Kevin Kiermaier – 2016 Player Card
As we count down the days until the blessed return of baseball we’ll be bringing snapshots from a variety of angles for each of the significant players on this year’s upcoming Rays team. The format will be similar for each player and then we want to take a look at an individual thing for each guy towards the end of each card. Think of these as a quick cheat sheet on what a player looks like. You can use the Corey Dickerson card as a walkthrough, of sorts. Now at the plate – Kevin Kiermaier
I have always thought of Kevin Kiermaier as the heir apparent to Carl Crawford. Well, except for the fact that Kiermaier relishes playing a marvelous centerfield, whereas Crawford couldn’t dare be ambushed with that shit. Crawford was a vicious hacker at the plate, but his world class speed and ability to make contact helped maximize the approach. CC made strides to become a more discerning hitter, but that was a gradual thing over a long period of time. The future is a mystery, but the present displays KK as a similarly aggressive hitter looking to put it in play and leverage his speed.
Recently, I found that he avoids the strikeout at an above average rate,57th percentile, but this comes at a total loss of walks, 7th percentile. I also showed his ball in play figures:
He does a good job of avoiding the flyball, but with a below average line drive rate and well above average pop up rate any sort of gains with the grounders is pretty well negated. Overall, I had him basically about where you would expect based on his batted ball distribution. I think this might be about where he has topped out without the ability to turn some of those pop ups into line drives. Collette took a look at his adjustments against the high fastball and I wanted to touch on that before looking at some other stuff.
Here I have charted all of his balls in play and swinging strikes. You can see all the whiffs up and away as it’s a pitch he offers at willingly with little to show for the efforts. Part of that is something I’ve kind of been toying with lately. We can run a best fit line through his contact swings and get an idea of where he is best able to hit the ball. The r^2 is incredibly low on this at .1, but I think it does help visualize how he’s able to cover the outside plate better on low to middle on pitches away. He rarely swings down and in, but he’s able to get to the ball up and in.
One way that Kiermaier could take a step forward would be to show a better opposite field approach that sees him hitting more grounders and liners and fewer fly balls. Below you’ll see just how much pitchers are staying away from him inside. If they’re going to continue to pound him out there then he’s going to need to show an ability to turn those pitches into base hits more often. Let’s start with where he’s being pitched and where he is swinging:
Think of this as a top-down look at where these pitches are crossing the plate. The solid line box shows the rule book strikezone and the dotted lines show the commonly called zone. You can see that pitchers are feeding him over and over on the outside. He’s a free swinging when they do try to come inside as the gap is very small between the # of pitches & swings. That starts to widen as you cross over the middle of the plate and start to move outside. Incidentally you also see the high number of swings on pitches well out of the zone to both sides of the plate. This is the downside to an aggressive strategy. Now that we have established that pitchers are working him away it would be beneficial to look at how much success they’re having against him, if any.
Using Kiermaier’s park-adjusted run values per 100 pitches we can again look at the plate from our top-down angle. Here, I’m looking at all pitches and all swings. Starting with all pitches seen we can see that he is gets better results on the pitches inside a well as those right over the heart of the plate. When he swings the bat we see that he’s not really doing a whole lot with that inside pitch so it would seem that he is already exhibiting an approach that helps him deal with all those outer half and beyond pitches. Let’s look at just the balls he puts in play:
I’m using batting average and slugging percentage on contact here instead of the run values due to the smaller samples throughout. Not only is he having more success turning those outer half pitches into hits, but he’s also generally hitting them for more power. It would seem that all that focus on dealing with the away pitches is robbing him a bit of some of what should be pull-side production on inner half pitches. Going into this I expected his issue to be difficulty dealing with the away pitch, but it would seem that the adjustment he needs to make is to occasionally sit on those inside pitches with the hopes of having better results when pitchers do decide to work him inside. We can also look at this vertically:
He’s seeing more pitches down in the zone than up, but it looks like a pretty normal distribution, otherwise. The gaps between swings and pitches up appears to be tighter than middle and down so it would seem that he could stand to be a little more aggressive on pitches in the middle and a little less on those that are up. Keep in mind that this tells us nothing about the horizontal component so it’s possible that all those delicious middle pitches are out of the strike zone in or away.
You can see the struggles with pitches in the upper part of the zone whether he swings or not. When he does get the bat off of his shoulder he has some pretty solid success hitting pitches in the bottom third of the zone, but that tapers off the more north the pitch gets. As expected, he does almost nothing against pitches well up or down in the zone when he swings, but does a good job of being a net positive with all of his takes on these obvious balls.
When he puts the ball in play we see a bi-modal distribution where he shows good results on pitches just below the zone and those around the three foot mark. This second, higher, zone is where he has incredible power production, but higher than that sees both his batting average and slugging percentage drop. Many of those pitches would still be considered strikes so it’s not as if he can just spit on them and wait for something better, but if he’s ahead in the count I’d probably like him to be more selectively aggressive on the high pitch.
Kiermaier is at his best when he is leveraging his skillset by producing grounders and liners. I think if he could find a better way to control the inner half of the zone and manage to avoid the upper third that he could see better results. Of course that is easier said than done, but as is, it appears that he is virtually maximizing what he can do with his current approach. It’s awfully difficult to control both halves of the plate, and with how often he’s being pitched away it is likely that he will always have to lean out over a bit to get to most of the offerings, which will always hamper his production on inside pitches. Keyholing these pitches and taking the occasional away strike might allow him to tap into that, but it remains to be seen if this cheetah can manage to downshift into a more passive approach required to make that work. It would certainly help him avoid swinging at so many pitches well out of the zone as an added bonus.