Colorado Rockies news: Let’s talk about Kevin Kiermaier, shall we?

We are several weeks into the offseason and the search for a center fielder continues for the Colorado Rockies. In exploring the free agent market thus far, we’ve talked about more notable options like Brandon Nimmo and Cody Bellinger, but should the Rockies miss out on them, they could pivot to one of the best gloves in center field in the form of Kevin Kiermaier

Kiermaier has spent the entirety of his entire career with the Tampa Bay Rays as a regular full-time player. Arriving in the big leagues at the age of 23, Kiermaier quickly established himself as an elite outfielder with a capable bat that isn’t a huge liability in a lineup. He presents a rather interesting case for the Rockies if they decided to approach him as their next best thing should they pursue the open market.

The Midas Touch

Any team pursuing Kiermaier is doing so with the understanding that he is a defense-first center fielder. That’s for good reason since Kiermaier has been one of the best center fielders in the game for the past nine seasons. Between 2014 and 2022, Kiermaier won three Gold Gloves, including winning it back-to-back in 2015-2016 and taking home the award in 2019. In fact, he has accumulated more defensive rWAR

According to FanGraphs, Kiermaier has been an incredible asset in center field, posting a career 134 DRS at the position. In all but two seasons, Kiermaier has secured at least 10 DRS including a career-high 38 DRS in 2015. This begs the question, what has made him historically good at the position?

Using the cumulative stats of Ultimate Zone Rating, we can break down a little better the aspects that make Kiermaier’s glove so valuable. In his career, he has a UZR / 150 (based on an average of 150 games), of 14.4 which ranks near a Gold Glove tier according to FanGraphs shorthand system. It’s aspects of his outfield game that have become the sum of that number.

Kiermaier’s range has always been elite. He has only recorded a Range runs above average under one just three times in his career. The stat indicates if a fielder gets to more balls than average or not and if his career total of 42.8 is any indication, then yes, he gets to a lot more balls than average. Combine that with the fact his arm is one of the best in the game. With a career total of 29.7 Outfield Arm runs above average, a stat that reflects how many runs he saves by keeping runners from advancing, he’s still got a rocket when healthy.

2022 was a down year for Kiermaier, mainly because injuries in his hip limited him to just 500 innings across 63 games. As a result, Kiermaier’s defensive numbers in 2022 are drastically different than his career numbers. If he can make a full recovery from his hip labrum surgery over the summer, it’s not far-fetched that he can still return to form in 2023.

He is no stranger to playing an elite center field and with the huge acreage of Coors Field to patrol for half a season, Kiermaier would be a welcome change defensively. If you need some more convincing, check out this highlights video on YouTube by the Made the Cuts channel.

Lack Luster Offense

The elephant in the room is the fact that Kiermaier’s bat has not been the best aspect of his game. A career .248./.308/.407 hitter, it seems that is the best-case scenario you can hope for at the plate. His batted ball profile is n’t much of a welcome change, but he has displayed some decent plate discipline in his career.

Kiermaier has struck out 100 times just once in his career which, considering today’s game, is a welcome sight. He has a career 22% strikeout rate and that is contrasted by a walk rate of 7%. He has drawn at least 20 walks in eight seasons, generally not chasing outside of the zone has much like others and has cut down on swinging strikes. The main problem is what happens when he does hit the ball.

If the Rockies are looking for more power, they aren’t going to find it in Kiermaier. In his nine full seasons of big league ball, he has reached double digits five times, most recently hitting 14 home runs in 2019. Kiermaier hit 14 across the next three seasons, highlighted by the seven he hit in 2022. The uptick in groundballs has been the main culprit for Kiermaier as he has a career ground ball rate of 49.5%. If there’s one thing the Rockies don’t need, it’s more ground balls. Even if he isn’t increasing his launch angle and rate of hard hit balls for home runs, Kiermaier would have to improve his line drive rate in order to take advantage of the gaps at Coors Field.

Still, Kiermaier brings some outlying production and offensive value to the lineup. He would check the box of a left-handed leadoff hitter as he is a career .250/.302/.414 hitter atop the lineup. He’s also posted practically identical numbers against both left and right-handed batters and his home/road splits are essentially the same. So, if nothing else, Kiermaier is consistent while somehow managing a 97 wRC+ in his career than him.

Price Check

As a defensive-first signing with the hope that he can improve his offense, Kevin Kiermaier isn’t a bad gamble. At the very least, you improve your defense in the spacious confines of Coors Field, but is the trade off of the less than inspiring offense worth it? Both Randal Grichuk and Yonathan Daza displayed better bats, but the defense still left a lot to be desired, even if they were passable. What do the Rockies value more?

There is also a matter of cost. According to a recent article by Ken Rosenthal of The Athleticin “Kiermaier’s perfect world, he would land a deal similar to the two-year, $24 million free-agent contract another defense-first center fielder, Jackie Bradley Jr., landed prior to the 2021 season.”

It’s not an outrageous claim, based on the history he brings to the table. But there are the concerns of injury, and the fact that his bat has been a bit unpredictable year-to-year. His ideal contract would be akin to the $12 million AAV he made with Tampa Bay in 2022, but something in the ballpark of $8 million for a single season may be more worth while as a place holder. Still, it remains a waiting game until some of the bigger pieces begin to fall and establish the center field market.

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