Kyle Gibson starts tonight against Baltimore. He pitched his best game of the season on Friday. The Minnesota Twins right-hander gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, but that was the lone blemish in a 2-1 win. Matching up against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Gibson fanned six and allowed just three base-runners over eight innings of work.
He mixed his pitches proficiently. Per Brooks Baseball, the 29-year-old sinker-baller threw 37 two-seamers, 24 sliders, 18 changeups, nine curveballs and eight four-seamers. His sequencing induced a 38.8% swing rate on pitches outside the zone (O-Swing%) against one of baseball’s most patient lineups.
Gibson, who is suffering through a subpar year, discussed the game and his overall pitch usage the following day.
Gibson on his July 22 outing: “The homer to [Mookie] Betts was on a four-seamer. There are times I’ll throw a first-pitch four-seamer to righties, but it’s usually all sinkers. Most of the four-seamers I throw are in to lefties and I haven’t been beaten too many times on that. One that comes to mind is a Jackie Bradley home run in our ballpark [on June 11]. It’s a pitch I’m normally trying to elevate and throw for effect.
“If I’m throwing 50 fastballs in a game, maybe 15 are four-seamers. It kind of depends on the team. I faced one team this year who in the past had been taking my two-seamer quite a bit, so I threw four-seamers early to keep them honest. But I definitely don’t abandon the sinker.
“I threw a lot of sinkers last night. Besides the one to Betts, I think I threw a couple of four-seamers to Big Papi and that might have been it. If [PITCHf/x] showed more, it was probably because of a few straight two-seamers. The Red Sox were aggressive. Like I said, when a team is patient, that’s when I use a four-seamer more.
“When I do throw one, I haven’t always been doing a good enough job of elevating it. The one to Betts was probably six to eight inches off from where I wanted it to be. I was trying to go in off the plate a little more, and up about six inches. If I do that, he gets jammed and maybe pops it up. Instead, he took a pretty good swing and the ball went out.
“A pitch that can make a big difference for me is my curveball. It’s been a lot more consistent in my bullpens and I plan on going to it more. I probably threw six to 10 curveballs last night and the last couple of outings I hadn’t thrown any. It’s a pitch to get hitters out front. Bradley’s fly ball to right was on a curveball. I got Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia to swing and miss on curveballs. It’s about 8 mph slower than my slider, so even though it breaks similarly, it can be a good pitch for me. I’ve also been my throwing my changeup more often this season [a career high 22.2%].
“There have been a lot of games this year where I’ve been one or two hitters away from having a pretty good outing. The Boston game at our place comes to mind. One pitch cost me three runs and kind of blew everything up. It’s one of those things where I’ve kind of made my own bad luck by not making pitches when I needed to make them.
“I executed well last night. More than anything, that usually ends up being the biggest part of any pitcher’s success. Guys who hit .300 are are making outs seven out of 10 times, and that number goes way up in your favor if you can execute. Last night I was able to do that. I was able to mix up my pitches and execute.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.