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Closing Time: The case for Kyle Gibson

Kyle Gibson is looking good in the second half (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

If you look at Kyle Gibson’s seasonal stats, it’s easy to dismiss him out of hand. A 4.97 ERA, yuck. A 1.56 WHIP, no thank you. And with a mere 101 strikeouts in 141.1 innings, he clearly doesn’t miss enough bats.

But then you consider his success in the second half, specifically his dominant run over the last month, and you start to talk yourself into a story. Stick with us a minute.

The 29-year-old Minnesota RHP has a playable 3.27 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in the second half. He’s been especially sharp over the last month, with four wins, 29 strikeouts, a 1.96 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP; that makes Gibson the No. 14 roto starter over that period. He’s earned the second-half success, pushing his strikeout rate to 7.5/9 and cutting his walks in half. And FIP suggests a 3.04 ERA for this period; that’s validation.

[Enter the $150K Baller football contest. $10 to play and $15K to 1st place]

Gibson’s been a tease over the years because we know what’s possible; there’s obvious talent here, yet his career ERA is 4.67. He was a first-round draft choice in 2009, and he showed up on the main prospect clipboards in 2010, 2011 and 2013 (peaking at No. 34 for Baseball America, and No. 49 for MLB.com). He induces plenty of ground-ball contact. And if you trust defensive metrics, the Twins are a better-than-average fielding club (much appreciated, Byron Buxton).

Gibson’s trading at 25 percent in Yahoo leagues. That modest number probably reflects a few skittish owners, burned in the past. We also know roto engagement tends to fall off in September, at least among non-contenders.

If you want to kick some tires — even if it’s merely for streaming purposes — Gibson should be favored to beat Toronto on Sunday, and the following start at Detroit doesn’t look threatening, either. Given his current form and his past pedigree, I’m inclined to take a shot.

• Philadelphia rookie Ben Lively is another pitcher drawing some attention from the weekend streamer crowd — he faces Oakland on Saturday. I suppose that 3.86 ERA looks pretty good, along with three straight quality starts. Lively is the most added starting pitcher in Yahoo since the calendar flipped to Friday. But when you dig under the hood, it’s hard to take the ERA at face value.

Lively’s been a pitch-to-contact story all the way, with just 5.4 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. The K/BB ratio is just over two — not acceptable in my world — and that strikeout rate is puny. Some fortune with the hit and strand rate have cushioned the blow for Lively — FIP suggests his true ERA should be 4.64, and if you normalize his HR/FB rate, xFIP spits out a 5.55 number. Scary monsters.

One other word of caution — Lively hasn’t figured out how to succeed at home. Most of his starts and successes have come on the road, including his last three tidy starts, but he’s carrying a 4.91 ERA at Citizens Bank Park, allowing six homers over 22 innings. Let someone else buy a ticket for this ride.

• Is the light starting to go on for touted White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada? He couldn’t do anything right at the front of his Chicago trial (a .105/.261/.263 slash in July), but it’s been steady improvement since then. And he’s still widely available in Yahoo leagues (30 percent owned).

Perhaps you didn’t notice the improvement in August, since Moncada batted a mere .238. But he drew 13 walks and maintained a .368 OBP, and his slugging climbed over .400. And now he’s on a 13-for-39 binge this month, with two homers, a steal, and a juicy .961 OPS. His best game of the year came Thursday, with a ridiculous five runs, four hits, a homer, and a steal. A change in bat selection seems to agree with him.

Keep in mind Moncada isn’t someone who snuck onto the prospect rankings — we’re talking about a Top 5 prospect here. As pleased as the Red Sox were with the Chris Sale trade, the White Sox are pretty excited, too.

Moncada’s been locked into the No. 2 slot in the order over the last two weeks, and that’s a good place to be. The White Sox are the third-highest scoring team in September. The two players most commonly flanking Moncada — Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu — are clobbering the ball right now, too. The Pale Hose threw 11 runs at the Royals on Monday, and had a 17-7 laugher at Detroit on Thursday. The White Sox have been rebuilt for the future, but we’re getting a sneak preview down the stretch.

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