Let’s Watch Kevin Kiermaier Not Catch a Fly Ball

How good is Kevin Kiermaier, defensively? Kevin Kiermaier is this good, defensively: Since 2003, 148 different players have played center field for at least 1,000 innings. Kiermaier leads all of them, so far, in UZR per 150 games. In case you’d like a second source, Kiermaier also leads all of them in DRS per 150 games. DRS actually likes him even more than UZR does. Obviously, because Kiermaier isn’t yet 27, we haven’t seen his decline phase. At some point, he will become a worse defender, because at some point, he will wake up and be a 75-year-old man. But Kiermaier is like an outfield Andrelton Simmons, except that, oh, by the way, Kiermaier can also hit a little.

It’s fun to examine the great ones. It’s fun to examine when the great ones are great, and sometimes it’s even more fun to examine when the great ones are not great. So I rolled over to Baseball Savant to check out Kiermaier’s plot of base hits allowed. This is a new feature, and an awesome one, and here’s what shows up for Kiermaier’s 2016:

By hang time and distance, pretty much everything here is some variety of a difficult play. Or, for many, an impossible play! There’s only one missed play that counts as either routine or easy, and you see it there within the red circle. Curious, I asked Daren Willman if he could tell me when that play occurred. He gave me the information I needed. What catch did Kevin Kiermaier miss? We rewind to early August.

The ball hung up for more than six seconds. That’s a lot of time, and it allowed Kiermaier to cover more than 100 feet of ground. Here’s a screenshot of right around where Kiermaier started, with a dot to indicate where the ball bounced off the fence.

And, the fateful moment, or thereabouts:

There’s a twist here, see. This shows up as a missed play for Kiermaier, but it’s not entirely clear this was Kiermaier’s ball to catch. Certainly, that much wasn’t clear to left fielder Mikie Mahtook, who mis-everythinged his leap. Kiermaier was right there, and it looked like he had a shot, but at the last instant, he held up, with Mahtook taking to the air. What we can’t tell from the broadcast or from the replays is whether either player called off the other. What we can tell is that Mahtook took charge. In most cases, an outfielder here will defer to the guy playing center. He tends to be the defensive captain of the outfield, so to speak. Mahtook defied convention, and Jose Bautista wound up with a double.

Why the miscommunication? It’s impossible for us to conclusively say, and it’s not like the Rays aren’t used to having Kiermaier in center field. But Kiermaier wasn’t used to having Mahtook to his right. This play happened early in the first inning on August 9. The first time this past season that Kiermaier was in center, with Mahtook in left: the first inning on August 9. It took two batters for that alignment to be exploited, and it might not be a total coincidence that Mahtook’s newest baseball future will take place with Detroit. When you get in the way of Kevin Kiermaier’s defense, a team won’t take it lightly.

This is how Kevin Kiermaier missed his easiest catch. The ball was a near home run, and another player tried to leap for it first.

We hoped you liked reading Let’s Watch Kevin Kiermaier Not Catch a Fly Ball by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Roger McDowell Hot Foot
Member
Roger McDowell Hot Foot

Right, so (non-park-adjusted) distance and hang time aren’t really good enough to do this classification, are they? Coming near the wall (not part of this data at all) clearly affects how difficult this play is without even considering the interaction between the fielders.

Easyenough
Member
Member
Easyenough

Kiermaier looks like he would have caught the ball had there not been another player in the way. If we ask Kiermaier, he might even say it would have been an easy play. In any case, the presence of the other player, not the wall, is what prevents Kiermaier from catching the ball, making this example a weak proof for the need for other park factors.

bananas
Member
bananas

Another factor I want to see considered is angle-of-approach. This ball was over KK’s shoulder, on the glove side, which presumably is a harder play than if it was either directly in front of him, or on the opposite side, at the same distance + hang time. Would love to see what the data says.