Kevin Cash recently made the move to bat Kevin Kiermaier near the top of the order. I was originally against the move, thinking Cash was valuing speed over on-base percentage for his top-of-the-order hitters, which would not be the correct choice in the sabermetric world. After digging deeper into the numbers, it looks like Cash and the Rays front office might be on to something.
Kevin Kiermaier's current slash line of .219/.315/.388 on the year isn't eye popping by any means. The walk rate and power are great for a center fielder, but the batting average pulls everything down, making it good for only 93 wRC+. That's 7% below league average. Putting a player's speed tool aside, why would a team want that in the 1 or 2 hole of a batting order? The answer might be in his BABIP luck.
KK is currently running a .247 BABIP on the year, much lower than the .306 he put up in 2014 and 2015. Is that his true current talent level, or has he been unlucky? We can figure that out real quick by referencing average MLB hit rates by batted ball type and multiplying his batted ball profile to it.
*the other 14% of the batted ball profile is infield fly balls, which almost always result in an out.
|How often it goes for a MLB hit||KK's 2016 batted ball profile|
|Ground ball||.239 AVG||43%|
|Line drive||.685 AVG||20%|
|Fly ball||.207 AVG||23%|
I know what you're thinking. Not all line drives are created equal, not all ground balls are created equal, and not all fly balls are created equal.
I hear you. Statcast hears you.
Statcast also says KK's average launch speed is 89.63 mph, which is more than the MLB average of 89.22 mph. Batted ball velocity is not an issue.
Furthermore, multiplying KK's batted ball profile by MLB averages gives us a BABIP of .287. That's 40 points higher than his current .247 BABIP, and, that improved BABIP would increase his slash to .233/.329/.403.
Hello! It might not look like much, but that's right around 100 wRC+ in this day and age.
Considering that .329 OBP is 4th among healthy teammates, it makes sense to have him near the top of the order. Actually, that would tie him for 49th in AL, solidifying his place among the top four in OBP on an average team.
With Cash's preference to go R, L, R, L with his lineup, lefty KK should be a solid option for the 2 hole as long as he can keep that on-base percentage up. For more on Kevin Kiermaier hitting in the No. 2 hole, check out J.T. Morgan's thorough thought experiment, which projects a .355 OBP on his current batting profile.
And for the record, 16 games into hitting second for the Rays, Kiermaier has a .262/.357/.410 slash in 70 plate appearances, including two home runs, three doubles, and three stolen bases.