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Could there be a connection between George Kirby’s struggles and Tom Murphy’s absence?
Sometimes, we don't fully appreciate someone's value until they're no longer around.
August 12 was a momentous day for the Seattle Mariners franchise and its fan base.
First, Félix Hernández entered the Mariners’ Hall of Fame. Following the emotional and uplifting induction ceremony, current Seattle starter George Kirby pitched a gem reminiscent of a King Félix masterpiece. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone as well for Kirby ever since.
A turn for the worse
Through August 12, Kirby was performing at a level commensurate with someone worthy of Cy Young Award consideration. The Elon product was top-5 in the AL in multiple categories, including innings pitched, ERA, FIP, walk rate, WHIP, opponent’s AVG, and fWAR. But in five outings since Félix’s big day, opposing hitters have been uncharacteristically productive against the Rye, New York native.
Naturally, some of us feel the urge to take a shot at figuring out “what’s going on with George Kirby?” But realistically, it’s unlikely anyone other than Kirby or members of the Mariners organization will identify a root cause and a solution that gets him back on track.
Having said that, there’s a factor regarding Kirby’s recent difficulties I feel compelled to write about. The right-hander’s superb effort on August 12 was the final game veteran Tom Murphy caught before he went to the IL.
Could there be a connection between Murphy’s absence and Kirby’s recent difficulties?
Hard for someone like me to say. After all, I’m a nerd who’s ill-equipped to provide credible advice to pitchers at any level - including tee-ballers. Yes, I realize tee-ball doesn’t have pitchers.
Still, there’s a statistical curiosity this seam-head can’t stop staring at. Specifically, the noticeably different level of success opponents enjoyed against Kirby when he was paired with Murphy and Seattle’s main receiver, Cal Raleigh.
Further piquing my interest, Murphy caught Kirby’s last three starts before his IL stint began. It was arguably the best three-game span of his young career. The 25-year-old held opposing hitters to a paltry .141 AVG/.176 OBP/.183 SLG slash-line, while striking out 19 over 21 innings.
With Murphy out of the picture, let’s consider opponent production against Kirby based on his current battery-mates - Raleigh and rookie Brian O’Keefe.
O’Keefe caught Kirby’s first two starts following Murphy’s departure - they didn’t go well. The 20th overall draft pick of 2019 surrendered 16 hits (including two home runs and five doubles) in 11.2 innings.
Raleigh handled catching duties for Kirby’s next three outings, although the numbers weren’t much better. In fact, his first start with Seattle’s main catcher was the right-hander’s shortest of the season - three innings against the Mets on September 3. All told, Kirby surrendered 16 hits and 11 earned runs in 15.1 innings.
As suggested earlier, I can’t offer a qualified opinion on what’s actually causing Kirby’s recent ineffectiveness. But it’s hard for this dumb blogger to look past the 2023 All-Star enjoying better results with Murphy as his battery-mate.
In the end, my focus on catcher-related production may be proven to be completely off-base. That’s fine, but it’d behoove Kirby and the Mariners to quickly find the solution to whatever is actually causing his issues. After all, he projects to make three more starts, including game-162.
Realistically, the Mariners need the best version of George Kirby to make a return to the postseason this year. Unfortunately, that’s something we haven’t seen much of over the last month.
My Oh My…
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