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Know your Orioles 40-man: Kyle Gibson

Kyle Gibson is the Orioles’ big offseason acquisition. For real.

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Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals - Game One Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

How he arrived: Signed a one-year, $10 million contract on December 5th, 2022.

As the 2022 season came to an end, Orioles fans looked eagerly forward to the first winter in years when the team was expected to make real moves. As you undoubtedly know. that hasn’t happened. It took the Orioles until December to make their first move, and when they did it was a bit underwhelming as they signed starting pitcher Kyle Gibson to a one-year deal.

Kyle Gibson was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the 2009 draft and made his major-league debut in 2013. After making 10 starts as a rookie with a 6.53 ERA, Gibson became a steady rotation presence for the Twins in 2014, making 178 starts over the next six years. That’s about 30 starts per season, for those of you who don’t do math.

Gibson may have been a workhorse, but his results on the field weren’t exactly eye-popping. He had some solid years but never topped an fWAR of 3 while with the Twins. He turned that solid career with the Twins into a three-year deal with the Rangers ahead of the 2020 season.

After the shortened 2020 season, Gibson started 2021 on the best run of his career. Through 19 starts with the Rangers, Gibson put up a 2.87 ERA. The low ERA was partly fueled by the lowest BABIP of his career, .267, as his rate of home runs and hits dropped to well below his career average.

His performance earned him a trade to the Phillies where his excellent run came to an end. In 11 starts with the Phillies, he topped a 5 ERA, then did the same in a full 31-start season in 2022. A 5+ ERA from a 35-year-old starting pitcher is not really what you want to see.

So why did the Orioles sign him? They needed someone to replace rotation stalwart Jordan Lyles, for one thing. Lyles is younger than Gibson, but even with his pedestrian career numbers, Gibson has had quite a better career than Lyles. He’s never had an fWAR below 0, for example, and his career fWAR is 10 greater in two fewer seasons.

Gibson might also be due for a bounceback from that unsightly 5.05 ERA. His FIP of 4.28 indicates that his defense let him down quite a bit. This is not surprising given that the Phillies had one of the worst defenses in baseball this year. Moving to the Orioles could make a big improvement for Gibson as their infield defense was highly rated in 2022.

For Gibson’s part, he said all the right things when he talked about signing with the Orioles. After turning down an identical offer from the Blue Jays, Gibson gave three reasons he chose to come to Baltimore: the infield defense, the left field wall, and Adley Rutschman.

In interviews after Gibson’s signing, both he and GM Mike Elias focused on all the reasons Gibson should thrive in Baltimore. Elias noted that they targeted him right away, saying the team’s evaluators believe they can make him successful. He also noted that as a veteran who just went to the World Series, he has a lot to offer the young rotation in Baltimore.

Gibson himself was turned onto Baltimore by talking to Jordan Lyles, of all people. Lyles raved about the team makeup, the way they do things, and of course Rutschman. Kind of shot yourself in the foot there, Jordan.

Gibson also liked the idea of pitching in front of defensive stars Ramón Urías and Jorge Mateo. About half of the balls in play against Gibson are grounders, so having that solid defense behind him should help him a lot.

What can we expect from Gibson this year? Hopefully, a guy who makes over 30 starts and serves as a source of stability for an otherwise inexperienced rotation. I know we all would have preferred the Orioles sign another experienced starter (and maybe they still will) but for now it’s Gibson and the youngsters, just as it was Lyles and the youngsters in 2021.

If Gibson is able to pitch more to his FIP and if the evaluators were right in seeing something they like in Gibson and can improve on, we might even get to see a league average pitcher. That’s not exciting and it’s not what we hoped for going into this offseason. But it’s not bad, either. It’s just probably not enough to make this rotation as good as it needs to be.