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Let Kyle Gibson be your secret September ace

The tall right-hander has very quietly made some changes on the mound that’s led to immediate success.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, you see a pitcher in the free agent pool doing well. He throws a couple of good games in a row and you shrug and chalk it up to luck because in the past, that pitcher has proven to be average at best and below average as the norm. Then he throws another good start and now it’s three in a row during fantasy playoffs and you’re worried that if you jump in now, you’re going to get bit. You still don’t trust him.

Kyle Gibson fit that mold perfectly for me. A pitcher with a 6 K/9 and a 4.73 carer ERA in 700 innings is the last person I’m turning to during crunch time in fantasy baseball. But over his last three starts (19.2 IP), he’s allowed just three earned runs, struck out 20 and walked two batters. One of the most encouraging signs, however, is his swinging strikeout rate in this small sample, which sits at 13.9% compared to 10% for the season. To give some context, 13.9% is roughly what Clayton Kershaw, Robbie Ray and Jacob deGrom are doing this season.

Here are some more good signs in this three-start sample.

Plate Discipline Then and Now

Categories First 21 starts Last 3 starts
Categories First 21 starts Last 3 starts
SwStr% 10 13.9
O-Swing% 30 34.5
Z-Swing% 67.4 73.3
Contact% 78.1 73.8
F-Strike% 59 71.4
via Fangraphs

Those are all great gains. Just look at the difference in first-pitch strike percentage!

OK, so you’ve seen that he’s been markedly better recently. Why? Here I’ll tip my hat to Baseball Prospectus writer Matthew Trueblood for tipping me off to this.

About a week later, Gibson confirmed the change on the rubber to a local Twins beat writer, saying it “gives him a better angle to pitch from.”

Lowering his arm slot has naturally changed his release point. Look at the progression through the season.

via Brooks Baseball

A lower arm slot combined with a slight shift to his right on the rubber has allowed Gibson to attack hitters, getting ahead of the count more often, leading to fewer walks and more strikeouts. Let’s look at where he was pounding the zone in his first 21 starts.

Pitch% through Aug.17
Fangraphs

Compare that to how he’s attacking hitters in his last three starts.

Pitch% from Aug.22-Sept.2
Fangraphs

Thanks to increased fourseam and changeup usage and less reliance on his sinker, Gibson has changed how he’s approached hitters. Whereas before he’d try to pound the bottom of the strikezone with his sinker, now he’s staying in the middle and inner-third to get ahead and then finish them off down and away (or down and in to LHB).

Bringing things to a more macro level, Gibson is scheduled to finish the season @KC, v.SD, @NYY, @DET, v. DET. Outside of NYY, that’s a really forgiving schedule. If he can carry these changes with him for five more starts, you’re looking at someone who could be your secret weapon on your way to a championship.