Update: George Kirby IS in fact your AL Rookie of the Month:
Taking command @gkirb98 is the AL Rookie of the Month for August! #SeaUsRise pic.twitter.com/nFTjLhH6lM— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 2, 2022
We’re still getting used to all this newfound attention being showered on our lil’ team up in the Northwest, but we’ll definitely take it. Sorry, Adley. There will be plenty of awards in your future. Maybe breaking records (the 24 straight strikes to open a game) that have been around since they started keeping track of them puts a thumb on the scale a little?
The AL Rookie of the Month will probably be Adley Rutschman, who has hit .261/.397/.446 (145 wRC+) while playing well at the hardest defensive position. Steven Kwan has a case too, with his .296/.386/.418 line (134 wRC+) and more walks than strikeouts. But George Kirby deserves serious consideration.
The Westchester Wizard has had a magical August. His 1.32 FIP trails only Justin Verlander in all of MLB (min. 20 IP). As you’d expect from Kirby, his leading skill is limiting walks, and he issued just three free passes all month. Only Corey Kluber walked fewer. In fact, of the 120 batters he faced, just 16 of them even got to three-ball counts, and Kirby ended up striking out six of those.
His command apexed last week against Washington when he opened the game with 24 straight strikes, setting the record since 1988 when individual pitches started getting tracked, and besting the previous record by 14%.
Usually, command pitchers aren’t known for their strikeouts, but Kirby’s had more than his share of those this month with 34, which is tied with Julio Urias and Lucas Giolito for 22nd in baseball.
To be sure, Kirby’s FIP isn’t quite as dominant as it seems. Over a small sample, home-run rate will have an outsized influence on FIP, and a month-long home-run rate is about as useful for evaluating a pitcher as an astrology chart. But look, allowing zero home runs is a real thing that Kirby did. What more was he supposed to do? If we just look at the two outcomes most within a pitcher’s control together, Kirby’s 25.8% strikeout-minus-walk rate is tenth in baseball this month.
Besides, while less extraterrestrial than his FIP, his ERA was still elite. His 2.15 ERA is 20th in MLB. And he’s done that in part by avoiding barrels and keeping the ball on the ground both at an above-average clip.
When talking about an award, process matters a lot less than results. But as for whether this is sustainable, Kirby’s made an indisputable change to his pitch mix. We’ve celebrated his new sinker that runs more than Forrest Gump. When it’s on, the pitch starts at the batter’s hip but lands squarely in the zone and makes hitters look pretty silly.
Less celebrated than the sinker, the wizard has another new trick up his sleeve too, now throwing a slider 16.6% of the time. When he dots that slider, he’s gotten swings like this from Kyle’s brother.
All the while, he’s ditched his cutter entirely, figuring out a new pitch mix on the fly, all while navigating the league for the first time. When you see a pop in results corresponding to a change in process, you’d like to think the two are connected and so likely to continue.
We’ll have more in-depth coverage on Kirby’s process changes to come. But this is really just a short post to highlight how good a run Kirby’s been on lately because he’s earned some recognition for it, even if that’s unlikely to come from the shadowy cabal that decides the Rookie of the Month. [Update: Thank you, shadowy cabal! You’re our favorite shadowy cabal!]