We Can Plant A House, We Can Build A Tree – Cubs Offseason Wishlist: Kyle Gibson

Took me a week and a half, but I’m finally getting around to the pitcher that MLB Trade Rumors has the Cubs picking up. And that’s Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson. It wouldn’t be the sexiest name, and it might not even get your pulse going above normal at all. Does it make any sense? Let’s dive in.

Why A Spoon, Sire?: Maybe because they think he’ll be cheap. Gibson did not have a very impressive 2019. His ERA was a full run higher than it was in 2018, and he had health problems with a bout of ulcerative colitis, which sounds just about as pleasant as trying to make out with a wolverine (not THE wolverine, because who here wouldn’t make out with Hugh Jackman? I thought so). Gibson has claimed it stemmed from catching E. coli last offseason on a trip to Haiti and the Dominican, as this story just gets more and more pleasant. How healthy Gibson was for most of the year, he wasn’t shut down until September, seems to be open for debate. Gibson did say he’d lost about 10 pounds through the colitis and hadn’t slept well all season because of it, so do with that what you will. Which should be nothing because…gross.

Anyway, even with that, Gibson’s 2019 looks a little better under the hood than the surface numbers would indicate. He continues to get a ton of grounders, 51% of his contact in fact. He struck out a career-high rate, with nine hitters per nine innings or 22%, another career mark. And his 7.9% walk-rate was the second-lowest of his career. He managed to do all that while trying not to shit out his guts, so you have to give him something.

Gibson was undone by things that might not continue. One being a 20% HR/FB rate, as he perhaps got the business end of the homer-karma the Twins had as they were belting out 300+ homers as a team that made no sense. Gibson’s career number in that category is 14.1%, so he could see a drop in homers against simply because reasons. Gibson has given up over 40% hard-contact on fly balls for the past three years, so that rate probably won’t come tumbling down either, though. Gibson also had a 67% left-on-base percentage, which means he was getting some bad sequencing luck.

Gibby also was undone by some fiendish BABIP treachery, with a .330 BABIP that was 22 points over his career mark and 45 points above his 2018 finish. Again, that will come down simply because, and might even come down aggressively with a Cubs infield behind him (not that the Twins were defensive stiffs or anything near it). Still, an expected slugging of .428 and an expected-wOBA of .330 is not exactly encouraging.

Much like his teammate Jake Odorizzi, whom we focused on yesterday, Gibson found a little bump in velocity with his fastball and sinker this past season. His sinker and change are the main ground-ball weapons, but he also used a curve more and perhaps an enterprising team would try to get him to use it even more. Gibson’s curve has really picked up drop in the past two seasons, along with some horizontal movement.

He only threw it 13% of the time last year, and perhaps bumping that closer to 20% could see him improve. With a 40% whiff-per-swing mark on it, it could be more of a weapon than it is at the moment, or at least there’s a chance it could.

Ein minuten bitte, vous einen kleinen problemo avec de religione (he was from everywhere): Well, there’s the small fact that Gibson really only has two good years in the majors, and that was 2018 and 2015. ’16 and ’17 saw him have an ERA over 5.00 and the FIPs weren’t kind to him either. Even though Gibson has never walked a ton of guys, while also not being terribly miserly with his free passes, his WHIPs have been horrific because he gives up a lot of hits, whether he’s being beaten about in homers or not. And that’s because he just gives up a lot of hard-contact.

While his stuff has improved, at least the curveball, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be a dominate-a-lineup guy and more of a dance-through-the-rain guy. And the Cubs already have like, three of those.

Gibson is 32 now and will be for the 2020 season, so his window of improvement is very small if it exists at all. This is probably the guy you’re going to get.

Little Silver? Little Gold?: MLBTR has Gibson and the Cubs coming to a two-year, $18M deal. Which is certainly the kind of deal you’d give to “a guy,” which is pretty much what Gibson is. He’ll take the ball 28-30 times and…well, that’s really all we can guarantee. Maybe if you change his repertoire around a bit and maybe if he’s finally past his internal health problems you can get a little more, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll give you anything spectacular.

If you’re looking merely to plug a gap, Gibson can do that. If you’re looking to actually improve that gap, then there are myriad options out there like the ones we’ve discusses–Wheeler, Ryu, Odorizzi, and on and on. Gibson is basically a Jason Hammel, and the Cubs need more than that because they can’t guarantee Darvish’s health or revival at 33, and they have no idea what they’ll get out of Lester or Q.

Not enough…I need more…


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