When New York took on Josh Donaldson's poison pill in order to make absolutely certain they were able to acquire Kiner-Falefa (after a brief stopover in Minnesota), Yankee fans of a certain age praised his contact ability, assuming they were acquiring a slick-fielding shortstop who could also directionally punt the baseball like a less-aggro Billy Martin.
Yankee fans of every other age were perplexed. Wasn't Kiner-Falefa best as a third baseman? And weren't defensive metrics split on his effectiveness? And, even if he was a wizard in the field, where was the pop?
By the end of the season, both factions were united in their confusion. IKF leveled up with the bases loaded (.583 in a small-sample-size 14 at-bats), but didn't provide much hard contact or offensive production otherwise. Even worse, he often looked lost at shortstop, fumbling hotshots and struggling to complete seemingly simple throws. Publicly-available defensive metrics backed up the eye test; IKF posted -3 OAA on the season from short, which regressed to a remarkable -10 on balls he had to come in on.
The Yankees keep insisting, though, that their internal metrics say Kiner-Falefa is one of MLB's best shortstops. Maybe they're misunderstanding this metric, too, which a few fans and writers got fooled by before BP's Craig Goldstein stopped by to correct the narrative?
Yankees SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa has great range, bad arm, can't do much with that range
Baseball Prospectus' RDA stat doesn't absolve Kiner-Falefa of blame, but rather continues to point out why his day-to-day is so frustrating.
His range rates among the best in baseball, even at his less-comfortable position, shortstop. But once he reaches the ball ... you might see some serious sh-t.
Pairing great range with a bad arm is a cruel fate; Kiner-Falefa can scoot to balls he has no business vacuuming up, but then doesn't possess the power to do anything with those balls. That's also not to mention the fumbling and bumbling; his hands also leave plenty to be desired.
Trying Kiner-Falefa at third base during Donaldson's lowest points last summer felt like a fair idea, but the team didn't feel comfortable shying away from their incumbent for longer than a day or two. After all, their mystery metrics claim Kiner-Falefa was handling short just fine, anyway, no matter what everyone else says.
Plus, imagine Kiner-Falefa coming in from third base to field bunts? OAA just plummeted like the stock market in 1929 imagining it.
...OK, he actually piled up 4 OAA coming in from third in 2018, 3 OAA in 2019, and 3 OAA in the shortened 2020. Makes as much sense as Chris Carter beating Ichiro in a singles derby, but maybe Cashman & Co. should try it before shipping IKF out of town.