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Kevin Kiermaier is an excellent player — but not an ideal fit for the 2024 Blue Jays

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Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Scott
3 months ago
Kevin Kiermaier was and remains a great player (notwithstanding his views on other teams’ secret pitching cards!). But he is not a great fit — or even a good fit — for the 2024 Blue Jays.
KK’s bat is nothing special. He has a career wRC+ of 98, below league average, and even his wRC+ of 104 in 2023, his highest since 2017, was achieved with a Barrel%, Hard-hit%, and Average Exit Velocity, all in the bottom quartile of MLB hitters. So he likely won’t contribute much to the Jays’ batting malaise.
His glove, however, is another story. From 2016-23, his +84 (!) Outs Above Average (OAA) led all MLB outfielders and was 5th in baseball among all players at all positions. His 113 DRS was second in all baseball to Mookie Betts, but only because Mookie played ~2,000 more games. If you equalize the innings played, Kevin was #1.
And this is not just past glory. In 2023, his +13 OAA was second only to Brenton Doyle of the Rockies’ +15 (and again, if you normalize both KK and Doyle to an OAA/400 [OAA extrapolated to 400 chances], KK wins).  So with the glove, KK can safely be considered above average.  His nickname is not “The Outlaw” (because he steals so many runs) for nothing!
So, with all of that praise in mind, why was his signing a mistake for the Blue Jays?
In evaluating the impact of a player on a team, it’s important to consider not just the player’s contribution in isolation but also the incremental impact on the team. For example, when the Jays were considering making a play for Freddy Freeman in the 2021-22 offseason, his +4.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2021 looked very attractive. But the Jays already had a first baseman, and Vladdy has just put up a 6.3 WAR in 2021. So, as good as Freddy was, he appeared to be a poor fit. Either he would have to play primarily as the designated hitter, significantly reducing his value because he wouldn’t be playing rock-solid defence at first, or he could play first and move Vladdy to DH, ultimately limiting Vladdy’s value in the same way.
Incrementally, Freddie’s value to the Jays was actually lower than his 2021 WAR of 4.9. As it turned out, Freddy exploded when he went to Los Angeles, averaging 7.5 WAR over 2022-23, while Vladdy averaged 1.9.  Insert whimper here!

Aug 5, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Daulton Varsho (25) makes a running catch during the fifth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The same situation exists with the current Jays. Over the last two years, Kiermaier earned a +14 OAA over 1,463 innings played in centre field. If you normalize to 2,400 innings (two years at 1,200 innings played), KK’s +23 OAA/2400IP is seventh best among MLB centre fielders with over 800 innings at the position. Pretty good, though less impressive when you compare it to the top-rated CF over that period, who earned a +51 OAA/2400 over those two years, more than double Kevin’s figure. That guy is named Daulton Varsho.
In 2023, the Jays played Varshso mostly in left field, and Kiermaier primarily in centre. Varsho was an above-average left fielder, with a +2 OAA/400. But when he played centre field, Varsho had a holy-cow-Batman +28 OAA/400. This would have been the best in baseball. Kiermaier, the AL Gold Glove winner in CF, had an OAA/400 of +19, and Brenton Doyle, the NL Gold Glove winner, had +15.
My colleague Bob Ritchie (a.k.a. the Table King) wrote an article in which he projected Varsho’s value to the Jays in 2024 under different assumptions. He calculated that if  Darth Varsho played centre field 100% of the time, at the same level he did in 2023, and if his stats were otherwise as predicted by Steamer (i.e. a modest increase to a 106 wRC+), DV could earn 5.3 WAR. To illustrate how uber a 5.3 WAR is: in 2022 and 2023, the highest actual WAR earned by any Blue Jay was Bo Bichette’s 2022 figure of 4.5, and a 5.3 WAR in 2023 would have tied DV for 13th best in baseball with some guy named Aaron Judge.
But if Varsho is played primarily in left field, that number declines significantly. On that basis, Steamer projects a 2024 WAR of only 2.7. That’s a difference of over 2.5 WAR (though, to be fair, roughly 1 WAR of that is due to the positional adjustment that is built into the WAR calculation)

The bottom line

So what does this mean?  Steamer projects that Kiermaier, playing roughly 100 games in centre field in 2024, will earn 1.2 WAR and Varsho, playing primarily left field, will earn 2.7, for a total of ~4 WAR. But if Varsho could play centre field full-time, he could put up 5+ WAR all by himself. Add that to the roughly 1.7 WAR that an average MLB left fielder earned in 2023 (assuming the Jays could sign a Pham or trade for a Donovan), and you get ~8 WAR – or double what the Kiermaier-Varsho combo might produce. As the Jays learned in 2021, even a single win can make a significant difference — so four wins could be huge.
To win in 2024, the Jays need to not only bring in exceptional players, but also to get the maximum value from every player (we will leave the question of moving Bo to second base for another article!). Playing either Kiermaier or Varsho in left field does not do that (and signing Bellinger only to play *him* in left or at first base would not either).

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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