Yankees utility man is red-hot heading into make-or-break stretch

isiah kiner-falefa, yankees
May 27, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) hits a walk off RBI single in the tenth inning against the San Diego Padres at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The transformation of utility man Isiah Kiner-Falefa from highly criticized to fan-favorite within the New York Yankees‘ camp during this season is nothing short of extraordinary.

In a season riddled with both highs and lows, Kiner-Falefa has emerged as one of the few shining stars for the Yankees in 2023. While he boasts an overall average of .254 with a 92 wRC+ this season, his recent performances rank him among the team’s top hitters.

Standout Performance

Since May 15, the super-utility player has managed a .293 average with five home runs and 26 RBIs, boasting an .812 OPS across 53 games. Notably, Kiner-Falefa has showcased his versatility by playing nearly every position throughout the season, with a majority of his games in the outfield – a position unfamiliar to him at the season’s start.

Commitment to Team Spirit

Demonstrating an unwavering readiness to fulfill any role the team assigns him, Kiner-Falefa has consistently shown his team spirit. He has embraced role changes without complaint and has frequently expressed his gratitude for donning the Yankees’ pinstripes. His commendable attitude earned him the Yankees Heart and Hustle Award for 2023, recognizing his passion and dedication to baseball.

Winning Over Yankees Fans

Initially, Kiner-Falefa had to work to win over the fans, as a subdued 2022 season and subpar defense at shortstop cast him as an easy target for criticism.

However, he changed his approach at the plate this season, aiming for stronger hits rather than softer contacts. The positive outcome of this strategy is evident in his hard-hit percentage of 37.1% this season, a significant improvement from his previous career high and a notable 7% difference from the last season.

Power Surge and Versatility

Kiner-Falefa’s newfound power at the plate has already yielded more home runs this season than the entire previous season. While he hasn’t morphed into a potent middle-order power bat, his reliable hitting provides stability in a Yankees lineup that has struggled significantly this season. His versatility as a defender adds to his value.

Filling the Void

The Yankees entered this season without a full-time Left Fielder. While they are likely to seek a long-term solution elsewhere, Kiner-Falefa has served as a dependable fallback option until that piece is found.

The Playoff Hope

Currently, the Yankees are just 2.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the final Wild Card spot. If Kiner-Falefa maintains his current performance level, the Yankees could find themselves in a strong position to make a playoff run.

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