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:
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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