Alejandro Kirk has a legitimate All-Star case
Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
By Thomas Hall1 year ago
When the 2022 All-Star Game rolls around next month, the Toronto Blue Jays are expected to be well represented for a second straight season and one of those spots could potentially be awarded to catcher Alejandro Kirk.
Granted, in most circumstances, Kirk doesn’t immediately stand out in your mind when you think of all-star players on Toronto’s roster. That’s certainly understandable. But that might begin to change over the next few weeks.
As each day passes, the more traction Kirk’s all-star campaign gains as he’s currently putting together a very strong case for himself. At the moment, the 23-year-old stands as one of the hottest hitters in the majors, which has recently sparked this lively debate.
Since May 23, the 5’8″ backstop is hitting .425/.500/.825 with four home runs, four doubles, and nine RBIs over his last 46 plate appearances. His latest blast came during his club’s series finale versus the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. A solo shot that came off the bat at 108.9 m.p.h. and traveled an estimated 416 feet to left field.
Digging deeper, Kirk is also carrying a remarkable .400 ISO, .394 BABIP, .557 wOBA and a 276 wRC+ score during this recent hot streak. He leads all Blue Jays hitters with a 1.1 fWAR rating, as well.
This current offensive explosion has instantly helped Kirk improve off his slow start, which saw him slash .232/.323/.232 with zero extra-base hits across his first 65 plate appearances of the season. That resulted in a very forgettable April, although he still posted more walks (nine) than strikeouts (seven).
Now, however, the right-hander is putting everything together at the plate as he’s been hitting for both contact and power while also remaining disciplined. Not too shabby for someone that’s enjoying just their second full big-league season, right?
Overall, Kirk has registered five home runs, eight doubles, 16 RBIs, a 146 wRC+ score, and a .306/.389/.465 slash line across 167 plate appearances in 47 games this season. His 1.6 fWAR rating is also a new career-high. Though he’s split time between catcher and the designated hitter spot, if we combine his results at both positions, he places as one of the most effective offensive catchers in the sport.
Entering Tuesday’s action, Toronto’s impressive young backstop owns the second-highest AVG, OBP, SLG, and wRC+ score and is tied for the fifth-most home runs among all qualified MLB catchers, according to FanGraphs.com. He also possesses the second-highest fWAR rating and the highest among AL backstops.
Kirk’s plate discipline has also been unmatched by his counterparts as he controls the highest walk-to-strikeout ratio (1.40), the lowest strikeout rate (9.0 percent), and the fourth-highest walk rate (12.6 percent) in the majors.
The Tijuana, Mexico native has acted as an elite offensive catcher thus far, just as most Blue Jays fans expected him to be. But his success isn’t limited to just his position either. Like the majority of his percentile rankings display, his production sits near the top of the leaderboard in several different categories, particularly involving his plate discipline and expected metrics.
Thanks to his stellar bat-to-ball skills, there are only a handful of other hitters who’ve recorded a higher xAVG, xSLG and xwOBA than Kirk in ’22. Not to mention, his strikeout and whiff rates sit just two percentile points lower from placing in the highest group of the majors.
As much recognition as Kirk’s offence has received, though, his defence has been just as crucial this season. It’s one of the main reasons he’s served as the primary catcher for starters Jose Berrios and Alek Manoah.
His fielding has vastly improved since he arrived on the scene during the shortened 2020 campaign, too. Most notably, the promising young star has significantly enhanced his pitch framing over the past two seasons and has quickly emerged into an expert in this regard.
Thanks to his rapid growth, Kirk has converted the sixth-most balls into strikes, resulting in a 50.2 percent strike rate, among all qualified MLB catchers. He’s also tied for the third-most catcher framing runs (two).
In particular, only four other catchers in the majors feature a higher strike rate than Kirk (60.9 percent) when it comes to stealing strikes at the bottom of the strike zone – Baseball Savant refers to it as zone 18. This is where Kirk excels the most.
The Blue Jays’ rising star has also improved both his pitch blocking and ability to throw runners out, which has seen him produce a career-high 31.6 percent caught stealing percentage this season. He’s already matched the number of runners he threw out last season (six) and has done so in 15 fewer games.
Taking into account Kirk’s offensive and defensive performance, what do we have? Someone who deserves to appear in Los Angeles for July’s mid-summer classic. At this rate, he may not only be selected to the AL’s roster but also as their starting catcher.
Of course, considering Kirk plays on the same team as George Springer, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Teoscar Hernandez, his current status might not be large enough to receive tons of votes from outside of Canada. Still, he’ll undoubtedly earn an overwhelming amount of support from an entire country.
Will it be enough to push him ahead of fellow backstops like Texas’ Jonah Heim, Oakland’s Sean Murphy, or Minnesota’s Gary Sanchez? That much is uncertain. But based strictly on statistics, Kirk currently holds an edge over all of them, both offensively and defensively.
In most cases, there are usually two catchers chosen from each league to be represented at the all-star game, however, there have been previous instances of additional backstops being named as injury replacements. One way or another, the Blue Jays appear poised to feature at catcher during next month’s event.
With fan voting set to begin on Wednesday, we’ll soon receive a glimpse of how the rest of the sport views Kirk and his impressive first-half showing. Hopefully, they acknowledge him on a similar level to how he’s valued north of the border.
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