Mariners Cooler Talk: George Kirby or Logan Gilbert?

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

Fans of the Seattle Mariners have been accustomed to far too many negative conversations or debates, rather than good ones during the franchise's history. Thankfully, through a massive talent infusion, brighter days are here and appear to be here to stay for a while. While Julio Rodriguez is the face of baseball being revitalized in Seattle, I can't help but look to our young pitchers in Logan Gilbert and George Kirby as what could truly get Seattle over the hump and into the World Series. 

As we've all enjoyed the occasional "cooler talks" with our friends and colleagues, I couldn't help but wonder and ask who the Mariners community feels will be the better pitcher over the next five years? 

If we had posted this question back in May, the voting probably would have been 90% for Logan Gilbert. Gilbert came out in 2022 on fire, going 4-0 and posting an ERA of 0.64, winning the American League pitcher of the month. 

While he never quite reached that Cy Young level of play to start the season again, Gilbert still had a very solid season that slotted him as a top 3 starter in the Mariners rotation. If it wasn't for a rough stretch where Gilbert got hammered facing the Padres, Blue Jays, Astros, and Yankees in 6 out of 7 starts coming out of the all-star break.

After that massive rough patch, Gilbert was able to regroup and finish the season on a positive note. Given the ball in Game 1 of the ALDS, Gilbert was really good, going 5.1 innings, giving up 3 earned runs on 5 hits while striking out 5 Astros. In a game that the Mariners should have won, I think Gilbert's performance was quickly forgotten.

While Gilbert was winning awards early in 2022, George Kirby was in Arkansas pitching in Double-A. After an incredible spring training battle for the #5 starter spot with Matt Brash, which was eventually won by Brash, Kirby was sent back to the minors to wait for his moment.

With Brash being unable to control his electric stuff as a starter, Kirby found himself getting that magical call on May 8th at home against Tampa Bay. At the time, the Rays were the defending AL West champions and were 18-10 and were trying to complete the 4-game sweep in Seattle over the 12-16 Mariners.

With the season hanging by a thread, Kirby put in one of the best rookie debut performances that we've ever seen, going 6 innings giving up no runs on just four hits and 7 strikeouts. While he had some inconsistent starts as a rookie, Kirby also delivered a few incredibly dominant performances, including an MLB record 24 straight strikes in a game.

A smoking hot second half in which Kirby lowered his ERA by a full run while going 6-2 down the stretch, earned the rookie the right to help close out the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Series as well as getting the call in an elimination game at home in the ALDS. In that game, Kirby showed true ace potential, shutting out the eventual champion Astros over 7 innings in the 18-inning classic.

When looking at this poll, I think some fans have forgotten how impressive Gilbert looked to start the season, and are looking more to the way Kirby ended. 

When looking at Baseball Savant, you can see Gilbert has exceptional velocity, good command, and an insane extension due to his size. This really helps his fastball look like 106 rather than 96. Looking at his numbers, you can also see that when people made contact off Gilbert, it was some of the hardest contact in the league.

I believe this is due to Gilbert having not yet developed a strong #2 or #3 pitch. You can only live off of a great fastball for so long, but the great hitters will force you to have perfect command on the fastball, or else they're just going to crush the offspeed. This was specifically clear against the powerful offenses like the Yankees, where Gilbert was tagged for 13 runs in 9.1 innings pitched in back-to-back outings. 

George Kirby does not have the dominant fastball that Logan Gilbert possesses, but he has some of the best control in baseball. Kirby pounds the strike zone, rarely walking batters. At a young age and still developing, this will lead to some rough nights. In Kirby's first 10 starts, he gave up 12 home runs, including 4 in one game to the Orioles. But, just like his season totals, Kirby got better over the course of the season. After the Orioles game, Kirby's control jumped to Gregg Maddux levels, and the young stud didn't give up a home run in the following 14 starts, totaling 77 innings. That type of control, pitching in Seattle, could lead to some major hardware heading to Kirby over the next few years.

Alright, but this is cooler talk! Who are you taking over the next five years?

Ok fine, I believe that Logan Gilbert has a higher ceiling than George Kirby, which isn't saying much since both have Cy Young potential. I do believe that Kirby's floor is much higher and safer than Gilbert's. Until Gilbert shows he can develop an offspeed game to lower his hard-hit numbers, I'll ride with Kirby and his otherworldly command.

What a special young duo the Mariners have, and this doesn't even include guys like Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, and some talented young pitchers in the farm system. Having both of these guys healthy and continuing to grow will likely give the Seattle Mariners 3-4 #1-2 level pitchers over the next five seasons, and should get Seattle into the Fall Classic sooner than later.