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Alejandro Kirk might be the most important Blue Jay down the stretch

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Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Shushkewich
10 months ago
The Toronto Blue Jays were dealt another injury blow on the weekend, as catcher Danny Jansen took a foul ball off of his throwing hand during Friday’s game against Colorado and the backstop is on the 10-day IL with a fractured middle finger. To fill in behind the plate, the Jays called up Tyler Heineman from Triple-A and he will likely tandem with Alejandro Kirk for the rest of September.
The 2023 season has not been kind to Jansen, as the former 16th-round pick back in 2013 has been hit by 10 pitches at the plate this season, most of them up and in on his hands. A groin strain earlier this season had Jansen miss some game action but he is no stranger to broken phalanges, as he broke his pinky on his catching hand last season and missed 35 days on the IL/rehab to recover. Should this injury take the same amount of time to heal, Jansen’s regular season may be over and he won’t see any more game action unless the Blue Jays make the playoffs.
With Jansen back on the IL, the Jays’ other catchers will have to step up, mostly Kirk as he will likely bear the brunt of the rest of the season with Heineman getting into game action as needed. Kirk fulfilled this task earlier this season and last year when Jansen went on the IL, however, this season has been a down year for Kirk offensively after the numbers he put up last season and the Jays will need that to change in the last month if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. For comparison, when Jansen went on the IL earlier this year and Kirk did most of the catching (May 26th to June 13th), Kirk went 16 for 52 (.308) with one walk, four strikeouts, and a .705 OPS.

With Jansen on the IL, the Blue Jays will turn to Alejandro Kirk for most of the catching duties

Defensively, Kirk has been outstanding for the club, as he has produced a 14 DRS behind the plate to go with his 97th-percentile blocks behind the plate and his 78th-percentile framing. He has thrown out 21% of base stealers this season (1% above league average) and boasts an 86th percentile fielding run value, making him one of the better defensive catchers in the game.
Interestingly enough, his bat has been his biggest downfall this season, as the Mexican product sits below the 50th percentile in almost every major offensive statcast category other than when it comes to strikeouts, which he is one of the best in the league (99th percentile whiff% and 98th percentile K%). While the walks are down slightly this season (8.9% compared to 11.6% last season), Kirk has just struggled to find the holes and owns a .272 BABip to go with his 92 OPS+, meaning he has been slightly under-average when it comes to getting on base.
To add even more intrigue, his values in regards to groundballs, flyballs, and line drives are similar to what he produced last season as well (within 2% variance) so most of his struggles in the batter’s box seem to be coming from either a fallback in power or his inability to connect on pitches in the zone, which we have seen on a few different occasions with his shallow infield hits.

Kirk gaining momentum late

The good news for Jays fans is that while Kirk may have struggled to find a rhythm this season at the plate, the 24-year-old has been producing well over his past seven games, going 9 for 23 (.391) while also adding six RBIs to the tune of a .609 SLG. While the sample size is indeed small, it is at least a sign of potentially what is to come over the next month as Kirk will see more game action behind the plate with Jansen on the IL and no dedicated timetable to return.
While one player cannot make or break a team at the end of the day, it is no secret that Alejandro Kirk will need to find a new level this month if the Blue Jays are hoping to play meaningful October baseball this year. Reinforcements are coming with Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman due back likely sometime this week and internal options such as Davis Schneider and Ernie Clement are producing in their absence but having Kirk find his 2022 form late in the season may just be the extra bit needed to help push the Jays back in the Wild Card standings before running the AL East gauntlet to finish out the season.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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