Yankees are a team of interest for this strong defensive centerfielder

MLB: Wildcard-Toronto Blue Jays at Minnesota Twins
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

After outfielder Kevin Kiermaier indicated would prefer staying in the AL East following a road matchup with the Yankees, a report from Newsday suggests that the interest could include New York as well. Erik Boland of Newsday wrote that Kiermaier has told people in Toronto that he’s interested in talking to the Yankees.

This shouldn’t come as a shock, as the Yankees are in need of a centerfielder following the UCL tear that exciting prospect Jasson Dominguez suffered to end the season, knocking him out for the first few months of the 2024 season. Defense wasn’t an issue for the Yankees in centerfield when Harrison Bader was on the roster, but his poor play against right-handed pitching coupled with the team’s sub-90 wRC+ against right-handers could push the Yankees to sign a left-handed version of that skillset.

Giving the Yankees a Cheap Fix For Centerfield

MLB: Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays
Sep 11, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) heads to home plate on a single hit by right fielder George Springer (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Notoriously known as a light-hitting centerfielder, Kiermaier has posted a 100 wRC+ since the 2021 season, marking a fourth consecutive season with a wRC+ at or above 90, and his second season with a wRC+ above 100. The 33-year-old veteran posted a 104 wRC+, his highest since 2017 when he posted a 113 across 105 games. WAR is a metric that’s loved him, as since 2019 he’s consistently been a 2-2.5 WAR player, with the two exceptions being the COVID-shortened season where he posted a 1.4 fWAR in just 49 games and 2022 when he posted a 1.1 fWAR and had season-ending hip surgery.

Following the hip surgery, he avoided spending any time on the IL for lower body injuries, just needed a small IL stint in August following an elbow cut he suffered when he collided with a wall on a great catch. This isn’t to say that Kiermaier isn’t an injury risk, but rather to say that he could have cleaned up a lot of his lower body issues with that surgery. His defensive tools improved dramatically from 2022 when it looked like injuries and age had caught up to him.

Both his bursts and feet covered recovered from a drop-off in 2022 that saw him limited to just 2 DRS and 1 OAA, and he would win the 2023 Gold Glove in centerfield. Defense is his calling card, as he has +165 Defensive Runs Saved, with his +152 in centerfield being the fifth-most by any player since the metric was quantified at a position. According to Baseball Savant’s Fielding Run-Value metric, he’s been the most valuable defensive player in the entire sport (+92), and the Yankees would be getting the defensive anchor at a premier position that they sorely need.

Kiermaier discussed adjustments at the plate that centered more around making contact, and also dropped a note about the usage of contacts at the plate for better vision. The underlying metrics suggest he’s bound for some regression, but the overlay of his spray chart and Yankee Stadium is certainly encouraging.

He’s improved his pulled flyball rate by over 10%, allowing him to get more game power out of his flyballs, posting the highest ISO of his career since 2019 when the baseballs were juiced. Typically an increase in game power comes with a decrease in contact, but Kiermaier cut his Swinging Strike% from 14.9% to 13.7%, and his strikeout rate went from 27.6% to 21.1%.

Furthermore, Kiermaier’s .848 OPS at Yankee Stadium indicates a level of comfort at the ballpark, and maybe he finds himself pulling more flyballs into the enticing short porch in right field. You certainly aren’t paying for a high-quality bat, but with the second-most hits out of the nine spot, trailing just Michael Harris II of the Braves, he’d help round out the bottom of the Yankees order.

The Yankees’ issues this past season against right-handed pitching are well-documented, and with a 106 wRC+ against righties and a career 103 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, he’s got a strong track record of being the type of hitter who profiles well for the bottom of the order and in situations where the 2023 Yankees have really struggled. The league-average wRC+ for seven, eight, or nine hitters sat below 90 this past season, and if Kiermaier can sit around a 95, he’ll deepen the lineup while being a likely favorite to win a Gold Glove in centerfield.

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