Kyle Gibson is 27 years old and is entering his third season in the major leagues. He was rocked in 10 starts during his rookie year before showing drastic improvements in 2014, and those improvements should continue this upcoming season. And if they do, Gibson -- who was ranked as the 68th-best prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2013 season despite having Tommy John surgery in 2011 -- will pitch like an ace for the Minnesota Twins.
Let's start by comparing his first two seasons.
When I attempt to analyze a pitcher, I look at three things right away: FIP, xFIP and GB%. I use FIP and xFIP, because, well, they're both better indicators of a pitcher's performance than ERA. That's obvious. But I like looking at ground balls because if a pitcher forces a high amount, odds are he's going to be successful, even if he's not a high-strikeout guy, like Gibson.
As you can see from the table, Gibson has improved his numbers in almost every worthwhile way. In both 2013 and 2014, he radically outperformed his ERA by having a much lower FIP and xFIP, and even SIERA thought he pitched better than his ERA showed. His strikeouts increased a bit, but more importantly, he got more ground balls. Because he doesn't rack up the strikeouts, ground balls are the key if Gibson plans to take the next step.
But not only does Gibson need to get more ground balls, he needs to limit his walks. While Gibson's career walk rate isn't horrific (7.7%), he still needs to do a better job of giving out free passes, because once a runner gets on, he has a hard time keeping him from scoring: His 66.3% strand rate ranked 137th last season.
One thing Gibson should consider doing is using his slider just a little more. In terms of runs above average, his slider was his most effective pitch. It's true he only threw his sinker more than his slider, but the difference was enormous. Gibson threw his sinker 1209 times and hitters posted a .270 average and a .106 ISO against it. Meanwhile, he tossed his slider 603 times and held batters to a .206 average and .069 ISO. If he used his sinker a little less and his slider a little more, he'd probably have more success.
There's really no reason to think Gibson can't become an All-Star next year, unless you listen to Steamer, which projects Gibson to have 4.51 ERA, a 4.19 FIP and be worth a whole run less next season. I'm not buying it. Gibson will surely have a better defense behind him, as the Twins can't get much worse (-34.5 UZR), and that's only going to help Gibson -- it will lower his BABIP, and more grounders will become outs.
If Gibson keeps the ball in the park, forces more grounders, and continues to raise his strikeout percentage, he'll pitch like the top-rated prospect he once was.
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Justin Schultz is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @JSchu23.