Gibson brings veteran presence to young O's roster

December 8th, 2022

Once Kyle Gibson first met with the Orioles’ leadership group earlier this offseason, the 35-year-old right-hander called up one of his former teammates. After all, this person would know exactly what pitching for Baltimore is like.

Gibson reached out to Jordan Lyles, who thrived in a workhorse role for the O’s in 2022. The two played together for the Rangers in ‘20 and part of ‘21, and Gibson wanted to hear how things went for Lyles in Baltimore.

A team on the rise. A great staff of pitching coaches. A strong young core featuring a budding superstar behind the plate in catcher Adley Rutschman.

Sold. Gibson quickly agreed to terms with the Orioles on a one-year, $10 million deal for 2023 -- which was finalized during the Winter Meetings on Monday -- choosing them among several interested teams.

“That was appealing,” Gibson said on an introductory Zoom call with the media on Thursday. “That was really cool to hear [Lyles] give credit where he thought credit was due, talk about the makeup of the team, talk about even things like pitching to Rutschman. Just the things that stood out to him.”

Now, Gibson appears to be taking over for Lyles, whose club option with Baltimore for 2023 was declined and may be unlikely to return to the team. A one-time All-Star with 10 years of big league experience, Gibson was an attractive fit for the O’s as they sought out veteran arms.

General manager Mike Elias knew Baltimore needed a wise staff leader after Lyles drew rave reviews from the young pitchers on the team last season.

“It was a must for us,” Elias said at the Winter Meetings. “I think we saw what Jordan did last year in that same role, and I think we needed to come into the season with somebody, at least one player, like that again.”

Shortly after signing, Gibson took a gander at the Orioles’ roster, and he quickly noticed something: Nobody was born earlier than 1992, and he was born in ‘87.

As somebody who learned about being a professional baseball player (on and off the field) from veteran pitchers on the Twins such as Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and Phil Hughes in the mid-2010s, Gibson is eager to be there in that type of role for less-experienced O’s hurlers when possible.

“I look forward to hopefully helping guys in any way I can,” Gibson said. “I love watching bullpens, I love watching guys throw and just soaking up information, kind of digging into peoples’ brains and how they’re trying to get better.”

The addition of Gibson is about more than his wealth of baseball knowledge, though. The Orioles are confident he’s poised for improved results after he recorded a 5.05 ERA over 31 starts for the Phillies last season.

Elias thought Gibson was a victim of some bad luck at times, and the righty agreed, to an extent. But Gibson also believes there were some encouraging developments late in the year that have him set up well for 2023.

Gibson made a tweak to his delivery that increased his velocity over the final month-plus of the season. In September/October, his average velocity on his four-seam fastball (92.9 mph), sinker (92.8) and cutter (90.3) were all higher than they had been during any month from April-August, per Statcast.

Then, Philadelphia pitching coach Caleb Cotham suggested that Gibson overhaul his slider, which had typically been the best of his six pitches, to induce more swing-and-miss. He worked to make it break more horizontally to the left and not down as much -- sort of a “sweeper” pitch. According to Statcast, 50.8 percent of Gibson’s sliders in September/October had at least six inches of horizontal break; that percentage wasn’t higher than 22.7 in any previous month.

The overall results may not have been immediate (a 9.73 ERA in six September/October starts), but it shows the work that Gibson dedicates to his craft in an effort to constantly improve.

“I’m trying to hunt and make myself the best version of myself that I can be,” Gibson said.

Gibson is hopeful that his new situation with the O’s will lead to that. It may even help that he’s excited to make Camden Yards -- now with a deeper left field -- his home park.

“I always enjoyed playing in Baltimore. It’s one of my favorite road parks. I think it’s a sneaky city to go to. I love restaurants in Little Italy. It’s just there’s a lot to love about Baltimore,” Gibson said. “Playing against that team in ‘13, ‘14, ‘15, ‘16, when they were really stinking good, that stadium was just electric to play in. So a lot of cool memories for me playing there, and that has something to do with it.”