Kyle Gibson, available in roughly 75 percent of ESPN leagues and sporting a forgettable 4.40 ERA for the season, could be on the verge of a breakthrough.
Arguably, he has already experienced one, at least in terms of strikeouts: Following an 11-day demotion to Triple-A Rochester last July/August, Gibson saw his rate in the category soar to 22.6 percent in his final 11 starts of 2017, a significant boost especially when compared to his 15.4 percent career big-league rate in the category before that. Gibson has only built upon it this year, whiffing 26.8 percent of the hitters he has faced in his first seven starts.
While a casual glance at his pitch-selection and plate-discipline metrics don't reveal any dramatic changes that can explain the bump, a tweak to his delivery -- best described in this piece by 1500ESPN in Minneapolis -- at least partly explains Gibson's recent improvements.
Thanks to the adjustment, the right-hander has shown increased velocity on his four-seam fastball, which averaged 92.7 mph in the aforementioned 11-start conclusion to his 2017 and 92.4 mph so far this year, after averaging 91.7 mph in his career before last year's breakthrough. Gibson has also generated swinging strikes on 26 percent of his sliders thrown in his most recent 18 big-league starts, after he had a 20 percent rate with them in his first 116 big-league turns.
That's not to say Gibson has suddenly vaulted himself into the top 25 fantasy starting pitchers, but if he can maintain these paces he'd surely be worth a look each time out even in shallow mixed leagues.
Let's not forget that he was considered one of the better pitching prospects in the game at the time of his June 29, 2013, big-league debut, with his prospect ranking somewhat driven down by the fact that he hadn't logged much minor league time following September 2011 Tommy John surgery.
Gibson will need to cut down on his walks in order to fully realize mixed-league fantasy value, as he has a career-worst 11.0 percent rate thus far in 2018 and has gotten first-pitch strikes only 56 percent of time, but seeing as he's typically closer to eight and 59 percent in those categories, improvement should be expected.
He's usually scoffed at as one of the least fantasy-relevant arms in current rotations, thanks in large part to his five-plus ERAs of the past two years, but I'd set the bar at four for this year and expect he'll finish beneath it.
Stash him now while you still can, because if Gibson can polish his control, it's not unthinkable he could even make a run at the aforementioned positional top 25.