Kevin Kiermaier has been nominated for a Gold Glove award in his rookie season -- a partial rookie season at that. After a solid 2014 campaign by the young gun, here's what we know about The Outlaw:
1. Defensive metrics loved Kevin Kiermaier.
2. Kevin Kiermaier is ridiculously fast.
3. Kevin Kiermaier gets very quick jumps on balls hit to the outfield.
4. Kevin Kiermaier sometimes takes bad routes.
5. Kevin Kiermaier is fun to watch.
All of these statements are true, and the first four have been debated to death around here. I'm pretty much sick of having that conversation, but what I'm not sick of is statement five. KK has so many highlight videos that I'm splitting this into two parts. Let's step through them.
This video is a lesson in advanced scouting, projection, and regression to the mean. It's early in the season and the Rays were playing a National League team, so it's fair to assume that the opponent really didn't know a lot about Kevin Kiermaier.* With that relative lack of knowledge, their projection of KK was mostly made up of regression, specifically regression toward the mean of "Rookie Outfielders," and this NL team thought they could take advantage.
If they had watched him in the minors they would have based their projection mostly off performance rather than regression, or if they had regressed him to the mean of "Outfielders Who The Team Took Special Pains To Make Eligible For The Playoffs Last Year As A Possible Defensive Replacement," then they would have had a more accurate projection and would not have sent Joey Votto. As it was, Votto didn't stand a chance.
*Is it fair? I'm not so sure. I mean, the Cincinnati Reds are a Major League Baseball team. They spend millions of dollars. Can't millions of dollars buy you a good scouting report on the minor league player you're about to face? Next time you face the Rays, Cincinnati, send me $50 and I'll tell you who not to run on.
Sometimes, when an outfielder jumps to make a catch, it's mostly show. He could have taken another step and not had to jump. Probably the jump makes him feel good -- it's an exclamation point on the play already made by his range. Not here. This ball was up the wall. The only way to catch it was to time the run perfectly, and go up and get it at the highest point of the jump, right before it hit the wall. KK did.
This wasn't a very hard hit ball, but look how far Kiermaier had to come. He was playing deep and maybe shaded to pull. I'm not totally certain where he was, because by the time the camera gets to him, he's already at full speed. Anyway, the dive was just for show. He already had the catch made before sliding, but's what's wrong with making it look good?
This is maybe KK's most famous play from the season. Bases loaded, two outs, protecting a one run lead, and Peter Bourjos (defensive outfielder of note) hits the very definition of a liner in the gap. Only, with Kevin Kiermaier in right field, there is no gap. Running perpendicular to the path of the ball, with full Super-Sam extension, only KK is rather longer than Super-Sam. Nothing wrong with this route, nothing superfluous about this dive.
Some highlights are about how difficult the play was to make. Others are about how difficult can you make a routine play. I get it, Kiermaier. You're fast. If I were as fast as you, I'd probably overrun all sorts of things..
Here's another shallow fly ball where Kiermaier was playing deep. He's playing deep because that's jacked-up Nelson Cruz at bat. Kiermaier starts immediately, and runs straight and very fast for a long time, until he realizes his angle isn't quite right. Then he adjusts, and makes the catch. It was slightly more difficult than it might have been, but if he didn't start to charge so quickly, would he have gotten there at all?*
*Apparently I lied. I'm not sick of debating whether or not Kiermaier's occasional sub-optimal routes make him an unworthy Gold Glove candidate.
Yeah, there's kind of a lot wrong with this route. Kiermaier starts to come in, realizes his read was wrong, and loops back around. Put some Benny Hill music on here and no one will argue with you. He makes the catch easily enough, though, so why are we complaining?
There is nothing wrong with this route, though, and it took a perfect read to make the catch. It's another liner in the gap, and he runs a right-angle to the ball's path, meeting it at the only point he could possibly meet it. For almost every other outfielder in baseball, that point would not exist.
I usually defend Tropicana Field. the only thing I will not defend is the placement of our bullpens.
If your speed gets you to a sinking line drive with ease, that doesn't make the play any less difficult. If your retro uniforms are fake, that doesn't make them any less cool.
Bizarrely, Kevin Kiermaier didn't make another highlight defensive play (as far as mlb.com is concerned) for a month. What a bum. This is as good a time as any to pause.
Part two comes up next week.