Photo credit: By Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as “Kevin Kiermaier”) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
There are players who are fun to watch, even if they do nothing for us in Fantasy. There are players who have great value for their real teams but not nearly as much for their fake (i.e., Fantasy) teams.
Kevin Kiermaier has been such a player. His patrolling of wide swaths of outfield territory, scaling of walls and acrobatic catches have saved runs, even when he wasn’t producing them at the plate. Last season, Kiermaier mustered just a .298 OBP with 10 home runs, yet he led the Rays in bWAR, outdistancing Logan Forsythe by a margin of 7.3 to 5.0. This season, he’s poised to lead the team again, even though he has missed 53 games.
In sim formats, like Scoresheet, Kiermaier has been valuable due to his defensive prowess. For this season, he came in with a range rating of 2.22, whereas Kevin Pillar — who is no defensive slouch — rated a 2.18, and Charlie Blackmon was assigned a 2.13. I haven’t played other sims like Strat-O-Matic or Dynasty this season, but I can only imagine they rewarded Kiermaier for his stellar defense as well.
This season, Kiermaier’s appeal has extended beyond sim leagues and deeper Fantasy formats, as he has provided more power and steals than most owners expected. It’s not actually the first time Kiermaier has shown either of these skills, but over the bulk of his career in both the minors and majors, it’s been his defense that has attracted the most attention. In his 2014 rookie season, Kiermaier smashed 10 home runs after never having hit more than six in any minor league campaign. Way back in 2011, he stole 27 bases in the Class A Midwest League. We didn’t see that kind of prowess again until 2014, when Kiermaier stole 11 bases in just 34 games at Triple-A Durham.
In April and May, we saw signs of Kiermaier being a much stronger offensive force. He was suddenly much more of a flyball hitter, and that translated into five home runs, nine doubles and a triple in his first 38 games. He was also a more selective hitter, taking fewer pitches and walking at a much higher rate. Kiermaier did make the tradeoff that one expects when a player adds more than 10 points onto his flyball rate, as he hit .236 during that span.
Then on May 21, Kiermaier broke his left hand trying to make a spectacular diving catch of a ball hit into shallow center by the Tigers’ James McCann. He was out until July 15, and when he returned, he wasn’t the same hitter initially. Kiermaier hadn’t done anything visible at the plate that would have earned him a move up to the second spot in the order, but on Aug. 2 against the Royals, that’s where Rays manager Kevin Cash put him.
In every game that Kiermaier has started since then, that’s where he has batted. He has not only rediscovered his power stroke, but with increased hard-hit and line drive rates, Kiermaier has batted .308 since his promotion to the higher spot in the order. He has also lifted his walk rate above 10 percent and continued the steady trickle of stolen bases, as he now has 16 steals in 18 attempts. Batting second has also done wonders for his run-scoring pace, as Kiermaier has crossed home plate 23 times in his last 32 starts.
These may not seem like overwhelming numbers, but keep in mind that if you take into account the time he’s missed, Kiermaier has been on a full-season pace for 21 home runs and 30 stolen bases.
The power-speed combination alone makes Kiermaier someone to start in standard mixed Rotisserie leagues, but what about shallower formats? And what about next year? If he continues his flyball-hitting ways, Kiermaier could very well be a 20-20 (or 20-30) player in 2017. It also means that he could have a difficult time coming anywhere near a .300 batting average. His .343 BABIP since Aug. 2 seems highly suspect, especially since he continues to make soft contact well above the typical major league rate. (This does not contradict his rising hard contact rate; there has just not been much middle ground.)
Because he is in the midst of a 13-game hit streak that has produced an 1.143 OPS, it’s likely that Kiermaier could get overrated for the final stretch of the season. However, his surge in power and speed is a genuinely exciting development, especially for Roto owners. It’s even more so when you take into account that his season stats are dampened by the difficult stretch he encountered when he first returned from his broken hand. Hopefully, his late-season exploits won’t inflate his value too much on Draft Day 2017, but he has definitely become relevant in mixed Roto leagues. He doesn’t have enough of a profile for a high batting average to have the kind of appeal that Lorenzo Cain did this spring, but he will have more mid-round appeal than someone like Brett Gardner did back in March.