Toronto Blue Jays 2023 Season Preview: C Alejandro Kirk
Up next in our Toronto Blue Jays 2023 season preview series, catcher Alejandro Kirk.
Addison Barger, Anthony Bass, Chris Bassitt, Brandon Belt, José Berríos, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Matt Chapman, Adam Cimber, Hagen Danner, Santiago Espinal, Matt Gage, Yimi García, Kevin Gausman, Chad Green, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Thomas Hatch, Spencer Horwitz, Danny Jansen, Leo Jimenez, Kevin Kiermaier, Yusei Kikuchi
Before we get into this, here's a quick refresher on the projection models we'll be looking at.
STEAMER: 122 H, 18 HR, 68 RBI, .285 / .370 / .466, 141 wRC+
ZiPS: 114 H, 15 HR, 65 RBI, .267 / .352 / .426, 125 wRC+
2022 stats: 134 H, 14 HR, 59 RBI, .285 / .372 / .415, 129 wRC+
Kirk was by far the Blue Jays' biggest breakout player in 2022, his first full season in the majors. He was named the All-Star starter at catcher for the American League and won a Silver Slugger at the position, all while being the primary catcher for Cy Young finalist Alek Manoah.
After a tough second half to the 2022 season, where he had a 95 wRC+ compared to his 155 in the first half, you might expect the projection models to be a bit more pessimistic about his 2023, but that's not the case. While ZiPS has him having a very similar season statistically, just with a lower average, STEAMER is expecting a huge season from Kirk.
When looking at Kirk's 2022 season it's easy to see that his second half numbers were worse than his first half and think that the magic just ran out. If you really look into it though, it's not that simple. The underlying numbers tell a much different story. In the second half, Kirk had a better walk percentage, the exact same hard hit percentage, he spread the ball to all parts of the field more, and many of his other underlying stats remained largely the same. The main thing that changed was his BABIP went down, which is his average on balls in play and can be a bit fluky for hitters like Kirk.
Another thing about his offensive game I want to highlight is how great his statcast metrics were last season. He was above the 90th percentile in xBA, strikeout percentage, and whiff percentage, and was in the 80s or 70s for pretty much every other relevant stat. Statcast metrics are possibly the best at showing whether a player's numbers are actually reflective of their performance, and they're all saying that his 2022 numbers were very legit.
The other important part of Kirk's game is obviously how he plays behind the plate. Although he'll probably spend a decent amount of time at DH, he'll still be catching a ton, especially considering he's Manoah's primary catcher. While it might not be what you think about with Kirk, in 2022 he actually graded out as one of the best defensive catchers by most metrics. He had the sixth most DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) among all MLB catchers with at least 500 innings caught, his framing was in the 94th percentile per Baseball Savant, and his rCERA, which is just a way of measuring how his catching impacted his pitchers' ERA, ranked ninth in MLB. The only area that the stats don't love him is when it comes to throwing out runners. While this all paints him as a top-tier defensive catcher, in 2023 I would expect Kirk to be simply above average. This isn't a knock on him at all, I just don't think this is where his bread is buttered, although he's still a plus player behind the plate.
After how well he played in 2022, there will be a lot of eyes on Alejandro Kirk in 2023, and I think he'll be up to the task. All his advanced metrics paint the picture of a great hitter who just got a bit unlucky down the stretch, and if you watch him play, it's clear that he's just that. Both with the bat and glove, expect big things from Blue Jays' backstop this coming season.