Has Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s swing looked familiar to you since he joined the Yankees under two weeks ago? Has it also looked entirely different than anything you remember him putting on tape with the Rangers these past few years?
Have you also been, uh, a bit surprised by his productivity, as well as how hard he’s been stinging the ball thus far? Turns out, your eyes were not deceiving you. Something specific is different, and there’s a very reasonable explanation for the change.
In his early, beardless days in pinstripes, Kiner-Falefa has shown off a more pronounced leg kick, lending a bit of extra oomph to an offensive profile that helped contribute to a mostly-glove-based 3.7-WAR season in 2021.
So … where’d it come from? Turns out you can thank another 3.7-WAR producer from last season, a utility man who completely reinvented his bat at the age of 29 back in 2014 with the Dodgers.
Kiner-Falefa doesn’t just resemble Justin Turner now because he studied tape.
Turns out he and Turner worked together with hitting guru and big-league consultant Doug Latta this offseason. If you haven’t read Swing Kings yet, you might want to skim it prior to Opening Day to learn exactly what you’re in for.
Yankees SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa has Justin Turner’s leg kick
Back in Turner’s age-27 season, he was an even less prominent player than Kiner-Falefa. There was no Gold Glove on his mantle. He wasn’t a WAR-accruing defensive specialist who’d mastered moving runners over. He was just a Mets bench player who had just enough quirky moments in black-and-orange to become a fan favorite … before being unceremoniously jettisoned, then picked up during the offseason on a lark thanks to his Cal State Fullerton alumni status.
That was around the time he rendezvoused with Latta, though, turning his entire career around by learning to find the barrel.
Early returns on Kiner-Falefa, too, are positive. No hitting coach is a guaranteed universal secret sauce. Conversely, it’s unfair to blame a team’s offensive struggles entirely on Marcus Thames’ approach. Watching Kiner-Falefa sting the baseball while incorporating Turner’s timing mechanism is beyond encouraging, though. Clearly, something clicked.
Lindsey Adler’s (subscription required) examination of Kiner-Falefa’s grind and trajectory indicate he’s a hard enough worker to layer extra levels onto his versatility when he sets his mind to it. Perhaps the intention was to acquire a stopgap here, but don’t tell that to IKF, who’d rather make himself essential.