yle Gibson is on a tear. In picking up his fourth consecutive victory Sunday afternoon against Detroit, the Minnesota Twins starter is riding the longest winning streak of his professional career.
But Monday morning, the Greenfield-Central graduate found himself at the onset of another and perhaps even rarer streak — four consecutive days off.
For the first time since pitchers reported to spring training in late February, Gibson will get to enjoy more than a travel day between series.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the break,” Gibson said, before his start against the Tigers. “It will be nice to spend a few days with my wife and daughter and my dogs.”
The rest has been well-earned.
As of Tuesday, Gibson paced Twins qualified starters in wins (eight), strikeouts (78), ERA (2.85), WHIP (1.21) and batting average against (.241).
With numbers like those, Gibson should savor the current MLB All-Star break, because this might be the last one he gets for a while.
When comparing his stats to the rest of the American League, the burgeoning ace is a borderline MLB All-Star candidate.
Gibson’s sub-3 ERA ranks him 12th in the American League, just behind perennial Mariners All-Star and Cy Young contender Felix Hernandez (2.84).
Gibson’s top-20 batting average against is actually a few points better than Tigers All-Star David Price (.243).
And the best support of all for Gibson’s All-Star candidacy: According to Baseball Reference, Gibson has been the eighth most valuable pitcher in the AL, having accumulated 2.8 wins above replacement (WAR) so far this season, tying him with Rays All-Star Chris Archer.
Gibson knows just how special his season has been thus far, and while he has allowed himself to fantasize a little bit about one day pitching in the Mid-Summer Classic, he’s trying not to focus too much on individual accomplishments.
“It’s kind of cool to think about that if one or two outings had gone a little differently, I could have been there,” Gibson said. “But you can’t worry about those things. I know people have gotten away from valuing wins as a stat, but they are still the most important stat to a team. To me, helping the team win will always be more important than making it to an All-Star game.”
If team victories are the mission, then Gibson can consider the first half of the season a rousing success. His star-turn has had a major influence on the baseball renaissance going on in Minnesota.
After finishing dead last in the AL Central last season, the Twins are 49-40 heading into the break, just 4.5 games back of the reigning AL champion Royals.
“It’s been awesome being on the winning side of things,” he said. “I know everyone was tired of the losing atmosphere. The front office was. The coaches were. The players were. But it’s been a lot of being part of a team that’s changing the culture in Minnesota.”
While Gibson’s individual numbers didn’t spell out an MLB All-Star nomination this season, they certainly tell another crucial story: progression.
At this time last season, Gibson’s ERA was almost a full point higher at 3.94, and he was striking out less than five batters per nine innings as opposed to the 6.08 he’s averaging this season.
When a player takes a step forward in the way that Gibson has this year, it is important to look beyond some of the more traditional numbers to make sure they are supported by those on the periphery.
More to the point, a 2.85 ERA is not beyond reproach if the underlying data doesn’t support it.
Fortunately for Gibson, a deeper look inside his number proves beyond a doubt his breakout is no fluke.
In a little more than 300 career innings, Gibson already has earned a reputation around the league as ground-ball inducing machine. This year, he and his sinker-balling ways have generated an elite level of worm-burners. Nearly 54 percent of the balls put in play against him have stayed on the ground, good for fifth in the American League.
Gibson’s ability to keep the ball on the ground has helped him coax an AL-best 22 double plays and in turn strand more than 80 percent of the runners who reach base against him (also fifth in the AL).
Gibson has been able to accomplish all of this due to his increasingly deceptive arsenal.
This season, he has fooled batters enough to swing at 34.3 percent of the pitches he throws outside of the strike zone, good for 14th in the MLB. That level of deception rates higher than Dodgers’ Cy Young contenders Clayton Kershaw (34.1 percent) and Zach Grienke (34 percent) as well as reigning Giants’ World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner (33.8 percent).
The 13 pitchers ahead of him read like a who’s who of the pitching elite: Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels to name a few.
But improvement goes beyond the physical. Sometimes, in order to take the next step forward, a harnessed mental approach is called for.
A few hours after twirling an eight-inning gem against the division-leading Royals on July 2, Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe tweeted, “Cool moment tonight: Bottom 8th, two on, 1-0. Told @kgib44 the pressure was on them (half serious). He smiled and winked. Dude was loving it.”
Gibson has always loved the spotlight, his dad Harold Gibson said earlier this year, pitching in high-intensity situations. The key though, Harold said, is harnessing his emotions and not letting them take control.
Last season, Harold remembers, Gibson got over-excited about pitching on Independence Day. As a result, he left the ball up in the strike zone and was pounded for six runs on six hits in just two innings.
Gibson suffered a similar fate in his season-opening appearance this year, as he gave up six runs on eight hits against the Tigers.
Gibson said one of the biggest improvements to his game has been as a result of learning from the tough times.
“Confidence comes with comfort,” he said. “Just like in life, it’s the same on the mound, the more you face adversity, the better you can handle adversity. … I don’t have the composure thing completely figured out, but I’m getting there. I’m gaining confidence.”
Gibson got a chance to prove that recently.
Fate favored Gibson on Sunday afternoon. Not only did he allow zero earned runs over seven innings, but he did it against the Tigers, the team who sent him to the showers early in his season-opening start.
Before the game, Gibson said he was not going out there looking for revenge, but he certainly pitched like he was.
He surrendered just four hits and two walks while striking out six in leading the Twins to a 7-1 victory. He has not allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his 18 starts.
While he didn’t find himself in trouble often, he always found a way out of it when he was, often by doing what he does best: rolling groundballs that turn into double plays. He collected three more twin-killings on Sunday.
After the game, Twins manager Paul Molitor spoke to what he believes has become one of his young pitcher’s greatest assets.
“I think he’s confident he can do damage control for the most part when guys have good at-bats or he might walk a guy or two,” Molitor told The Associated Press. “He’s just very composed.”
Gibson’s next scheduled turn in the rotation is not until July 21 in Anaheim against the Angels.
In the three career starts against the Halos, Gibson is 0-1 with a 7.80 ERA.
The Minnesota Twins’ Kyle Gibson pitched 7.0 innings Sunday, surrendering just one unearned run against the Detroit Tigers. The Greenfield-Central graduate’s pitching line against the Orioles as well as for the season:
Former Greenfield-Central star Kyle Gibson wrapped up a stellar first half of the season with the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, leading the team to a 7-1 victory against division rival Detroit. He conceded just one earned run in seven innings in one of his best outing of the season. Here are a few of first-half highlights delivered by the blossoming ace:
April 15 vs. Kansas City: Gibson bounces back from a rough season-opener by dealing 6.1 innings of one-run ball against the defending American League champion Royals. He picked up his first win of the season.
May 1 vs. Chicago (AL): The lanky right-hander evens his season record at .500 (2-2) with an eight-inning gem against the White Sox. He surrendered just four hits and one walk in leading the Twins to a 1-0 victory.
May 12 at Detroit: For the first time all season, Gibson concedes no walks, as he pitches seven strong innings against the loaded Tigers lineup. He gave up just one earned run in the defeat. Weeks later, Gibson would cite this as one of his best outings of the year.
May 24 at Chicago (AL): Gibson finds his strikeout pitch as he sat down a then career-best eight White Sox in this game. He picked up his fourth victory of the year in the Twins’ 8-1 rout. He would strike out nine Brewers two starts later.
May 30 vs vs. Toronto: Gibson sees his ERA dip to its lowest point of the season, hitting a super 2.61 after allowing just one earned run over 5.2 innings against a potent Blue Jay lineup.