Did Kiermaier Adjust?
In late July, we looked into something a scout mentioned to Rays Radio broadcaster Dave Wills regarding Kevin Kiermaier and his self-defeating actions at the plate. Pitchers were learning that Kiermaier could not lay off the hard stuff up high and were able to get him out by climbing the ladder in pitch sequences. The conclusion was that Kiermaier would be better off laying off those pitches and focusing down in the zone where he was doing more damage. Let’s look back to see if he adjusted over the final two months of 2015.
The image below shows what Kiermaier’s swing tendencies were on fastballs up in the zone by hot/cold zone as well as the rates for what he did with those pitches:
Now, compare that image to the one below that shows how Kiermaier did throughout the rest of 2015 on those same pitches:
The good news is that Kiermaier did indeed offer at fewer of those fastballs up in the zone. In doing so, he chased fewer fastballs outside of the zone, made more contact with the ones he did swing at, and put more of them in play. By being more selective on those pitches up, he turned a .244 wOBAcon on high fastballs pre-August into a .395 wOBAcon after August. Given the small sample size of balls in play, outcomes are not as important as the fact Kiermaier was being more selective on the high fastballs that pitchers were previously using to neutralize his natural abilities.
In the heatmaps above, notice the types of fastballs that Kiermaier began laying off of later in the season — the ones up and in. The basics of the Theory of Effective Velocity tell us pitchers gain 1 to 5 miles per hour of effective velocity locating a pitch up and in to a batter.
In laying off the fastballs up and in from pitchers, Kiermaier is at least giving himself a puncher’s chance at doing something with that high fastball versus playing fully into the pitcher’s hand. If the pitcher can repeatedly locate that fastball up and in for a strike, more power to the pitcher. For his career, Kiermaier has put fastballs in that zone safely in play all of six time in his career: a homer off David Phelps, a double off Kyle Gibson, two singles to the outfield and two bunt singles.
A final thought on how Effective Velocity works; since former Rays slugger Carlos Pena is a lefty as is Kiermaier, the virtual view in 42 video below (click to play – death to auto-play) is an excellent presentation of this theory in action. While Kiermaier may never be able to lay off the high heat, if he can continue to show the selectiveness he showed in the final third of the season and spit on most of those up and in fastballs, he will increase his chances to get on base to use his speed to generate runs.