COMMENTARY | The Minnesota Twins sent rookie starting pitcher Kyle Gibson back down to Class AAA Rochester on Monday, August 19, which wasn't unexpected. His results have not been good so far, but there's no reason to worry about his future as a major league pitcher. At least not yet.
Gibson gave up 10 hits and four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in a loss to the New York Mets on Monday to put his ERA on the season in 10 starts at 6.53. He's had only two quality starts and has never thrown a pitch in the seventh inning.
On the other hand, the Twins were 5-5 in his 10 starts, and he gave up more than four runs in a start just twice. He also hasn't had much luck. His batting average against on balls in play was at .323 in first nine starts before the Mets went 10-for-16 on balls in play on Monday.
Pitchers typically have a BABIP of around .300, no matter how good they are. This has been shown to be more about a pitcher's luck or defense behind him than about his ability to pitch. So, it would appear that Gibson has not had much luck or good defense behind him.
What is more predictive about a pitcher's future is his strikeout rate, walk rate and ground ball rate. While Gibson's strikeout rate is low, his walk rate is about average and he gets more ground balls than fly balls, which is well above average. Based on this, you would expect him to be around an average major league pitcher, which has not been the case so far.
What's even more encouraging is that Gibson's strikeout rate could go up to around average. For one thing, when opponents swing against Gibson they don't make contact 20 percent of the time, which is the best rate for Twins starters this year. The American League average is 22 percent, but that includes relievers, who opponents tend to swing and miss against more often. So Gibson would be right around average for AL starters.
Also, Gibson had a much higher strikeout rate in the minor leagues, even after his Tommy John surgery in 2011. In his minor league career, Gibson struck out 8 batters per nine innings, including 8.1 in Class AAA. While you would usually expect a drop-off in strikeout rate when a pitcher gets to the major leagues, it would be unusual for it to drop all the way to 5.1 as it has thus far for Gibson, especially when you consider that opponents only make contact on 80 percent of their swings.
Gibson clearly has enough stuff to be at least an average starting pitcher. His biggest problem has been throwing strikes. Although his walk rate isn't that bad, he continually falls behind in the count. His first-pitch strike rate is the worst on the Twins and well below average in the AL. His percentage of strikes overall is also the worst on the Twins and below the AL average.
The good news is that Gibson's walk rate in the minors would indicate that he has not had much problem with locating his pitches for strikes, and this problem came up more because of inexperience and a lack of confidence than anything else, so it shouldn't be too difficult to fix. It also could be stemming from this being his first full season after Tommy John surgery, so just having a normal offseason will help Gibson immensely.
He'll most likely never ever be a true ace pitcher, but if he can just make himself into an average major league starting pitcher, he'll be better than what the Twins have had over the last couple seasons.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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