Parsing data too small can create unreasonable expectations. As an astute reader, I don’t need to remind you to take any small samples with a grain of salt. However, if you wait for a player’s stats to normalize, the ship has likely sailed for acquiring him for free. With that in mind, I’m intrigued by Kyle Gibson’s numbers of late. Even his full-season totals offer some optimism for him being a useful pitcher in deep leagues. He’s widely available (CBS: 14%, ESPN: 3.0%, Yahoo!: 10%) and probably worth a look if you’re pitching starved.
Entering the season, I was a fan of Gibson — along with some other arms who have underachieved. He started the year poorly and hit the disabled list with a right shoulder strain following a start on April 22nd. He missed the remainder of the month and all of May before returning to the active roster and getting knocked around a bit — five earned runs on seven hits and one walk in 5.2 innings — by the Boston Red Sox on June 11th. Boston is the best offense in baseball versus RHPs, so I’ll cut him some slack for the rough outing. Since that turn, he’s made four more with intriguing results.
In the 28-year-old’s last four starts, he’s totaled 26.0 innings with a 52.7% groundball rate, 6.7% walk rate, 21.0% strikeout rate, 1.19 WHIP, 3.12 ERA, 3.78 FIP and 3.51 xFIP. The fielding independent pitching numbers and the surface stats are ownable, but there’s more! Hitters are fishing out of the zone against Gibson at a rate that’s 6.3% higher than the league average this year (29.4% league average and 35.7% O-Swing in Gibson’s last four starts). The righty is also missing more bats of late with a palatable 9.8% SwStr% that’s nearly league average (10.0% this season). And look at that, his 21.0% strikeout in his last four starts matches the league average of 21.0% this year!
Not surprisingly, the new bat-missing ability coincides with a reduced reliance on his fourseam fastball and sinker. In his last four starts, Gibson has thrown his fourseamer and sinker a combined 53.7% of the time. Last year marked his single-season low usage of his heaters at 57.9%. Of late, he’s thrown his curve 7.9% of the time, his slider 17.7% of the time and his changeup 20.7% of the time. His fourseam fastball has generated a 0% whiff rate and his sinker is responsible for a 1.05% whiff rate in his last four starts, according to Brooks Baseball. The sinker is useful for its ability to coax worm burners (60.0% GB per balls in play), though. His curve has an 8.33% whiff rate and a 66.67% GB rate in that time frame, but it’s his changeup and slider that are fueling his strikeout rate improvement. His changeup has a 18.75% whiff rate and his slider’s whiff rate sits at 22.52%.
Digging a little deeper, there’s more to like. Among starters who’ve pitched a minimum of 50 innings in 2016, Gibson ranks 15th in groundball rate (53.5%). That’s not the only contact data to like. Using the same 50 innings minimum, Gibson has tallied the ninth lowest Hard% (25.6%) and the 11th highest Soft% (23.3%). The Hard% doesn’t look flukey, either. In 2014 and 2015, he sported a 26.6% Hard% in 374.0 innings pitched. During that same two-year stretch, he owned a 17.3% Soft%. There might be some regression in line for his soft hit balls, but avoiding hard contact looks like a potentially repeatable skill for 2009 first-round pick in the MLB Amateur Draft. Add everything up — his better than league average walk rate of late, improved strikeout rate and favorable contact rates — and Gibson is worth speculating on in large mixed leagues and AL-only formats.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.