Kyle Gibson is finally healthy, and should eventually crack the 2013 rotation. How should the club handle it?
Hey all, my name is Alex Kienholz and I will be contributing to Twinkie Town this year (and hopefully beyond). You may have also read my works at Beyond The Box Score, another SB Nation website.
As you all know, Kyle Gibson was the Twins' first round draft pick in the 2009 draft. Many had him pegged as a top five pick, but then he injured his arm and a faced a rapid decline down draft boards. He did not pitch in the minors at all during the 2009 season, but when he appeared in 2010 he produced results.
During the 2010 season Gibson managed to rack up 143 innings through three minor league levels. While at Fort myers he only made seven appearances, but was lights out. He posted an above average strikeout rate, and a roughly league average walk rate. To top it off he also possessed a 2.91 FIP which is considered above average (fielding independent pitching), but the Florida State League is more of a pitchers park, so take that how you wish.
Once he was promoted to AA he really started to take off, and based off of his 3.08 FIP he was one of the best pitchers in the Eastern League. The Eastern League is fairly neutral in terms of being a pitchers or hitters league, so a 3.08 FIP in AA is a lot more credible, especially since the talent gap is a little larger than in A ball. His strikeout rate was more on the average side, but that's expected when facing more advanced talent. Gibson only made three starts in AAA, so there is not a lot of information that can be taken from those starts.
Gibson started off 2011 in AAA, and an in-season call-up to the majors seemed likely. Through 18 starts he posted a 3.67 FIP, and above average strikeout and walk rates. Gibson partially tore his UCL in August, and on September first it was announced that he would have Tommy John reconstructive surgery.
Remember though, it's risky business to project major league success by looking at minor league numbers, but minor league numbers in the upper levels are important.
Gibson made several appearances throughout the Twins system in 2012, and it appears that he will be eventually inserted into the 2013 rotation. Whether it's sooner or later remains to be seen. How should Gibson's transition be done though?
I would propose that he should enter the rotation later.
I understand that the Twins need starting pitching, but the fact is they aren't contending in 2013 so throwing Gibson into the fire right away could be risky business. I think it would be best if Gibson started off in the bullpen, and gradually got implemented into the starting rotation. This should sound familiar since the club did this exact thing with Francisco Liriano and Johan Santana.
Kyle Gibson is a different case though, since he is coming off major surgery. Luckily we can look at the Atlanta Bravesand their starting pitcher Kris Medlen. Medlen tore his UCL in August of 2010, and missed essentially all of the 2011 season. Before the injury Medlen had been nearly halfway through his second major league season and he was primarily being used out of the bullpen, although he had made 14 starts in 2010.
The Braves pitched Medlen almost exclusively out of the bullpen to start the season, but when he was moved to the rotation he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. While in the bullpen he had average strikeout and walk rates, but posted an impressive 2.73 FIP. As a starter though he posted ridiculous strikeout rates, while showing pinpoint control. He finished the year by striking out 27% of batters, walking 3% of batters, and posting a 2.22 FIP as a starter.
By starting Gibson in the bullpen he would get used to major league batters, and the Twins could slowly ease him into his starting role. He would also be on a innings limit (now I don't necessarily agree with those) which means he'd see roughly 120-130 max.
If Gibson is able to reach that 130 inning threshold, it's likely that he would see that number increase to the 160 range (see Stephen Strasburg) in 2014, and then in 2015 he would have no inning limit. This would be perfect timing especially because the Twins should be in contention for the AL Central, and Gibson should be reaching his prime.
It's not likely that Gibson repeats what Medlen did, but since both are recovering (or were at the time) from major surgery it's a move that makes sense. Ultimately Terry Ryan and other front office members have the final say, but it's something that's worked in the past so there is no reason why it can't in the future.
Alex Kienholz writes for Twinkie Town and Beyond The Box Score
Follow him on Twitter: @AKienholzBtB