Today, the Toronto Blue Jays announced that they have signed free agent Kevin Kiermarier, part of their effort to improve their run prevention.
We knew, when the Rays declined Kiermaier’s 2023 option, that he would probably sign elsewhere but there was always a chance he could come back to the Rays albeit with a different contract. After all, this is the only team he’s known. He makes his off season home here, too.
But apparently several teams were interested in him, and Toronto made him the best offer. So let’s take a minute to appreciate the best of Kevin Kiermaier through a look back at memorable outfield plays.
There is a reason that Kevin Kiermaier is called, ‘The Outlaw.’
For the past eight seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays have been very fortunate to have Kiermaier roaming in center field as he has been the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball.
There have been times, of course, when he has made mistakes on routine plays or to the naked eye appeared to have taken the scenic route whilst tracking a ball. For fans, the whiff on an easily catchable ball remains stuck in the memory forever, whereas making hard plays look routine seems like business as usual.
So forget your lyin’ eyes for just a minute and appreciate just how dominant Kiermaier has been according to pretty much all of baseball’s defensive metrics.
Since the start of the 2014 season (Kiermaier’s rookie campaign), Kiermaier leads all outfielders with 147 Defensive Runs Saved with Mookie Betts following behind with 145 runs saved. The next closest player is Lorenzo Cain with 100 DRS. Although Kiermaier is just two runs ahead of Betts, Betts has been able to register over 2,000 more innings played than Kiermaier (who as we all know has had some injuries). Since DRS is a counting stat, it’s clear that KK is by far the best outfielder during the innings he is on the field.
According to Baseball Savant’s data, which starts in 2016, Kiermaier also leads all outfielders in Outs Above Average and Prevented.
Kiermaier has all the tools that make such an incredible defender. He is among the fastest players in baseball, ranking in the top 7% of players in 2022. However, it’s not just how fast he is, but how quick he is able to read a ball off the bat. The peak of this ability came in 2016, when his reaction time allowed him to cover an additional 4.4 feet of ground on average versus other outfielders.
Then you have Kiermaier’s arm strength, which also placed him routinely among the league leaders in assists. According to Baseball-Savant, which has data for arm strength starting from the 2020 season, Kiermaier’s throws have averaged 92.1mph, which places him among the top 9.5% of outfielders over that time.
Needless to say, there is a reason why Kiermaier has won three Gold Gloves and in 2015 he was awarded the Platinum Glove.
The Rays already have a suitable replacement ready to take his place in center field with Jose Siri having already filled in for most of the 2022 season after Kiermaier went down with injury. Siri is a very good defender and could emerge as one of the best in baseball once he is given the full-time job, but he still has a very large glove to fill.
Here are some of the best catches of the Kevin Kiermaier era (and two non-catches that I think are incredible).