Why Kevin Kiermaier's Extension Was a Smart Move for the Rays
For Rays fans, this is really good news. Kiermaier is a beloved figure in that city and is the best defensive center fielder in baseball. In just 105 games last year, Kiermaier still led all center fielders with 25 defensive runs saved (DRS), following up a 2015 campaign in which he had an astounding 42 DRS.
The man has won two straight Gold Gloves out there, specifically because he keeps making plays like this one from back in 2015.
And this one last year.
Kiermaier's defensive skills certainly pay huge dividends for the Rays on the run prevention side, and up until this point, that is where most of his value has been. But Kiermaier may now be more than just a one-trick pony.
As our own Tom Whalen wrote last month, Kiermaier could be on the verge of a breakout season at the plate. Last year he batted .246/.331/.410 with 12 home runs, 55 runs scored, 37 RBI's and 21 stolen bases. His wRC+ of 104 was just above league average, so he's certainly not a bad offensive player. And his ability to swipe a bag is growing, with 21 swipes in only 105 games last campaign.
Kiermaier could be in store for more. Media reports indicate that, with Logan Forsythe no longer a Ray, Kiermaier could ascend to the leadoff spot in the batting order. Last season, Kiermaier batted second for most of the season, and he performed well there.
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Most of Kiermaier's plate appearances came in either the second or eighth spot in the lineup. Hitting behind Forsythe, Kiermaeir's on-base percentage was much better (.356) than it was hitting 8th (.305), which makes sense, as Kiermaier is more likely to see better pitches to hit batting in front of the heart of the lineup. And as Whalen wrote in his piece, his plate discipline improved last year, too.
Tampa clearly sees a player around which they can build. He's just 26 and will now be sticking around through the 2020 season, past the point at which he could have become a free agent. Paying him roughly $9 million per season when he's recorded at least 3.8 Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs, in each of the past three years is a pretty nice bargain for Tampa Bay.
The Rays don't often commit to long-term deals, so when they do, you know it's a player they really like, and there is a lot to like about their outstanding center fielder.