Twins

Kyle Gibson and the First Pitch Blues

Kyle Gibson struggled in 2016. This is hardly news for Twins fans after a 103 loss season. In the midst of the #DealDozier sweepstakes the Twins have several other areas that will have to improve if they are going to compete with a division which is weakened from 2016, but with an emerging super power in Cleveland. The primary reason the Twins must trade Dozier lies in his value reaching its peak; this fact, combined with the difficulty mid-market teams face in producing enough front-line pitching talent to win a division (never mind the World Series) also bring us back to Gibson. If the Twins are to take a step forward in 2017, Minnesota’s 2009 first rounder will have to rebound to help anchor a rotation made up largely of unreliable pieces outside of Ervin Santana.

In 2015 Gibson appeared to be developing into the number three starter the Twins had hoped for when drafting him as a first round value play in 2009. In 194 plus innings he posted his best ERA 3.84, WHIP 1.28, SO/9 6.7 while posting a 3.96 FIP, all very tidy numbers. By contrast in 2016 his numbers jumped to a career worst ERA 5.07, WHIP 1.56, and FIP 4.70. What’s interesting in Gibson’s case, is some of the numbers which underlie his 2016 struggles.

Anecdotally, Gibson seemed to struggle early in the count in 2016, with hitters being very aggressive at attacking his first pitch. Below is a heat map of Gibson’s pitch percentage on 0-0 counts against lefties with his two seam fastball (the pitch he most typically starts off a hitter with). As you might expect from a ground ball hitter, the majority of Gibson’s pitches were located down and away versus left handed hitters.

final-lhp

Here’s a similar look for right handed hitters in 2016. As you can see, Gibson typically locates down and in or down and away to right handed hitters.

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The biggest issue Gibson faced in 2016 was that opposing hitters picked up on this tendency and drilled his two seam fastball. On the first pitch of an AB, opposing hitters crushed Gibson to the tune of a .467 average while slugging .907 off him. Gibson also gave up 17 XBHs including 8 HR on the first pitch of an AB. In 2015, hitters slugged a much more respectable .538 in first pitch situations, giving up 10 less XBHs. Below is a similar heat map for Gibson’s two seam fastball location in 0-0 counts in 2015, his best season as a Twin, where he spread the ball around the strike zone significantly more.

old-rhp

One of the few clues we have been given about the proclivities of Derek Falvey and Thad Lavine came through their signing of Jason Castro, an offensive struggler known for his pitch framing. This is perhaps indicative of a desire of the front office to put a greater emphasis on more detailed statistics and analytics than Terry Ryan. Castro is undeniably a defensive upgrade over Kurt Suzuki, who struggled in various defensive metrics throughout his tenure with the Twins. One attraction of Castro in addition to his pitch framing is his experience and quality in leading a staff and as a signal caller. Gibson struggled significantly with Suzuki in 2016 to the tune of a 6.15 ERA with opposing hitters managing a .359 BaBIP, compared to a 3.72 ERA and .293 BaBIP when caught by Juan Centeno or John Ryan Murphy. This trend is also true of 2015 (Gibson’s best season as a Twin) in which he performed significantly worse when Suzuki was behind the plate compared with Chris Hermann or Eric Fryer.

Whatever the exact reason behind Gibson and Suzuki’s lack of chemistry one would think Castro will be a shot in the arm to a pitcher the Twins desperately need to take a significant step forward in 2017.

Relief Pitchers Key Royals Postseason Success – Twins to Follow Suit?

By JDCam 11.09.14

With the off-season only a few days old the Minnesota Twins did something they haven’t done in over 13 years, naming Hall of Famer Paul Molitor as their new manager. Being a first time manager, no-one is quite sure exactly what Molitor will bring to the table. It will no doubt be fascinating as the Twins are renowned not only for their loyalty but their desire to ‘keep it in the family’.

The Twins organization has been criticized in recent years for failing to embrace some of the modern tendencies of ‘successful’ organizations such as sabermetrics and defensive shifts. Their recent struggles can certainly be traced back to woeful starting pitching stemming from an inability to sign big name free agent pitching and more importantly, spending their average mid first round draft picks from their more successful mid-2000s years on positional players.

The Twins have certainly changed their philosophy recently, bringing in a dearth of potentially high impact power arms both via trade and the draft. Names like Alex Meijer, JJ Berrios and Kohl Stewart will be gracing the beautiful confines of Target Field in the next few years (Trevor May made a disappointing but slowly improving debut at the end of the 2014 season).

Looking at the Twins 2014 draft however may be an indicator of an area in which their thinking maybe more progressive and forward thinking than other clubs. With their first selection they drafted Nick Gordon (son of Flash) a talented multi-tool SS out of high school. With their subsequent picks, the Twins only went out and drafted an entire bullpen. The Twins spent their next 7 picks on high velocity arms including Nick Burdi in round 2, the former Louisville closer who can hit 103 on the radar, Michael Cederoth out of San Diego State, who also throws in the high 90s and Jake Reed in the 5th round out of Oregon.

Burdi

Nick Burdi could soon be impacting the Twins, despite only being drafted in 2014

The early returns on these bullpen pieces have been very promising. Burdi, who could see Target Field as early as 2015 struggled with control issues early before being promoted to High A Fort Myers. In his first 20 innings of professional ball he struck out an absurd 16.8/9 innings and had yet to give up a run at High A when the season drew to a close. Cederoth struggled more out of the gate with Rookie ball Elizabethton before finishing the season strong (although the Twins have been trying to stretch him out as a starter). Reed, another hard throwing right hander had perhaps the most impressive debut, giving up just 1ER in his first 31 innings pitched while striking out 39 and walking just 3 through two different levels in the minors.

If this year’s refreshingly competitive playoffs taught us anything it was the value of an outstanding bullpen. Kansas City hardly had a dominating starting rotation but had the best bullpen in the regular season (5.9 WAR). Their late innings trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland proved impossible to stop. Herrera finished the season with a 2.8 WAR, Davis with a WAR of 3.7 (for an 8th inning guy!) and Holland with a WAR of 2.5. That’s a combined WAR of 9 for their late inning, high octane arms.

Wade Davis had a remarkable 2014 and keyed the best bullpen in the majors

Wade Davis had a remarkable 2014 and keyed the best bullpen in the majors

Twins fans need to accept the fact that the Pohlad family, despite their fortune, is never going to allow the Twins to have  payroll much over $100 million. Because of this the Twins will never be able to afford, or attract top tier rotation arms via free agency. Assuming some of their excellent starting prospects can develop into solid major league starters Terry Ryan and the front office might just be pursuing a novel blueprint for success, drafting an elite bullpen. Look out for the Twins relievers in 2015 and beyond, it might just be their ticket back to competitiveness.