The Kurious Kase of Kevin Kiermaier

    Kevin Kiermaier, an immensely talented, dedicated centerfielder may just be the best defensive player in all of baseball.  Curiously, however, a “five tool player,” using only three “tools,” this once mediocre yet still exciting batter has become the millstone around the neck of the Rays lineup.  In the past, thanks to ten or fifteen infield hits, the product of his enormous speed and hustle, KK managed to eke out a base hit every four or so at bats and an occasional home run.  As was the Rays custom at the time, little apparent attempt was ever made to address the actual deficiencies in Kevin’s stance and swing, except to direct him to “step in the bucket” toward the pitch instead of toward first base.  By the same token, the same coaches and Rays officials never seemed to realize how powerful, quick and compact KK’s actual swing really is.

    Ever since the mysterious dismissal of successful batting coach Steve Henderson and until the hiring of Chad Mottola, it always seemed that Rays hitters never really improved once they reached the major league level and rarely rid themselves of bad stances, swings or hitting habits while coached by the Rays.  In fact, many a player’s hitting seemed to improve with a little instruction and minor structural changes to his swing by his new team’s batting coach (Wil Myers, John Jaso for example). With Mottola, however, nearly everyone he coaches seems to improve his hitting as well as his general plate awareness. Everyone, that is, except Kevin Kiermaier.  After watching hours of KK’s stance, stride and swing live, on “film” and on television, it is plain to see that the unfortunate timing of his stride does not at all match the timing of his swing. Occasionally a player may be fairly successful “stepping in the bucket,” though I wouldn’t recommend it, however, they all seem to set their hands and “drop into the slot” at the same time that they begin their stride.  KK doesn’t do this. Instead, Kevin sets his hands and waits (for what seems like forever in baseball time) for his front foot to hit the ground before finally beginning his swing.  The result of this lack of coordination of batting stride and swing is that the batter ends up with a one legged swing with all of his weight on his front leg and no momentum toward the pitch.  The only power he can generate is to pull an inside pitch and for the most part has to pull off of all pitches.

    Anyone that disagrees with the analysis of this “Kurious Kase” merely has to watch KK at bat and try it- see for yourself how awkward it really is.  I actually believe that Kevin Kiermaier is a five tool player who can hit at least .275 with thirty homers and thirty steals a year and that it’s up to Coach Mottola to do what he seems to do best with young players, improve KK’s timing and show him the shortest, most effective route from the bat to the baseball.

Al Finkelstein, 8/14/18