Blue Jays fans may owe Isiah Kiner-Falefa an apology

Colorado Rockies v Toronto Blue Jays
Colorado Rockies v Toronto Blue Jays / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

Toronto Blue Jays utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa was one of the first players the team signed to a contract this offseason and the fanbase's reaction was one of anger, confusion, and disbelief. Why on earth are we signing another light-hitting infielder? Another defensive-minded player when the club needs offensive upgrades?

Those thoughts were fair and valid, and while Kiner-Falefa is hardly the “missing piece”, he’s proven to be a valuable player who can be part of the solution. Early on, IKF has looked better than expected at the plate and delivered top-notch defense at a few different spots. 

The 29-year-old has flashed extra-base power (three doubles, a triple, and a home run) in the first few weeks while displaying above-average speed (average sprint speed 27.9 ft/sec.). Izzy plays the game palpably hard and looks sharp; the numbers reflect that. 

He’s hit .262 with a .718 OPS, five RBI, and a pair of steals. Those may not be earth-shattering figures, but Kiner-Falefa’s play has been impactful, as reflected in his 0.8 bWAR. That puts the seven-year veteran on pace to best his career-high in that category (3.6), achieved in 2021 with the New York Yankees. IKF is also just behind teammates Alejandro Kirk, Kevin Kiermaier, and Daulton Varsho in Fielding Run Value, with two.

As expected, Kiner-Falefa has gotten most of the reps at third base, and even when he made a mistake at the position, his explanation was understandable. After his tag on Ty France was overturned to a safe call in an early April matchup, IKF was demonstrably disappointed. He later explained that he attempted to make the tag while avoiding an obstruction call. 

When the pen was put to paper, the union between Kiner-Falefa and the Blue Jays seemed bizarre and unnecessary. Two dozen games into the season, it’s looking like a prescient acquisition, the rotation of IKF, Cavan Biggio, Ernie Clement, and Davis Schneider has been cohesive, and John Schneider has excelled at keeping them all fresh.