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Gibson could be a solid positive regression candidate, but the Rangers are still far from contending for a playoff spot.
We are all waiting for the major free agents to sign, but in the meantime, there has been a flurry of activity lately concerning lesser deals.
Among them is Kyle Gibson signing with the Rangers on a three-year, $30 million deal. He joins a Texas rotation that had two surprisingly good pitchers last year in Lance Lynn and Mike Minor, both of whom cracked 7.0 WAR last season.
The Rangers had a surprisingly good season in 2019, surpassing their PECOTA projected 70 wins by eight wins. The aforementioned pitching duo had a lot to do with that, but so did Joey Gallo. They could have been a .500 team had he been able to play close to a full season instead of just 70 games due to injury.
I applaud a team for actively trying to get better, but the Rangers are going to need to get MUCH better in order to contend in 2020. The second AL Wild Card slot went to a 96-win team in 2019, and the Rays and Athletics are likely still 90+-win teams. Even if we set aside the fact that Lynn, Minor, and Gallo are prime regression candidates, the Rangers will have to sign Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon to crack 90 wins. Even if they sign one of those guys and continue to make improvements around the margins, I don’t see how they make the playoffs in 2020 without lots and lots of luck.
Gibson joins his new organization after making a career with the Twins, who drafted in him in the first round in 2009. It is hard to gauge exactly what he is right now because he has been quite inconsistent from year to year. Setting aside his disastrous 10-start debut season in 2013, he has a career 4.76 RA9 and averaged 1.7 WAR a season but with a pretty wide standard deviation. Three times he posted an RA9 over 5.00 and a WAR below one in a season. Twice he’s posted an RA9 barely over 4.00 with a +3 WAR, the best of which was in 2018. His peripherals the last couple of seasons have been roughly average.
I thought perhaps Gibson’s DRA would be more consistent, but it absolutely is not. Interestingly enough, his 5.60 DRA in 2019 indicates that he got more or less exactly the results he should have given how he pitched.
Last year, Gibson had a 5.57 RA9 and was barely over replacement level. However, that comes with a significant caveat. The team announced on September 1st that Gibson had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a debilitating disease that easily could have affected his performance all season long.
Gibson is a groundball pitcher, so an improved infield defense is necessary. Elvis Andrus is still a good shortstop despite his age, but I don’t know who is going to play third base in Texas, Additionally, Rougned Odor’s glove is not any better than his bat. Ronald Guzmán is no worse than a 55-grade defender at first, but the Rangers would be much better off with a first baseman who can actually hit.
All of this is not to say that Gibson was a bad signing. It is a fair deal. The Rangers just have a lot more work to do for this spending to be worthwhile.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.