The Pittsburgh Pirates are reportedly interested in free agent pitcher Kyle Gibson. What could be sparking their interest in the veteran righty?
Kyle Gibson has been identified as a pitcher the Pittsburgh Pirates have heavily looked into. The right-hander was also considered a free-agent target for the Bucs here on Rum Bunter earlier this fall.
But why are the Pittsburgh Pirates interested in a 35-year-old coming off a rough year? I know everyone is going to point to a cheap innings-eater type pitcher, but the Pirates could save a whole lot of money by just rolling with Bryse Wilson or Zach Thompson if that’s what they’re looking for. So why even kick the tires on Gibson?
Admittedly, on the surface, it doesn’t make much sense. Gibson is coming off an unimpressive season with the Philadelphia Phillies. He did manage 167 innings, the fifth full season in a row he’s pitched at least 150+ frames, but worked to a 5.05 ERA, 4.23 FIP, and 1.34 WHIP. Gibson had a mediocre 20.1% strikeout rate and 1.29 HR/9. However, he held opponents to a free pass rate of 6.7%.
One thing worth noting is that despite an ERA peaking at just over 5.00, Gibson had an extremely rough month of September which blew his ERA up by nearly a whole run.
At the end of August, Gibson had a 4.08 ERA, 4.08 FIP, and 1.20 WHIP in his first 139 innings of the season. But in the last 28 innings and six starts of the year, Gibson allowed 31 earned runs on seven home runs and 47 total hits. So what went so wrong in September that he completely imploded?
Well, for one, good luck was not in Gibson’s corner. Opponents who faced Gibson had a .435 batting average on balls in play. While it was only 139 total batters faced, you also have to consider the Phillies had an anemic defense in 2022.
As a team, they had -34 Defensive Runs Saved (fifth worst in baseball) and -37 Outs Above Average (the second worst in baseball). The Pirates may not have been the best defensive team in the league, but the differences were night and day. The Pirates had only -1 DRS and -21 OAA, meaning, on average, they made 16 more outs and saved 36 more runs through their defense than the Phillies did.
Second, the home runs were more of a product of bad batted ball luck than anything else. Gibson had a 21.7% HR/FB ratio in the month of September despite his flyball rate decreasing from 34.1% in April through August to 32.7% in September.
Third, while Gibson’s ERA skyrocketed, neither his xFIP nor his SIERA did. Gibson managed a 3.99 xFIP and 4.09 SIERA through the first five months of 2022. Not only did both numbers not increase from his April-August levels, but they actually got better. Gibson had a 3.72 xFIP and 3.94 SIERA in September.
Another major facet to consider is his home ballpark. A 1.29 HR/9 for a Phillies pitcher isn’t terrible. Citizens Bank Park was the ninth most home run-friendly ballpark in Major League Baseball last season. PNC Park was the 18th most home run friendly in comparison. This is reflected in each team’s home HR/9. The Pirates had a 1.0 HR/9 at home, while the Phillies also had a 1.0 home HR/9. Despite the same home run rate, the Phillies, of course, had a much better pitching staff than the Pirates did in 2022.
There’s a reason Gibson is on the Pirate radar, and it’s because he’s not as bad as ERA says he was. He had an atrocious September, sure, but that doesn’t eliminate nearly the first 140 innings of the season where he had a roughly league-average ERA, nor does it take away from the decent ERA estimators and underlying numbers that suggest that his September ERA has nothing backing it. That’s not to say that the Pittsburgh Pirates are targeting a guy who can be an All-Star, but there’s not much evidence supporting his 5.05 ERA as anything more than smoke and mirrors.