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George Kirby Is In The Zone

George Kirby

George Kirby

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On August 24, George Kirby set the major league record for throwing 24 consecutive strikes to start a game, besting Joe Musgrove‘s 21 consecutive strikes to start a game in 2018. Kirby’s command has been elite ever since he was drafted by the Mariners in the first round of the 2019 draft, but that was an incredible feat. He has never walked more than one batter in his major league career and has a microscopic 3 percent walk rate to go along with a 25 percent strikeout rate. What is even better? He might be even better than this.

When he debuted, Kirby had four pitches, four-seam, cutter, change-up, and curveball. He added a sinker and slider to his repertoire in July, ditched the cutter, and has never looked back. From his debut in May through the end of June, Kirby had a 22 percent strikeout rate but during the months of July and August, his strikeout rate jumped up to 29 percent all while maintaining a 3 percent walk rate. It goes without saying that more pitches will keep batters on their toes but the types of pitches he is using in counts is drastically different. He was throwing four-seam fastballs 56% of the time in 0-0 counts. Usage of the four-seamer has dropped to 41% while his sinker and curveball are thrown 15% and 23% of the time, respectively. Kirby is throwing his slider mostly during 2-strike counts, again replacing the four-seam. It seems like the Mariners’ overall prioritizing the sinker more. Mikey Ajeto of Baseball Prospectus recently wrote an article on the Mariners switch to the sinker which you should check out.

This sinker/slider combination appears to be a combo that puts him over the top. It gets 39 inches of drop and 11 /2 inches of vertical movement, which are eight and ninety percent better than league average, respectively. With these two new offerings, he has increased his groundball rate and has yet to give up a long ball since May. While I am sure that Kirby will give up a homer at some point, but if there is any way to acquire him in a trade, do it now.

Nathaniel Lowe making more contact

Remember when Nathaniel Lowe was in the Rays system and we as a fantasy baseball community were all part of the #FreeNateLowe movement and all rejoiced when he was traded to the Rangers? Well, it wasn’t that long ago, really. He made his major league debut in April 2019 and spent most of the year shuttling between Durham and Tampa Bay. During his time in the majors, he hit .263/.325/.454 with seven homers across 169 plate appearances. His back of the baseball card stats cratered in 2020 and only smashed four long balls while slashing .224/.316/.433 in 21 games played. The Rays always seem to be one foot into contending and one foot in a rebuild, the flipped Lowe (along with 1B Jake Guenther to the Texas Rangers) for IF Oselvis Basabe, C/OF Heriberto Hernandez, and OF Alexander Ovalles during the winter between the 2020 and 2021 season. He was serviceable during his first season with the Rangers, we might just be seeing the breakout season for Nathaniel Lowe.

Simply put, Lowe has become a more aggressive hitter and it is paying off for him. Typically, when a player’s chase rate jumps from 27% to 35%, a siren blares in my head like the robot in Lost In Space. One thing I love to look at is rolling charts as it helps me visualize the change a player is making. Take a look at Lowe’s Rolling Chart comparing his wOBA (weighted on-base average) and his overall Swing percentage.

N. Lowe's 15-game Rolling Average

N. Lowe’s 15-game Rolling Average

www.fangraphs.com

It would seem that when Lowe is more aggressive at the plate, good things happen. He hasn’t lost any power of loft to his batted balls either. According to Baseball Savant, he is in the 90th percentile in max exit velocity, 65th percentile in barrel percentage, and 73rd percentile in hard-hit percentage. His average exit velocity on flies and liners was sitting around 88 MPH but has jumped to 93 MPH this season.

We all know that expected statistics are descriptive and not predictive but he has an expected batting average of .288 while his actual batting average is just a hair below .300 at .299. To me, that says he is not going up to the dish with a couple of four-leaf clovers in his back pocket.

The Rangers have some good things going for them. They are going to begin the season with a new general manager, they have locked up two cornerstone bats in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, and two solid to above solid hitters in Adolís Garcia and Josh Jung to pair with Nathaniel Lowe. This just might be the time to acquire before the price is too high.

Camilo Doval‘s added another pitch

It seems pretty strange to be writing about a reliever for a dynasty baseball article but here we are. Doval ended last season as the closer for the Giants and pitched extremely well in the playoffs. In the NLDS, he struck out two batters across 3 ⅔ innings of work, while walking no one, and scattering two hits. Most fantasy managers in redraft leagues assumed the then 24-year-old was poised to take over the job coming into the season. That was until Giants manager Gabe Kapler announced on a sports radio show that Jack McGee was the Giants closer. McGee was horrendous and then lost his job to Doval, who now leads the team in saves with 18. So what does this have to do with dynasty? Well, Camilo Doval has added a new pitch.

He started tinkering with a sinker around the All-Star Break and it has now become his primary offering. His sinker is coming in at an average velocity of 98.5 MPH and it freely comes out of his hand. Adding another pitch allows batters to wonder when his wicked slider or cutter will be thrown. In the month of August, his slider has a 40 percent whiff rate while his cutter has a 50 percent whiff rate. They were previously sitting around 44 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

His slider and cutter had the same movement profile and this new sinker is different. It moves into right-handed batters and away from lefties with 6.7 inches of drop, which is 35 percent better than an average sinker. Eno Sarris’ Pitching+ model is also a fan. The sinker, as of August 16, has a 122 Stuff Plus and a 98 Location Plus. Plus statistics are great to look at because 100 is average and anything is above or below 100 is x percent better. So Doval’s sinker with 122 Stuff is 22 percent better than league average. Also in the model, it is not concerning to see a reliever with a below average Location Plus number. Reliever are relievers for a reason. Not everyone can be like Jacob deGrom.

Tanner Bibee is adding velocity without losing command

Tell me if you have heard this before. A Guardians fourth-fifth round draft pick who was known more for his command but added a significant amount of velocity since being drafted and is carving up batters in the minor leagues. Oh yeah, his last name also begins with the letter B. Tanner Bibee has been one of my favorite pitchers to watch, other than Ricky Tiedemann and Kyle Harrison, this season. He did not pitch after he was drafted in 2021 but has made it all the way up to Double-A and is in contention of making his debut next season. In High-A, Bibee had a 2.59 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 86/13 K/BB ratio across 59 innings. He was promoted to Double-A and didn’t miss a beat. Across 49 ⅔ innings, the 23-year-old has a 1.45 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 52/8 K/BB ratio. I have been able to pick up Bibee even in some of my deeper dynasty leagues so hopefully, you read this piece before your league mates.