While Tsuyoshi Nishioka may be the center of attention among the position players in Fort Myers, pitcher Kyle Gibson is certainly gaining notoriety because of his stuff on the mound.
For the past few days, the wires have been abuzz over the hurler. Players have attested to his remarkable repertoire, coaches have fallen in love with his makeup and attitude and the on-looking media members have been wowed by all of the above. Judging from those reports, it is no small wonder why Baseball America selected Gibson as the organization’s top prospect or why they think he’s number 34 on the nation’s Top 100 list.
To me, what is really significant about Gibson’s potential and progress is that not only is he tough on same-sided opponents but he has an ability to neutralize left-handed hitters, often a difficult task for right-handed pitchers.
For example, Jason Kubel, a career .282/.343/.497 left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching, raved about Gibson’s stuff:
"He has a lot of good movement. But what really impressed me when I faced him the other day is that he keeps everything down. It sinks a lot. I don't think I saw one pitch over the knees, and I don't think I saw one over the knees the one time I went down there to face him last year. So he keeps the ball down and makes it all look the same. He makes it really tough on a hitter."
Usually, this isn’t the case. Right-handed pitchers regularly struggle with left-handed opponents as lefties typically see the ball longer and do not have to face the pitcher’s breaking stuff (pitchers are reluctant to throw sliders and curves to opposite-handed hitters). This means with more fastballs in their diets lefties tend to elevate the ball better on right-handers (and vice versa). This is why most pitchers have significant platoon splits. Gibson, however, appears not to follow that trend.
Let’s take a look into why Gibson can keep lefties from hitting him hard.
Without much available in terms of comprehensive minor league split data – at least nothing substantial since MinorLeagueSplits.com closed shop, causing this stat nerd to cry a bit – what we are left with is a sampling of his numbers versus the two groups found at MiLB.com.
Unfortunately, MiLB.com, the official site for Minor League Baseball, provides limited information regarding a pitcher’s splits. What they offer is only the player’s splits at the most recent level of baseball played. So in Gibson’s case, we are relegated to the results based on the 15.2 innings of work while with Rochester at the end of the year. What we do know is that when facing righties in the International League, Gibson carried a 1.25 groundout-to-fly out ratio. On the other hand, when taking on lefties, Gibson had a 1.50 groundout-to-flyout ratio suggesting that he was better at getting the southpaw swingers to beat his pitch into the ground.
Where the data fails us, visually, we can see how Gibson achieved those rates.
1500ESPN’s Phil Mackey, one of the biggest hustlers around the Twins camp and a must follow on Twitter, captured some very impressive footage of the big right-hander working to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in live batting. From the angle perched behind the catcher, Mackey gives us a unique glimpse of this spectacular movement.
The first clip is of Gibson facing Mauer. Here we see him deploy his two-seam fastball to the three-time batting champ:
Gibson’s two-seamer, often referred to a sinker because of the movement, displays outstanding action. As LaVelle described on Sunday, Gibson can “throw at a lefthanded hitter's hip and watch it break toward the inside corner.” Without question, the instance above is a prime example of LaVelle’s description: As the ball leaves Gibson’s hand it appears to be heading into to Mauer’s belt but halfway home, it starts pulling back towards the plate and finishes low-and-in.
Needless to say, that is a two-seamer with some vicious movement. If a hitter attempted to put that particular pitch in play, it would likely incite a groundball to the right side or perhaps splinter his bat.
In this second clip against Morneau, Gibson tosses his change-up (his secondary pitch against lefties that Seth Stohs’ Twins Prospect Handbook 2011 notes is “above-average”):
Like real estate, pitching is all about location, location, location.
With the same arm action as his fastball, Gibson releases a change-up that falls away from the hitter on the outer-half of the plate, down in the zone. In the 2010 Hardball Times Annual, Dave Allen examined how pitch types and their location factor into the success of a particular pitch. What Allen’s research found was that change-ups “are generally successful on the outside edge of the plate or low in the strike zone.” With that in mind, had Morneau offered at the pitch, the likely result would not inflict any damage.
So what we can see in the two-pitch example is a microcosm of why Gibson is so effective against left-handed hitters. In addition to their outstanding movement, a left-handed hitter has to be cognizant of the inside fastball, they also have to be mindful of the change-up away – both of which Gibson has been spotting down in the zone. Given the fact that he can alternate these two pitches effectively, groundballs are manufactured.
Although the rotation is a little cramped right now however with the Twins still entertaining the notion of trading Francisco Liriano and the health concerns lingering for Scott Baker, it’s not hard to believe Gibson’s arrival to Minnesota is imminent.