against righties, and you’d say that his change, along with his good slider (18% whiffs, 44% grounders) has kept the dreaded platoon splits at bay.

But not quite. Against lefties, Gibson only strikes out 9.2% of the batters he sees, which is half of the strikeouts he gets against righties. So far, he’s suppressed the homers against lefties, but how long will that last if he allows so many of them to make contact.

That’s a bit of a headscratcher, as well as his overall strikeout rate. If his change is good, and his slider is good, and his sinker is average or better (6% whiffs, 62% ground balls), why does he strike out a batter only once every two innings? Why do his platoon splits still look so iffy?

Probably because he’s still throwing the fastball 65% of the time. Even against lefties, when he throws the change more often (20%), he’s throwing the fastball 67% of the time. Against righties, he throws fewer fastballs (62%) and his overall strikeout rate jumps. So if he would pitch a little less to contact, he has the potential to strike more people out.

Too bad he’s on the Twins.

There’s some hope for change. Check out his sinker usage by game over his career, according to BrooksBaseball:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

In general, Gibson is already throwing the fastball a little less. And two of the three best strikeout games of the year have come in the last two outings. I don’t think this is coincidence.

As it stands right now, it’s a little risky to take a pitcher with Gibson’s track record and rest of season projections and throw him in a mixed league. But at home, against a weaker offense? Sure. In a deeper league? Sure. In a deeper dynasty league? Definitely worth a look. Especially if he starts throwing his change and slider more often and gets a few strike threes.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

14 Responses to “The Change: Kyle Gibson”

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  1. atoms says:

    Strike threes, or strikes three? Should it be like attorneys general? :)

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  2. MLB Rainmaker says:

    “To bad he’s on the Twins”

    So I know what you’re saying here….I mean I know it. On one hand the Twins have an extraordinary minor league system in that they hammer home fundamentals with all their minor leaguers…but at the same time, they famously parted with David Ortiz because he refused to bunt (I get there were more reasons) and similarly made Carlos Gomez hit for contact, not power which he changed when he got to MIL.

    But still say it for me Eno….the Twins actively coach their players to pitch to contact (over missing bats) and hit for average (over power).

    And to take it home, do you believe this strategy is damaging to the franchise?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I’ll stay away from the hitting portion, but it’s pretty well-documented that they like pitching to contact and their major league k-rate speaks to it. As for it’s effectiveness in general, it’s debatable. For fantasy, yes detrimental.

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      • Cool WHIP says:

        It’s pretty well-documented that they have liked pitching to contact *in the past*.

        This is the organization that traded for Trevor May and Alex Meyer, both of whom had BB% red flags surrounding them at the times of their respective acquisitions. This is also an organization that has made a distinct effort to target power arms in the draft– I do believe a shift in organizational philosophy is afoot.

        I hate to sound preach-y, but the narrative of the Twins’ love for pitching to contact is beginning to grow tired. As a Twins fan, I hope no one will have reason to perpetuate it several years from now.

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      • Travis L says:

        @CoolWHIP – the Twins are still last in MLB in K/9. As they always are.

        I’m sorry that it hurts your feelings but I think we should wait and see what happens at the MLB level before we remove that narrative.

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      • Cool WHIP says:

        Travis- While it’s convenient to look at the surface of the issue (present performance), a modest investigation of the front office’s recent behavior suggests a possible change in the trend. Due diligence- no hurt feelings my friend!

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    • Cool WHIP says:

      Ortiz, yes, that was a fatal move– even given the information the organization had at the time, there is hardly ever a reason to cut bait on a guy who produces at a rate 18% above league average.

      Your claim about Gomez is rather lazy, however. ’09 was his last year with the Twins. Gomez stalled for several years in the minors, finally managing to post a wRC+ of 103 in 2012. In 2013 he broke out and evolved into the hitter we observe today.

      To suggest the Twins singularly hindered his growth as a hitter is sublimely absurd. If you’re looking for a scapegoat, consider the Mets organization that rushed him to the majors.

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      • MLB Rainmaker says:

        Here you go —

        On more than one occassion Gomez has said the Twins wanted him to be a slap hitter.

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      • Cool WHIP says:

        The Twins didn’t handle Gomez perfectly, but he didn’t live up to his true talent until a good 4 years after he left the organization. Hard to pin his woes exclusively on the Twins backward thinking.

        Papi was already producing when the Twins let him go. There is far more to criticize in the Twins’ handling of Papi than Gomez.

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      • Tim says:

        Papi didn’t make much sense from a player evaluation perspective, but that wasn’t the only thing going on at the time. The arbitration rules then were particularly problematic, and the Red Sox ended up signing him for a quarter of what the Twins would have had to pay to retain him. It’s hard to justify paying 4x market value for a DH with injury issues.

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      • Cool WHIP says:

        And it’s pretty hard to justify the release of anyone who puts up a wRC+ of 118 with solid peripherals. The additional cost of keeping him was a $1m raise in salary. Hardly a mountainous sum.

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  3. Jimmer says:

    Whether it’s true or not, it always seemed the Twins preferred to teach pitch to contact to the extreme, because these kind of pitchers are, for the most part, less expensive to maintain than strikeout guys, even if they are effective. They also require position players behind them that are defensive minded first, and those kind of players are also less expensive than offensive minded first players. Power hitters are expensive, so teaching batters to use the whole field (which is a good idea BTW) will likely cut down on power and, again, unless they are awesome at it, are going to be less expensive. Twins used to have a reason to focus on acquiring and developing players like this on a consistent basis…they just didn’t have the revenue that Target Field can bring in.

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  4. Tim says:

    Of course, if he weren’t on the Twins, lefties would probably have hit a lot more home runs.

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  5. Ruki Motomiya says:

    And what could the Diamondbacks use? The Change: Kirk Gibson.

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