Premium Defenders: Alejandro Kirk’s bat may be heating up, but he’s provided a ton of value with his elite defence
Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
3 months ago
It’s well known that Alejandro Kirk’s bat has worse than it was in 2022.
In fact, we can look back to the second half of the 2022 season to see a decline in his bat. Although he finished the season slashing .285/.372/.415 with 14 homers with a higher BB% (11.6%) than K% (10.7%) for a 129 wRC+, the second half was not good.
From July 2022 onward, he slashed .258/.339/.335 with four homers in 295 plate appearances for a 97 wRC+. His K% (11.9%) also surpassed his BB% (11.2%) in this time frame. Since July 2022, he’s slashing .258/.342/.346 with just 10 homers in 582 plate appearances. Along with a 10.5 BB% and a 11.5 K% for a 99 wRC+.
With all that said, 2023 hasn’t been great for Kirk with the bat. However, he still provides a ton of value for the Blue Jays.
Catcher Defense is important:
Austin Hedges has a career 52 wRC+, yet he regularly plays more than half of his teams’ games every season. Why? He’s one of the best defensive catchers in the league. The same can be said about Jose Trevino, Kyle Higashioka, Christian Vázquez, and quite a few others.
Now of course, you have your top tier catchers like Adley Rutschman, J.T. Realmuto, Jonah Heim, and 2022 Alejandro Kirk who excel defensively and with the bat, but they are few and far between.
With that being said, the 2023 version of Kirk still provides a ton of value. Let’s take a look at some defensive numbers
In Alejandro Kirk’s defense:
Catching defense can be broken down into four catergories, blocking, throwing, framing, and how well they work with the staff. Some of these are easier to quantify than others. For example, there isn’t really a metric to quantify how well they work with the pitching staff, but I’ll try my best.
Other stuff like framing and blocking their own statistics, while throwing you can just look at pop time and caught stealing percentage. Let’s start with what he’s not good at.
Kirk doesn’t have the greatest of arms, but he’s also not awful. In 59 attempts, batters have stolen 47 bases, giving him a 20.3 caught stealing percentage. Those 47 stolen bases rank as the 13th most, below guys like J.T Realmuto (22.8%), William Contreras (17.8%), Nick Fortes (13.3%), and Austin Hedge (15.3%). Those guys are some elite defenders, and only Realmuto has a higher caught stealing percentage. Furthermore, both Kirk and Adley Rutschman have allowed 47 stolen bases, but Kirk’s 20.3 caught stolen percentage is higher than Rutschman’s 19%.
With the new pitch clock rules, pretty much everyone’s caught stealing percentage has dropped, while stolen bases against has risen. Last season, Kirk allowed 35 runners to steal in 654 innings, while throwing out 12 of them for a 25.5 caught stealing percentage.
Interestingly, Gabriel Moreno has the highest caught stealing percentage, as he’s thrown out 17 of 36 runners for an insane 47.2 caught stealing percentage. Imagine Kirk with Moreno’s arm.
Another metric we can look at is pop time. Pop time is how long it takes from when a catcher catches a pitch and then throws the ball to second base. Realmuto is by the best at this, owning a pop time of 1.83 in 39 attempts. Moreno has a pop time of 1.91 seconds, tied with Rutschman.
Kirk has a pop time of 1.98 second, which ranks tied for 43th best in the league. If you’re curious, Danny Jansen has a pop time of 1.98 second, which is actually tied with Kirk.
In reality, pop time is Kirk’s only defensive deficiency, and it doesn’t really impact his throwing ability.
The automated balls and strikes is coming, but it’ll more than likely be a challenge system. The challenge system is great, as it allows umpires to still call balls and strikes, but only catchers, pitchers, and batters can challenge the call. Moreover, a team only gets three incorrect challenges a game, and it’s quick. Like 10-15 seconds at most.
What this means is that framing is still incredibly useful, and it just so happens that Kirk is one of the better framers in the league.
Catcher Framing Runs is a metric created by Baseball Savant. Kirk has a CFR of four, which is tied for the 10th highest in the league. However, there isn’t a huge separation between fifth and 12th, as Francisco Álvarez has a six CFR. Interestingly, the first time I wrote this article in mid-July, Patrick Bailey had a CFR of five. He now has nine. While Kirk is still very good at framing, especially in the lower portion of the zone, he wasn’t a good as last season. He finished tied for fourth in CFR with nine.
Another statistic is Strike Rate, which combines all eight zones in the shadow zone (a few inches off the strikezone). His strike rate ranks fourth-best in the league at 50%. Interestingly, when I first wrote this article, Kirk’s strike rate ranked ninth-best at 49.8%. Last season, his strike rate sat at 50.8%, which was the fourth best in the league.
Like throwing, his framing has declined a bit, but he’s a definite top 10 catcher in that regards.
On Twitter, I was roasted a few days ago for saying that Kirk gave up 12 wild pitches last season. Some were quick to point out that a wild pitch is charged to the pitcher, and not a catcher. However, Fangraphs quantifies how many wild pitches are allowed by a catcher. When I originally wrote this, he only had nine, but it’s now jumped up to 12.
This in turn plays a role in a statistic called blocking by Baseball Savant. Kirk may not be elite with the arm, his framing is still very good, but has taken a hit. However, Kirk is the second-best blocking catcher in the league.
Blocks Above Average measures how many wild pitches and passed balls a catcher saves compared to an average catcher. His 10 BAA ranks as the second most, only behind Fortes’ 12. Moreover, he has a Catcher Blocking Runs of two, which is also tied for the second most and sits behind Fortes’ three.
Is it just a one-season wonder? Nope. He had a BAA of 12 last season, which ranked tied for fourth in the league behind Rutschman, Trevino, and Realmuto.
Kirk is a great framer, elite blocker, and has an okay arm… but how does he handle the pitching staff.
How he handles the pitching staff:
This isn’t a quantifiable stat in all honesty. You could look at ERA of a pitcher with Kirk behind the plate and compare it to Jansen and Tyler Heineman, but this isn’t really reliable (I’ll still do it though.)
However, let me put it this way. The past three season, the Blue Jays have had three candidates for the American League Cy Young Award. Hyun-Jin Ryu was the Jays 2020 candidate, but Kirk only played the trail end of the season.
In 2021, Robbie Ray won the award, and take a guess who his personal catcher was? That’s right, Alejandro Kirk. Or what about the 2022 nominee, Alek Manoah? Of course Alejandro Kirk was his regular catcher.
Even this season, Chris Bassitt who has like a billion pitches, is significantly better with Kirk. Many expected Jansen to handle Bassitt, but with the “more experienced catcher”, he has a 10.29 ERA in 21 innings pitched. With Kirk, he has a 2.26 ERA in 107.2 innings pitched, which is a significant difference.
Of course, this isn’t really a reliable statistic in determining how well a catcher handles a staff, nor are we comparing Kirk and Jansen, but I thought this was worth mentioning
Mix it all together:
There are a few statistics that measure framing, blocking, and throwing.
One of these stats is Defensive Runs Saved. It’s not my go-to statistic, but Alejandro Kirk’s 12 DRS in 483 innings caught ranks as the second best in the league, only behind Patrick Bailey. Another statistic is Catcher Defense Added, which used to be called Catcher Defensive Adjustment, fun fact.
CDA was created by Baseball Prospectus, and Kirk’s 5.5 CDA ranks as the 13th best in the league. At the time of the last article, he had a 4.3 CDA which ranked 12th. It’s a notable drop from his fourth-place finish last season with a CDA of 10.5, but in my estimation, he’s definitely a top 10 defensive catcher, with an argument of being a top five defensive catcher in the league.
What’s next for Kirk:
I have no idea why Kirk wasn’t nominated for the American League Gold Glove award last season. Don’t get me wrong, Trevino was the rightful winner, but Kirk was the second best catcher in the league last season.
This season, he’s still elite as reflected by the second best DRS at the position, and good CDA that has only improved drastically since the first iteration of this article. He excels at framing and blocking, and his arm isn’t too shabby either. Furthermore, he’s an experienced catcher, helping Ray win the 2021 American League Cy Young award, and helping Manoah finish third in voting.
Yes, there is a case for him not catching as much as other catchers, but it’s worth noting that Danny Jansen is having his best season of his career, so it make sense the playing time is split between the two excellent catchers.
In the wrap-up section here, I wrote about how his bat needed to get going, and it has done just that. Since the All-Star break, he’s slashing .353/.450/.569 with three homers in 60 plate appearances for a 186 wRC+. For the season, he’s slashing .258/.345/.357 with six homers in 287 plate appearances for a 100 wRC+, which is average.
With that said, his defense alone makes him an incredibly valuable piece to the Blue Jays.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Brennan_L_D. Thanks for reading this article (again). When I posted this originally in July, the plan was to do three Premium Defenders articles, but after I got back from camping, I contracted COVID, and then started a full-time job. The plan is to do the other two, with one coming on Wednesday and the other on Friday.
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