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Kyle Gibson: Strikeout Pitcher

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Kyle Gibson has gone through a stretch where he's become the best strikeout pitcher in the Twins rotation. Yes, you read that correctly.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Upon reading the title, perhaps you experienced some momentary confusion. Kyle Gibson is a sinkerballer with a career 5.68 K/9. This year, he's striking out 6.32 per 9 innings, and the league average for starting pitchers in 2015 is a more robust 7.27 rate. None of this should be surprising, as Gibson looks more at getting batters to pound the ball into the ground, generating weak contact and getting quick outs. Yet here we are, about to dive into newly formed strikeout artist Kyle Gibson.

That's right, Gibson has put together a stretch lately where he has been whiffing hitters as if he's Trevor May. Thanks to the magic of arbitrary endpoints, let's look at two separate parts of Gibson's 2015 season.

Opening Day - May 17th (8 starts)

ERA FIP AVG WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2.98 4.35 .254 1.32 3.54 3.17 0.54

May 24th - Present (13 starts)

ERA FIP AVG WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
3.59 3.84 .244 1.21 7.95 2.50 1.09

Quite a few of those numbers are lacking consistency, but the most extreme is certainly the difference in strikeouts. Perhaps it was the cold weather, but Gibson has turned himself into Dallas Keuchel Lite after his May 17th start. The only thing that's held him back from becoming the ace of the rotation over the last three months has been his penchant for giving up the long ball, though that's accompanied with a 17% HR/FB rate (league average is around 11%) so he's been hit with some bad luck in spite of the improvement.

When I saw this stark contrast, I immediately went to pitchF/X data to see why Gibson's been piling up the Ks. Unfortunately, that was rather inconclusive as his repertoire hasn't changed much from the first 8 starts to his last 13. He's throwing all his pitches at roughly the same rate, and although his velocity has increased, I'm not sure how much of a difference can be made from adding 0.7 MPH to all five pitches.

Perhaps Gibson has been locating and/or sequencing his pitches better, but I don't have the resources to confirm that hypothesis. Regardless of what's different, there are a few numbers that certainly work in Gibson's favor.

Opening Day - May 17th (8 starts)

Inside-Zone Contact Outside-Zone Contact Contact Swinging Strike
92.5% 72.7% 83.5% 7.6%

May 24th - Present (13 starts)

Inside-Zone Contact Outside-Zone Contact Contact Swinging Strike
87.3% 63.2% 76.8% 10.6%

It doesn't matter where Gibson has been throwing the ball, he's been able to generate less contact over the second time frame, which I think we all can agree is better. Now we just have to see if he can keep this up. This has been the best stretch of his career in terms of strikeouts, and it would be excellent to see him leave behind this Nick Blackburn/Mike Pelfrey mold. Here's hoping that he can figure out a way to stop giving up so many home runs, because then he could become the best Twins pitcher they've had in years.