Ever since the departure of Russell Martin after the 2018 season, the Jays have struggled to find any real consistency at the position. Jansen has started the majority of games behind the plate since then and appears to be in line to begin this season as the starter, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he’s left something to be desired. This has left the door open for the possibility of someone else stepping in and stealing the starting role, in particular, Alejandro Kirk.
Despite having never played a single game above High-A, Kirk appeared in nine games during the 2020 season. In that limited time, he made quite the splash, posting a 166 OPS+ over 25 plate appearances, which led to many Jays fans believing he should receive more playing time. His playing time increased in 2021, appearing in 60 games with 40 starts at catcher but missing some time on the injured list. He wasn’t nearly as impactful with the bat, posting a 107 OPS+ over 189 plate appearances.
When comparing Jansen and Kirk, the conversation often ends up boiling down to Kirk being the better hitter and Jansen being the better fielder. In order to understand Kirk’s case for being the starting catcher though, it’s important to figure out if these claims are true.
Kirk’s case for being the starter hinges a lot on him being a better hitter than Jansen, but this isn’t a certainty. In fact, in the 2021 season, the two had very similar numbers. In 16 more plate appearances, Jansen had an OPS+ of 106, only one point lower than that of Kirk. Jansen got hot to end the year though, putting up a 206 OPS+ in the 23 games he appeared in after the All-Star break. However, if you look at the past two seasons as a whole, Kirk appears to be the much better hitter.
Despite having similar offensive number in 2021, Kirk seems to have more upside at the plate than Jansen. Kirk is just 23 years old and has only played in 69 games above High-A, let alone in the majors. Jansen on the other hand has been wildly inconsistent at the plate in his three years as the Blue Jays starter.
The statcast metrics reflect Kirk’s potential as well. He had better numbers in pretty much every category, including exit velocity, barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, K percentage, and walk percentage. These obviously don’t tell the whole story, but they certainly support the narrative that Kirk is better at the plate.
As we approach the 2022 season, Danny Jansen seems to be a lock as the Blue Jays starting catcher, but could Alejandro Kirk beat him out for the position?
Overall, although the recent stats may not reflect this, in his limited time with the Blue Jays, Kirk has shown that he can be a much better hitter than Jansen and even if he isn’t behind the plate, he should expect to be getting a lot of plate appearances at DH.
When he entered the majors, Jansen was touted as a top-tier defender and backed that up immediately, receiving a Gold Glove nomination in his rookie season. This has given him the reputation of being a great defensive catcher, while Kirk on the other hand seems to be seen by many as a well below-average fielder. But is this actually the case?
While it obviously isn’t a perfect stat, DRS is a fairly reliable stat when it comes to measuring defensive ability. In 2021, Jansen posted a DRS of 0 (league average), while Kirk’s finished with a -3. This supports the narrative that Jansen is better than Kirk, but not that Jansen is as good as some believe. Jansen also has better framing metrics per baseball savant, but interestingly enough, Reese McGuire actually led the team’s catchers in most defensive metrics.
I think it’s pretty clear that Jansen is a better defender than Kirk, but if you’ve seen them both play, you’d know that the difference isn’t too substantial. I think it’s fair to say that Kirk is a below-average defender, but he’s far from a liability and should only get better the more he plays.
If and when the 2022 MLB season finally starts, I would be shocked if Danny Jansen wasn’t the Blue Jays starting catcher.
That being said, Alejandro Kirk has the potential to be one of the league’s better hitters at the position. Throughout his limited time in the Majors, he’s shown some serious flashes of talent, and if Jansen struggles at the plate during the season, expect Kirk to be getting more and more time in the starting role.