clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Isiah Kiner-Falefa is willing himself into respectability as a hitter

The versatile IKF has successfully introduced some tweaks and changes in the batter’s box and has been hitting the ball hard ... and far.

MLB: New York Yankees at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s fair to say that since making his Yankees debut in April 2022, Isiah Kiner-Falefa has been insulted and booed quite a bit—far more than an average person in their entire life. Unfortunately, that’s part of playing MLB ball for a big-market team with championship aspirations and a demanding fanbase (though even then, some of it is too far). Fans criticize IKF primarily because of his subpar offense.. He had an 85 wRC+ last year and is at 77 this year, so not much has changed. Or has it?

IKF has been much, much better lately. He got off to a wretched .182/.232/.208 in the first month and a half, but since May 16th, he is slashing .342/.375/.684 with two doubles, a triple, three homers and a 189 wRC+ in 40 trips to the plate. It’s a tiny sample, but let’s all be honest: Did you have him with six extra-base hits in a span of two weeks? He didn’t even get his first dinger of 2022 until August 13th. It’s all worth exploring, for sure.

The simple explanation behind his recent surge is, well, that Kiner-Falefa is making an effort to hit the ball harder. Yes, it sounds simple, but it’s really not. Batting requires mechanics to be in sync; otherwise, there is no sustainability or repeatability.

Per’s Bryan Hoch, IKF understands that he should produce more to guarantee his roster spot:

Now, the more complex explanation is that there are some mechanical tweaks. For starters, as Gary Phillips outlined in the New York Daily News, Kiner-Falefa reintroduced a leg kick recently. He already used one in Texas.

Here is a comparison of IKF’s swing last year:

And one of a few days ago:

The difference is noticeable. In 2022, Kiner-Falefa used more of a toe tap as a timing mechanism (he barely even touches the ground, to be fair, but it counts), whereas there is a lot more leg movement in the second video. It’s also worth noting that IKF currently has a heavier frame, or as he calls it, his “third base body,” and that extra beef has likely helped him drive the ball with more authority in recent games.

Another potential reason behind the uptick in production is Kiner-Falefa’s familiarity with his role, which is that of a utility player who doesn’t play every day. He told Phillips:

“Those days off, sometimes they suck, but at the same time, they’re opportunities for me to work with the coaches and keep progressing. So as much as I want to be in there every day, those opportunities when I’m down, if I’m grinding and using them the right way, they’re really helping me develop my swing and giving me opportunities to keep getting better.”

That’s actually a perfect use of the time off. He has enough maturity and drive to improve that every time he is not on the field, he is trying to learn to put himself in a position to actually be on the field base on his performance every time he gets a chance.

Kiner-Falefa might be a flawed hitter if we examine the overall body of work during his career, but you can’t deny the man is a determined pro who wants to be the best version of himself he can be. He trains and works hard, and has handled every situation that has come his way with class and dignity.

We don’t know if the changes IKF has been implementing this season will last. They might, or they might not. But for the time being, they are working for him, and that has helped the Yankees a lot.

Imagine if Kiner-Falefa develops into a league-average hitter who can play third base, shortstop, the outfield, and even catcher in a pinch. That would be extremely valuable for the squad and will give manager Aaron Boone plenty of options to put a competitive lineup together every day.