The Yankees just swept the Guardians and Isiah Kiner-Falefa was the no-doubt MVP of the three-game set.
He was already on a hot streak entering the series, batting .437 in his previous five games before Friday. His batting average had jumped from .174 to .282. Now he heads into Monday’s day off at .300.
How well did Kiner-Falefa play in this series? Well, he hit .363 with four RBI. Not only did he hit the game-tying double on Saturday, he also scored the winning run. He has struck out just ten times.
It’s hard to look at this small sample size and not think of former shortstop Didi Gregorius. He too was something of a mystery acquisition for the Yankees, definitely someone with more upside than proven talent. Kiner-Falefa won a Gold Glove at third base in 2020, but playing on bad Rangers teams prevented him from becoming a true household name.
Now, he’s in New York, playing as a New York Yankee that everybody knows. Isiah Kiner-Falefa isn’t just a surprisingly welcome Gregorius sequel. He might even be better.
Remember when the Yankees acquired Gregorius from Arizona in 2015, he’d only played 109 games in three years. The glove was there, but the .243 lifetime hitter didn’t show much with the bat. Not exactly encouraging for someone expected to fill the Derek Jeter-shaped void at Yankee Stadium. But Gregorius overcame a rough start, found his power stroke, and was a great clubhouse presence and social media star. Even when Gleyber Torres looked like the future at shortstop, Gregorius remained a great supportive teammate.
Back to Isiah Kiner-Falefa. He’s batting .300 through 15 games. He’s also posted a defensive WAR of 0.8 early on and has a +2 DRS at shortstop. Not quite an elite fielder, but certainly a very, very good one.
Gregorius proved a reliable glove his first year in New York, posting a +3 DRS, but want to know how he fared as a hitter? Particularly over his first 15 games? Gregorisu batted an ugly .204 with just four RBI, ultimately finishing the year at a more respectable .265.
Kiner-Falefa, on the other hand, has found his stroke after early struggles. He was batting .059 less than two weeks ago, and look at him now. Keep in mind he’s never been an elite bat either. He’s a modest .266 career hitter whose bread and butter is singles. Kiner-Falefa’s career-high in home runs is eight, set last year, and he has yet to hit one out of the park in 2021. But he’s also playing in Yankee Stadium now; even without a significant increase in power, he could be in line for a career season.
Kiner-Falefa is also still just 27 years old and, if we’re being honest, will only be a Yankee for a short time. Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza are making a lot of noise down on the farm. Someone has to be the odd man out, and the Yankees are pretty high on Volpe. But in the meantime, fans can look forward to Kiner-Falefa being an effective transitional shortstop. Remember, Tony Fernandez kept Jeter’s seat warm for a year in 1995, and the fans’ patience was rewarded with a franchise player.
With Kiner-Falefa, we’ll soon see if lightning maybe strikes twice.