2022 Storylines: Can Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit?

There is no doubt that the Yankees’ shortstop situation is not what any of us expected after the end of the 2021 season. But, it is what it is and it’s, apparently, what the organization wanted, for better or worse. So here we are, watching Isiah Kiner-Falefa man the position and bat at the bottom of the order.

Including early returns this year, IKF went into Saturday night’s game against the Orioles with a .666 career OPS. His career high was .689 in 2018, his debut year in the Majors. While the Yankees acquired him primarily for his defense, I’m sure there’s some hope that they can turn him around as a hitter, much like they did for Didi Gregorius and Luke Voit after him. So, is that possible?

The first thing we can take a look at is the underlying performance. Is there something there to tell us there’s more than meets the eye? Let’s look at his percentile ranks for some important batted-ball categories:

YearAvg. Exit Velo.Hard hit PercentageBarrel Percentage
2018341
202023157
2021463
2022 so far51681

Well, that past performance is not too encouraging, is it? Luckily, there’s been an uptick to start this season. IKF worked with noted swing-changer Justin Turner this offseason, so maybe that work is bearing some fruit already, even if it’s not showing up in the results just yet. On the other hand, IKF’s xWOBA this year is just .235 despite the uptick in the underlying numbers above. That’s easily attributable, though, to a ridiculous ground ball rate over 82%. Chances are it won’t stay that high. But–there’s a but again–his career ground ball rates are all over 50%. So unless he keeps those exit velos real high and manages to find the holes in the infield, there’s not a lot of production to be found.

The season is young and we have evidence that IKF did something to change his approach at the plate, so we do need to give time to let that set in. Last year, we waited patiently and watched Jameson Taillon adjust to a new approach. Still, we have over 1500 career plate appearances from Isiah Kiner-Falefa that show us pretty definitively who he is. So, can he hit? Probably not. But, maybe. I’m not going to hold my breath, but I’m willing to cross my fingers…for now.

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8 Comments

  1. Doug S

    His outs above average as a shortstop is -7. And he doesn’t hit. He’s a placeholder.

  2. Eric S.

    Right now the question is can ANYONE hit?

  3. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    Of course he can, Matt, and he has. The bigger question is can the rest of the team hit? If not for that hail storm giving them a reprieve last night they were destined to get shut out and lose another game to the O’s. Can Joey Gallo hit? He hasn’t for two years. I don’t understand why you bloggers are so fixated on whether the #8 and #9 hitters can hit when they weren’t really brought here to hit. Joey Gallo was and he hasn’t for two years. IKF has hit. Higgy has not but Trevino has and I think Trevino should be the starting C going forward, at least while he’s hitting .500. And now that Locastro is back Gallo should be sitting most days. I’ve never seen anyone hit .100, strike out 4 times a game and be so beloved by the so called “metrics.” Nobody wanted Nestor and now look at him. He’s our ace! I said he shoulda started the WC game last year and everybody laughed. And then Cole lost the game. We need to give these guys a chance, at least more than a week for christ sake. And guys that have had 2 years to prove themselves like Gallo should be put out to pasture and turned into dog food.

  4. Ty T

    What do your eyes see? If history always repeated itself, we would all be wealthy, retired sports gamblers. IKF is 27 yrs old, body is still maturing and will get stronger. A similar HI boy couldn’t hit at first but look what happened to his career … Shane Victorino! I see a very talented, athletic, fundamentally sound player. Baseball smarts with hustle. Come July, he will work his way to the top of the order and be the spark Yankee nation will rally around!

  5. Vin F.

    Let’s all take a deep breath and relax….. it’s very early in the season….. I wish MLB would go back to REAL EXTRA INNING games…. this “runner on second” is a crap shoot, not MLB baseball…. vin

  6. KenS

    His average exit velocity last year was 4mph? Seriously? Four miles per hour???

    • Kiwi

      No those would be percentile rankings…..and 4th percentile ain’t exactly lighting it up.

      • KenS

        Ah. I was wondering if that might be the case. Thanks much for the clarification.

        And yeah, those numbers are still awful.

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