Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why you should take notice of Kyle Gibson


While Tsuyoshi Nishioka may be the center of attention among the position players in Fort Myers, pitcher Kyle Gibson is certainly gaining notoriety because of his stuff on the mound.
For the past few days, the wires have been abuzz over the hurler. Players have attested to his remarkable repertoirecoaches have fallen in love with his makeup and attitude and the on-looking media members have been wowed by all of the above. Judging from those reports, it is no small wonder why Baseball America selected Gibson as the organization’s top prospect or why they think he’s number 34 on the nation’s Top 100 list.
To me, what is really significant about Gibson’s potential and progress is that not only is he tough on same-sided opponents but he has an ability to neutralize left-handed hitters, often a difficult task for right-handed pitchers.
For example, Jason Kubel, a career .282/.343/.497 left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching, raved about Gibson’s stuff:
"He has a lot of good movement. But what really impressed me when I faced him the other day is that he keeps everything down. It sinks a lot. I don't think I saw one pitch over the knees, and I don't think I saw one over the knees the one time I went down there to face him last year. So he keeps the ball down and makes it all look the same. He makes it really tough on a hitter."
Usually, this isn’t the case. Right-handed pitchers regularly struggle with left-handed opponents as lefties typically see the ball longer and do not have to face the pitcher’s breaking stuff (pitchers are reluctant to throw sliders and curves to opposite-handed hitters). This means with more fastballs in their diets lefties tend to elevate the ball better on right-handers (and vice versa). This is why most pitchers have significant platoon splits. Gibson, however, appears not to follow that trend.
Let’s take a look into why Gibson can keep lefties from hitting him hard.
Without much available in terms of comprehensive minor league split data – at least nothing substantial since MinorLeagueSplits.com closed shop, causing this stat nerd to cry a bit – what we are left with is a sampling of his numbers versus the two groups found at MiLB.com.
Unfortunately, MiLB.com, the official site for Minor League Baseball, provides limited information regarding a pitcher’s splits. What they offer is only the player’s splits at the most recent level of baseball played. So in Gibson’s case, we are relegated to the results based on the 15.2 innings of work while with Rochester at the end of the year. What we do know is that when facing righties in the International League, Gibson carried a 1.25 groundout-to-fly out ratio. On the other hand, when taking on lefties, Gibson had a 1.50 groundout-to-flyout ratio suggesting that he was better at getting the southpaw swingers to beat his pitch into the ground.
Where the data fails us, visually, we can see how Gibson achieved those rates.
1500ESPN’s Phil Mackey, one of the biggest hustlers around the Twins camp and a must follow on Twitter, captured some very impressive footage of the big right-hander working to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in live batting. From the angle perched behind the catcher, Mackey gives us a unique glimpse of this spectacular movement.
The first clip is of Gibson facing Mauer. Here we see him deploy his two-seam fastball to the three-time batting champ: 
 
Gibson’s two-seamer, often referred to a sinker because of the movement, displays outstanding action. As LaVelle described on Sunday, Gibson can “throw at a lefthanded hitter's hip and watch it break toward the inside corner.” Without question, the instance above is a prime example of LaVelle’s description: As the ball leaves Gibson’s hand it appears to be heading into to Mauer’s belt but halfway home, it starts pulling back towards the plate and finishes low-and-in.
Needless to say, that is a two-seamer with some vicious movement. If a hitter attempted to put that particular pitch in play, it would likely incite a groundball to the right side or perhaps splinter his bat.
In this second clip against Morneau, Gibson tosses his change-up (his secondary pitch against lefties that Seth Stohs’ Twins Prospect Handbook 2011 notes is “above-average”):
 
Like real estate, pitching is all about location, location, location.
With the same arm action as his fastball, Gibson releases a change-up that falls away from the hitter on the outer-half of the plate, down in the zone. In the 2010 Hardball Times Annual, Dave Allen examined how pitch types and their location factor into the success of a particular pitch. What Allen’s research found was that change-ups “are generally successful on the outside edge of the plate or low in the strike zone.” With that in mind, had Morneau offered at the pitch, the likely result would not inflict any damage.
So what we can see in the two-pitch example is a microcosm of why Gibson is so effective against left-handed hitters. In addition to their outstanding movement, a left-handed hitter has to be cognizant of the inside fastball, they also have to be mindful of the change-up away – both of which Gibson has been spotting down in the zone. Given the fact that he can alternate these two pitches effectively, groundballs are manufactured.
Although the rotation is a little cramped right now however with the Twins still entertaining the notion of trading Francisco Liriano and the health concerns lingering for Scott Baker, it’s not hard to believe Gibson’s arrival to Minnesota is imminent.  

8 comments:

AK said...

Love the videos, thanks!

Col. Fletcher Prouty said...

"pitchers are reluctant to throw sliders and curves to opposite-handed hitters" This is absolutely untrue of most decent mlb pitchers. It's presented in the article as if it's a rule of thumb. Yes, hitters typically are more successful vs. opposing arm pitchers. But look at Liriano, Baker, Nathan, Crain, or most other pitchers who throw quality breaking pitches. They do not discriminate vs. opposites. Many pitchers, especially lefties, work the slider under the right handed batter. Look no further than liriano. Many righties do the same thing with the cutter/slider vs lefties.

Twins Fan c.1981 said...

This is absolutely untrue of most decent mlb pitchers. It's presented in the article as if it's a rule of thumb.

Yes, Colonel, it's absolutely true. According to Dave Allen's research, sliders are more often thrown to same-sided hitters and will throw a higher percentage of their curve balls to the same-sided opponents versus opposite-handed ones. Again, just a fact.

What you have presented is cherrypicked scenarios in which a pitcher like Liriano - who has one of the best sliders last season and threw it more frequently with the exception of two other pitchers - is an outlier from the norm. Baker, meanwhile, threw sliders 23% of his pitches to RHB while throwing it just 12% of the time to LHBs. Thus, LHBs facing Baker see far fewer breaking pitches and more fastballs, which basically reaffirms my point.

The same goes for Nathan and Crain. While both have good sliders, they both showed significant differences between what they threw to RHB vs LHB.

The statement in the post was not intended to be interpreted as "pitches never throw sliders and curves to opposite-handed hitters" -- obviously there are some pitchers who throw a healthy amount and also slip them in just to keep hitters honest -- but the truth is just what I said, they throw far fewer breaking pitches to the opposite hand versus the same-handed opponents.

Many righties do the same thing with the cutter/slider vs lefties.

Now, see, here you present this as a rule of thumb but have presented no evidence that would make this a true statement. Care to share some info or data that backs up this claim?

Col. Fletcher Prouty said...

How did Dave Allen get into this? Whoever he is. I never said anything about what matchups yields more sliders/curves to same side or opposite side matchups. It has nothing to do with my objection to "pitchers are reluctant to throw sliders and curves to opposite-handed hitters". You clarified your position but dismissed mine by sourcing something unrelated. The fact that same sided matchups yields more sliders/curves than opposites doesn't disprove my statement that good pitchers are not reluctant to throw them to their opposites.

Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Soria, Rauch, Maddux and of course Rivera all throw the slider/cutter beneath the swing or on the hands of the lefty. It's common in the majors and has been happening for as long as I've been around. I even notice a trend of pitchers with good change ups, in particular Carl Pavano throwing the change up inside to lefties and righties when the hitter begins to look for the fastball inside.

Twins Fan c.1981 said...

How did Dave Allen get into this?

Well, I cited his research in the post and that research is based on Pitch F/X data provided by MLB.com’s GameDay - which is the system that monitors every pitch thrown in every game. Forgive me for not trusting your memory of every pitch thrown by major league pitchers last year.
If you are unconvinced of his research (presented in the 2010 Hardball Times Annual if you care to look it up), Bill James – statistician turned front office member for the Sox – said the same thing last spring. James learned some truisms since joining a front office and spending time with scouts that “a right-handed pitcher will throw his change-up five times as often to a lefty as he will to a righty. I never knew that. I think everybody in baseball knew it except me.”

You clarified your position but dismissed mine by sourcing something unrelated. The fact that same sided matchups yields more sliders/curves than opposites doesn't disprove my statement that good pitchers are not reluctant to throw them to their opposites.

Yes, it does. Your one example of Liriano does not prove all “decent mlb pitchers” throw their sliders/curveballs to opposite-handed hitters.

And now your one example of Carl Pavano’s tendency to throw his change-up to right-handed hitters does not prove that all good pitchers throw their change-up to same-sided hitters. For example, Johan Santana (a guy with a pretty good change-up, right?) threw his change to right-handed opponents 33.1% of the time (716 times) MEANWHILE he threw it to the same-sided hitters just 15.7% of the time (124 pitches) a year ago. That’s reluctance from the pitcher with one of the best changeups in the game.

What I took exception t is that your statement that attempted to discredit what I said about most pitchers do not throw sliders/curveballs to opposite-handed hitters, or at least my wording which “presented it as a rule of thumb”, without presenting any sort of facts. Sure, a handful of cherrypicked pitchers are an exception but not the “rule of thumb”. What I just said in the last response is that, yes, it is very much a rule of thumb. PITCHERS TEND TO NOT THROW THEIR SLIDERS OR CURVES TO OPPOSITE-HANDED HITTERS.

Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Soria, Rauch, Maddux and of course Rivera all throw the slider/cutter beneath the swing or on the hands of the lefty.

In regards to Baker, I’ll quote my last response:

“Baker, meanwhile, threw sliders 23% of his pitches to RHB while throwing it just 12% of the time to LHBs. Thus, LHBs facing Baker see far fewer breaking pitches and more fastballs, which basically reaffirms my point.”

If you haven’t paid attention, Blackburn discarded his slider last year because of elbow problems. Even in 2009 when he was throwing the slider, he threw it at a much higher volume to right-handed hitters (26%) versus left-handed ones (10.7%).

Blackburn/Soria/Rivera throw cutters to opposite-handed opponents but that’s not the same as a slider nor a curveball. It’s not categorized as a breaking pitch.

It's common in the majors and has been happening for as long as I've been around.

It’s not as common as you believe by your perception (or maybe you haven’t been around that long). No disrespect meant but collected data versus your observation - in which you clearly have watched maybe at most a 100 or so games a year thereby not privy to every pitch nor were you recording each pitch you witnessed – collected data will win out every time.

McGrady said...

Doesn't the skill set of the pitcher and the strengths and weeknesses of the batter really dictate what is being thrown? Makes this discussion pretty academic in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Boyz, Boyz - You're making this way too complicated! If he gets people out we keep him, if he don't we send him down! I don't need a chemical engineer to tell me that I probably shouldn't eat something that smells real bad. My thought is let someone else try it first. I'll watch to see what happens. Same thing here...his stuff looks real good in a video, but if est. MLB'rs, not single A tryouts, whack him around then, that's that. On to Plan B!

Anonymous said...

Nice article..."no small wonder" means the opposite of how you seem to be using it.