While working on a “Stock up/stock down” article for the 2017 Rays, I got myself so irrationally excited for the 2018 version of Kevin Kiermaier that it demanded its own article.
Did you know when it comes to our handsome centerfielder, if his 36 games after returning from the DL were stretched over a full, 162-game season (obviously a massive if, but bear with me), he’d have arguably the best season in Rays history? He’d have: 118 runs, 36 homers, 86 RBI, 28 steals, and a .306/.352/.517 slash line. Add in his brilliant defense when he was fully healthy, and that would be an MVP season.
Now KK is yet to stay healthy for a full season (his career-high games played is 151, and he’s missed over 100 games combined the last two years), but that hasn’t stopped him from still being an insanely valuable piece of the Rays organization.
We all know that defensive metrics can be a little funky, so different WAR totals can be a little tricky with a player who relies on his defense for so much of his value, like Kiermaier does. Still, over the past three seasons, KK has been worth 17.9 rWAR, good for ninth in baseball over that time. The only names ahead of him: Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve, Josh Donaldson, Mookie Betts, and Mike Trout — those are baseball’s biggest stars. He sits ahead of names like Bryce Harper, Anthony Rizzo, Francisco Lindor, and innumerable others.
Of the eight names ahead of him, Kiermaier has the fewest games played over the past three years, as well. Of course, that cuts both ways. On the one hand, he has proven to be a bit injury-prone. On the other hand, the only player with a higher WAR per game played than KK over the past three seasons is Mike Trout. If Kiermaier can simply stay on the field, he could become one of the truly greatest players in baseball.
Now, I know it can be a bit of a trap to fall for the possibilities with Kiermaier (again he has missed a third of the season each of the past two years), and we’re being friendly with the version of WAR chosen. By fWAR, KK has been “just” the 30th-best player in baseball over the past three seasons. Still quite the valuable asset (and still even more valuable in a WAR/games played model), but not quite in the upper echelon.
However, this is the 2018 KK Hype Train, where notions such as “if healthy” and “defensive value is difficult to parse” don’t exist. Instead, we have the fact that Kiermaier is already fourth on the Rays all-time rWAR leaderboard tattooed on our foreheads (which is going to be awkward if he passes Carl Crawford for third at some point), and we single-handedly keep the Fathead company in business with large-scale orders of Kiermaier’s face to plaster around our Kevin Kiermaier-themed bunkers.
I’m honestly dreaming of a 10.0-WAR season in which KK wins the MVP, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glove and lead the Rays to a division title in 2018.
Either get on board, or get out of the way. The 2018 KK Hype Train is in full gear.