George Kirby has Mariners fans wondering if he is the next version of Cliff Lee
Back when the Mariners drafted George Kirby, fans were curious about the kid from Elon. Not a powerhouse school, not known for a plethora of big leaguers, yet here the Mariners were spending their first-round pick on a starting pitcher. He had shown great command in his final year there, walking just six batters in 88.1 innings, for a rate of 0.6 BB/9. There was no way he could repeat that, right?
Well, in a way, he didn't. Jumping straight to the Aquasox in Everett after being drafted, Kirby would throw 23 innings without walking a single hitter. He seemed a command specialist, throwing in the lower 90s while painting around the zone.
I remember talking to a handful of people more important than I, the Churchills, Shustermans, Szymborskis, and Browns of the baseball world, and bringing up possible comps. Were we seeing the next coming of Greg Maddux or Cliff Lee? True artists who could command a zone like nobody's business. It's unlikely Kirby would ever have someone catch his bullpen with a blindfold, but he seemed to be the frontrunner for the next command specialist in baseball.
George Kirby has a chance to be the next Cliff Lee or Greg Maddux
Kirby was masterful to start his career in 2022. If not for a rough finish that was hampered by pitching through sickness, he would've been the league leader in BB/9 if he qualified with enough innings thrown. As it was, he held a 1.15 BB/9 rate over his first 22 starts, walking just 15 hitters in 117.2 innings, never walking two in a single game.
Let's go back to that mark of 0.6 BB/9 that I mentioned earlier. Why is that important? Well, it's where he sits through his first seven starts of 2023, as he has walked just three hitters through 44.2 innings. That's just insane. He's doing it efficiently as well, with an ERA of just 2.62. We bring up Cliff Lee because he hed the league in BB rate in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2013. Meanwhile, Maddux is just stupid with it as he led the league 9 times over a 14 year stretch, highlighted by a total mark of 1.22 BB/9 from 95-2001.
That shows you just how crazy it is that Kirby isn't walking people. League average is somewhere around 2.97 BB/9 if I did my math right. Kirby walks hitters nearly 5 times less than the average pitcher. That's amazing. We have seen innings this year where the Mariners have walked as many times as Kirby has issued free passes over 5 games worth of innings. Sit and ruminate on that for a bit.
In case you're unfamiliar with how hard Kirby throws, he isn't doing this by being dainty with the ball. No, he is bringing it. HIs fastball velocity is in the 73rd percentile as he averages 95.0 with the 4-seamer and 94.5 with the sinker. He is bringing heat and painting corners, and it's a rare combo. It makes sense why so many fans have high expectations with him... Kirby truly has the ceiling to be one of those "special" pitchers you tell people about.
He's only 25, and I'm wary of putting those kind of expectations or comps on him. Yet, he's proving worthy of it, and it's exciting to watch. Expect big things from George Kirby... bigger than what we've already seen.