Rotation candidate: A closer look at Kyle Gibson's mostly solid two-year run

He is not only the oldest player on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, but he is also the only one born before 1990. He is right-handed pitcher Kyle Gibson, signed to a one-year contract in December.

After a year where his ERA was 5.05 over 31 starts, many may consider him a back-end of the rotation talent, even if he slots higher than that in the Orioles' Opening Day rotation.

But I can present some stats that might surprise you – they did surprise me.

It starts with this: Yes, Gibson’s ERA was 5.05 for all of last year. But it was 4.08 entering September. The average MLB ERA for 2022 was 3.96, so at that point he was not too far off. But in six starts to end his season – from that point on – Gibson allowed an ERA of 9.73. That meant his ERA ballooned up to end his year. It also meant his first-half ERA of 4.35 looked much better than the second-half number of 6.01.

Gibson, 35, is a former first-round pick in the 2009 draft out of the University of Missouri who has registered a 4.52 career ERA and 1.385 WHIP in 10 MLB seasons. He spent the first seven with the Twins, parts of the next two with the Rangers and parts of the last two with the Phillies.

Gibson represented the American League in the 2021 All-Star Game, finishing with a combined 3.71 ERA and 1.220 WHIP in 31 games between Texas and Philadelphia. He then followed that up with that 5.05 ERA for his starts last year.

But Gibson did make the 2021 All-Star team during a year when his season-ending ERA was 17 percent above league average. In the first half of 2021, he went 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA and OPS against of .583. Bet you didn’t expect those stats. I did not either. Even with an All-Star nod.

So, if Gibson could take away his last month of the 2022 season – he can’t of course – his numbers for the two-year period of 2021 and 2022 through August look pretty darn solid.

During that run where he made 55 total starts, he produced 33 quality starts, going 19-14 with a 3.87 ERA. His teams were 30-25 in that span. The batting line against him in the 55 games was .235/.305/.375/.680 and his WHIP was 1.21. His walk rate was 2.9 and strikeout rate was 7.5.

Those numbers are really good, and this is almost for a two-year stretch of time. Yet he can’t delete those last six starts of last season and an ERA pushing 10.00.

But those are the numbers for 90 percent of his starts for those last two years.

I have pointed out before how Gibson’s K rate took a big leap in his final nine starts of last year. It was 6.37 per every nine innings for his season over his first 22 starts. But then it was 10.37 over his last nine games. Now his ERA was 7.04 in that span, so the additional swings and misses didn’t produce desired results.

One reason might have been, as Gibson told reporters in a Zoom interview, that he was tweaking his slider for his last couple of starts, per a suggestion from his Phillies pitching coach.

“I also did something that early in the year I probably would have told you that was crazy,” he explained in that interview. “I tweaked my slider. And turned it into a pitch that moved more horizontally to the left, and actually went down less. So you guys have probably heard the term a sweeper slider. I was throwing a bullpen before my start late September against the Braves and Caleb (Cotham), the pitching coach, came up and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about messing with your slider today?’ That’s been my best pitch my whole career, so it was a little interesting conversation, but I said ‘Yeah, let’s try it.’

“Four days later or three days later I’m throwing it in a game, and I probably got more swing and miss on sliders, even more so than I normally did, than I probably have in a while. So I think those two things (also a slight velocity uptick) to me along with using my pitches better in the month of September at times probably led to the uptick in Ks.”

He got 35 swings and misses in his last two starts, his most in any two-start stretch last season. Even though his ERA went up then, so did his K rate. Maybe the Orioles saw that and saw something to build on.

So, in getting Gibson, they are getting a pitcher with a two-year ERA of a combined 4.35. But it was 3.87 in the first 90 percent of those games.

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