On November 9, 2022, the Orioles declined their club option for 2023 on veteran right-hander Jordan Lyles. Apparently, GM Mike Elias felt it would not be hard to fill a Jordan Lyles-sized hole on the roster.
As a sentimental matter, he’s almost certainly wrong. As a baseball matter, probably not.
Over 32 starts for the Orioles in 2022, the 32-year-old Lyles had pitched to a 4.42 ERA with 144 strikeouts. Where Lyles shone was his workload, a team-high 179 innings. He wasn’t “wow,” but he was reliable. The Orioles felt this wasn’t worth an additional $11 million in 2023.
Right decision? Probably. Exactly one month ago, the team signed Kyle Gibson, a 6’6” right hander, to a similar deal (one year, $10 million). Gibson, age 35 and with a career 4.52 ERA entering in his eleventh season, doesn’t figure to have too much more upside than Lyles.
With one exception: he had an inflated 1.3 HR/9 rate in 2021, the 11th worst number in baseball, ahead of … only Jordan Lyles! It must be a sign. Or it must be a stat which the front office knows could definitely benefit from Walltimore’s cavernous outfield dimensions.
Of Gibson’s homer-prone tendencies, Keith Law had this to say: “Gibson would be an above-average starter if he just weren’t so homer-prone, which is a bit like saying I’d be tall if I weren’t 5-foot-6, although I think Gibson has a better chance to remedy his situation than I do mine.”
Law wrote that before the Orioles signed Gibson, but from the righty’s perspective, there’s almost no better ballpark for him to join. According to Statcast, the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park is the fifth-worst in home run park factor; Camden Yards’ left field dimensions are now the 30th most demanding to homer in. A change of park could change Gibson’s value completely. Especially because, other than that, the right hander is known as a strike thrower with some deception.
Gibson was an All-Star as recently as 2021, when he split the season between Texas and Philadelphia. In 2019, he added a changeup to his arsenal and suddenly got better, the pitch becoming a “game-changer” for him, by his own estimation. His slider is considered his best pitch.
The Orioles could do something with this. As we know, several of their hurlers benefitted from the data-driven coaching regime to home their arsenal, and get improved results.
Gibson could fall into that boat: he added a cutter as recently as 2020 (a pitch Jordan Lyles had some success with, BTW), and decreased his reliance on a two-seam fastball in favor of the slider-cutter combo. It’ll be interesting to see what the Orioles can do with Gibson’s arsenal.
In 2022, batters hit .306 against the Gibson sinker, his most-used pitch. Figure to see some tinkering there.
Gibson’s peripherals aren’t stellar, but they are way better than Jordan Lyles’s, who seemed to live dangerously all of 2022, even as he produced average results. Gibson isn’t whiffing a lot of people anymore, and his expected batting average clocks in in merely the 18th percentile, a result of his missing over the plate a fair amount. But he is deceptive and doesn’t walk a lot of people. I feel like the team could do something with this.
At Gibson’s age, he won’t be blowing hitters away, and will instead have to be crafty. On the other hand, with this coaching staff and this park, it’s possible the team can extract more value from Gibson than expected.
He won’t replace Baltimore’s “No. 1 Dad” in our hearts, but in the rotation, Kyle Gibson bids to have a fair bit more upside. He’s a smart signing, and it will be interesting to see whether with Gibson slotted in, the starting rotation can keep the team on this side of the playoffs in 2023.