Almost three months ago, I penned a piece about Yankees starting shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa declaring that IKF had been exactly what the team planned for him to be: “good enough.” While acknowledging that it sounded like I was damning him with faint praise, the truth was that “good enough” represented an upgrade at the position. With the top shortstop prospects struggling and more pressing needs in the outfield and pitching staff, Kiner-Falefa kept the position from being a major hole.
That was June 8th. At the time, Yankees Universe looked a lot different. With a 40-16 record and a seven-game lead in the AL East, the Yankees boasted the best offense, defense, and pitching staff in the American League. Now, thanks to an extraordinarily bad August that has seen the team’s bats dry up completely, the Era of Good Feelings is over as the Yankees find themselves barely keeping the rest of the division at bay.
Obviously, it would be unfair to put all of the blame — or even most of it — on Kiner-Falefa, who has batted higher than seventh just six times this season. In the order of which players the Yankees need to get going offensively, IKF falls among the Kyle Higashiokas and Tim Locastros of the lineup, not the Anthony Rizzos and DJ LeMahieus. Even so, aside from one night in Boston, Kiner-Falefa has certainly been a part of the problem.
Since the start of August, IKF has been objectively one of the worst shortstops in baseball: his 0.1 fWAR is tied for 28th among 46 shortstops with more than 10 innings in the field this month, while his 83 wRC+ is 26th. When at his best this season, IKF has merely been league average, but at this point in the season, league average would be a major upgrade. Being a decent contact hitter doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things when most of the contact just ends up looking like this:
Fortunately for the Yankees, that trio of infield prospects who had been struggling or injured for so much in the first part of the season — Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, and Oswaldo Cabrera — has been on fire since their awful starts. Even if he’s struggled with consistency so far, Cabrera has already made an impact at the major league level, flashing the leather at four different positions and generating some hard contact. At the time I wrote the original piece about IKF, Peraza was slashing a measly .211/.287/.348 with just 12 extra-base hits. Three days later, he started an 11-game hitting streak that has propelled him to a monstrous second half; since June 12th, he has posted a .286/.349/.496 slash line with eight home runs. Although he’s not an option this season, Volpe has been the best of the bunch, slashing .288/.381/.542 since mid-June with 12 home runs, 20 doubles, and 24 stolen bases.
Obviously, it’s impossible to know whether replacing IKF (and possibly Gleyber Torres, who really hasn’t been any better than IKF recently) with some combination of Peraza and Cabrera would actually result in an improvement down the stretch. Rookies and prospects are finicky, after all, and often react in ways nobody expects. No matter what, however, one thing is clear: Given the team’s overall struggles and the performance of his possible replacements, the performance that Isiah Kiner-Falefa has provided at shortstop in August is simply not good enough to prevent a change.