Game 41, Mariners at Twins
Chris Young vs. Kyle Gibson, 5:10pm
Coming in to 2011, Kyle Gibson was the Twins #1 prospect. A sure top-10 overall pick, the RHP out of Missouri slid after his velocity dropped his junior year. He was effective without 95mph heat, thanks to great command and a swerving two-seam fastball that produced tons of weak ground balls. Still, many teams were scared off by the apparent trouble. He sailed through the low minors, posting good-but-not-great K rates, and tiny HR rates. He was flying up the ladder in 2011 when his velocity suddenly dropped again, and he was absolutely pounded in a few AAA starts. This time, he needed surgery.
He came back for a handful of MiLB innings and then played the Arizona Fall League (I think he started one game opposite James Paxton that year), and it seemed like he hadn’t missed a beat. He touched 95, but sat more like 92-94, showed a decent slider, and pounded the zone. A solid year in AAA in 2013 got him a promotion, but over the course of 10 starts, he looked like a different pitcher. He got ground balls, but he was wild – his zone% in 2013 was just under 42%, compared to a league average of 49%. Out of 187 starting pitchers with at least 50 IP, Gibson ranked 184th in zone%. To make matters worse, he gave up 7 HRs to go with his 20 BBs (and 5 HBPs); it all added up to an ERA of 6.53 and an ugly FIP. It’s a somewhat reassuring reminder that other clubs sometimes struggle with the AAA-MLB transition. Everyone agreed he had nothing left to learn in the minors, but it’s pretty clear he was starting from scratch in the bigs.
It could only get better from there, and to be fair to Gibson, it has. He’s limiting HRs again, and he’s throwing more strikes, but the walk rate’s still far too high, and he’s incorporated the Twins’ organizational philosophy of shunning the strikeout. So far this year, he’s walked 18 and K’d just 17. Gibson’s two-seam fastball is a 91-93mph pitch with good arm-side run and some sink (though not a ton). He pairs it was a four-seamer, a good looking slider and a change-up that he’ll use against lefties. The change occasionally looks like a solid pitch, but he doesn’t throw a ton of them. Given his sinker-heavy arsenal, he’s got some platoon splits, with lefties posting a .366 wOBA against him (in 239 PAs). The M’s can throw out a lefty-heavy line-up, and Gibson doesn’t have a real wipe-out pitch, so this should be easy, right? Well, the M’s have really struggled thus far against ground-ball pitchers. They’re doing OK against fly-ballers (although they sure didn’t LOOK fine against Jake Odorizzi), but they’ve managed just a .510 OPS against sinkerballing ground-ball pitchers. Fly-ball *hitters* would be a great match-up against Gibson, but the M’s don’t really have any of those. Logan Morrison’s been more of a fly-ball guy, but he’s hurt. Stefen Romero’s elevated the ball, but he’s struggling and a righty, so he’s not in the line-up. Corey Hart’s the best the M’s can muster. Normally, this’d be a great match-up for Robby Cano, but he’s always been a GB guy, and his GB:FB ratio has soared this year to the highest mark of his career (SSS alert, of course) – one of the big reasons why he’s struggling.
1: Jones, CF
2: Saunders, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
SP: Chris Young
The injury bug continues to bite the M’s system, as Chris Taylor’s sidelined with a sprained finger, and LHP Anthony Fernandez looks set to join the long line of hurlers to have Tommy John surgery (hat tip: Ryan Divish).
Minor league starters tonight include Edwin Diaz, Andrew Carraway, and Dylan Unsworth.