Game 29, Rays at Mariners: Kirby’s Turn

marc w · May 8, 2022 at 10:49 am · Filed Under Mariners 

George Kirby vs. Ryan Yarbrough, 1:10pm

After Matt Brash fired 1-2 electrifying games, he lost control of the strike zone. The M’s decided first that he should work on finding his control again in the minors, and second, that he should do so in a relief role. I’ve laid out why I disagree with both, but what’s done is done. To take his place, the M’s have turned to their top pitching prospect George Kirby. The righty/former first-rounder makes his big league debut today.

Kirby has always had excellent control. He famously didn’t walk anyone in his short-season debut. But more intriguingly, word got out from the alternative site in 2020 lockdowns that Kirby’s velo had shot up to the high 90s. That proved true, and he spent 2021 overwhelming high-A and AA. The M’s have been exceedingly cautious with his workload, so he still hasn’t thrown 100 pro innings *combined*. But when he’s been out there, he’s been great.

Of course, so was Brash, and in fact Brash out pitched him both in AA last year and again this spring in Peoria, which is why Brash started with the big club while Kirby headed back to Arkansas. But Kirby does have one clear advantage over Brash.

Brash had a far higher K rate and a lower hit rate (and thus ERA) than Kirby, but he walked more batters. Nothing crazy, but the walk rate was elevated. The best way I think about this swap is that the M’s have decided that fixing control is not something they’re up to doing, at least not during the season. Thus, they’ll bring in the guy who, whatever else he may do, doesn’t have that problem. They can work on other things to get the most out of that velocity, but they (hopefully) don’t have to worry about a super-high walk rate or ton of 3-1 counts.

The trade off has been that when batters guess right, they’ve been able to put good swings on Kirby. He got hit at times during spring training, and has yielded 3 HRs thus far in a pretty tough hitting environment. That’s not to say he’ll struggle; it may be that this approach with his stuff is just an objectively better bet at this level than Brash’s K’s and BB’s sampler pack.

I still think the best version of Brash is probably the better pitcher, but I do have to acknowledge that the best version of Kirby is a flat out more likely outcome. It’s not a sure thing; nothing about pitching is. But he’s earned this shot, even while I disagree with how everything played out. The M’s need one of their prospects to be good, and to be good *right now.* Lets hope it’s Kirby.

The righty out of Elon touches 99 with his four-seam fastball. He pairs that with a slider, curve, and change. The fastball and curve grade out best. The curve isn’t the high-spin, huge movement monster that Brash’s two breaking balls could be, but then, that movement carried them out of the strike zone.

One thing to watch will be his platoon splits. Kirby has been excellent against lefties overall, but when he’s yielded hard contact and XBHs, they’ve mostly been to lefties.

1: Frazier, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Rodriguez, CF
4: Suarez, DH
5: Winker, LF
6: Toro, 3B
7: Torrens, C
8: Kelenic, RF
9: Moore, SS
SP: Kirby, woooo!

Go Mariners.


3 Responses to “Game 29, Rays at Mariners: Kirby’s Turn”

  1. schwingy on May 8th, 2022 8:33 pm

    What a great debut for the kid!!

  2. Westside guy on May 8th, 2022 9:26 pm

    Kirby Your Enthusiasm… excellent.

  3. Stevemotivateir on May 9th, 2022 10:57 am

    I wondered if his limited innings in AA might have meant he wasn’t built up enough for a MLB start quite yet.

    Obviously they felt he was, and it was the first time this season he went more than 5 innings. The relatively low pitch-count certainly helped and the results speak for themselves.

    What a great debut!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.