The Twins were hoping Kyle Gibson would take a step forward this season and, after a rough beginning to 2015, he has now thrown 17 scoreless innings. Included in that streak are the 6 scoreless frames he put up Wednesday against the A’s, putting his overall season mark at 3-2 with a tidy 2.97 ERA.
Lurking within those nice numbers, though, is the continuation of some troubling trends from last year. An optimist could say it means Gibson still has room to improve; a pessimist could say Gibson is flirting with trouble and might regress unless those numbers improve.
The biggest red flag is that in 36.1 IP, Gibson has allowed 15 walks while only recording 11 strikeouts. That means that even when successful, he’s often grinding out innings and relying on his defense (which he did Wednesday, getting through those 6 scoreless innings with two walks, just one K and 104 pitches needed). That was a critique last year, too, when Gibson allowed 57 walks while striking out 107 in 179.1 innings.
In the minors, he wasn’t a dominant strikeout guy, but he got his share while limiting walks (377.1 IP, 337 Ks and just 105 BB).
So the question becomes: Is that low BABIP number the product of good fortune or the product of the movement, location and variation of his pitches forcing weak contact (if not strikeouts).
The answer is probably: a little bit of both. Gibson is allowing hard contact on just 26.8 percent of balls put in play — comparable, and even a little better than, Phil Hughes’ mark during an excellent 2014 season of 27.2 percent. Of course, Hughes had an historically good strikeout to walk ratio to go along with that.
Gibson has also stranded 78.8 percent of opposing baserunners without allowing them to score, a very good mark that will keep the ERA down — but again, one that can either be attributed to bearing down in the clutch, having some good fortune or a little bit of both.
Long story short: Nobody is going to complain about the results because 17 scoreless innings and a sub-3.00 ERA look good on any team, particularly the starting pitching-starved Twins.But there is reason to wonder if it’s sustainable long-term (not the scoreless streak, but the good numbers in general).
Then again, Gibson might be one of those rare pitchers who defies conventional numbers and thrives in spite of a dangerous mix of too many walks and not enough strikeouts because of his ability to miss the fat part of the bat (if not the whole bat). And if he evolves into a pitcher with a better K/BB ratio, he will be even more dangerous.