Toronto Blue Jays 2023 Season Preview: OF Kevin Kiermaier
Up next in our Toronto Blue Jays 2023 season preview series is outfielder Kevin Kiermaier.
Addison Barger, Anthony Bass, Chris Bassitt, Brandon Belt, José Berríos, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Matt Chapman, Adam Cimber, Hagen Danner, Santiago Espinal, Matt Gage, Yimi García, Kevin Gausman, Chad Green, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Thomas Hatch, Spencer Horwitz, Danny Jansen, Leo Jimenez
Here's a quick refresher on the projection systems we're using and their predictions for Kiermaier's upcoming season.
STEAMER: 388 PA, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 42 R, 9 SB, .228/.286/.364, 85 wRC+, 1.1 WAR
ZiPS DC: 434 PA, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 53 R, 13 SB, .230/.291/.369, 88 wRC+, 2.3 WAR
THE BAT: 431 PA, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 52 R, 11 SB, .234/.298/.367, 90 wRC+, 1.5 WAR
2022 stats: 221PA, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 28 R, 6 SB, .228/.281/.369, 90 wRC+, 1.1 WAR
Note: ZiPS DC projections are pro-rated for the playing time indicated by Roster Resource Depth Charts on FanGraphs.
Kiermaier, who signed with the Jays back in December, is part of the team's concerted effort to improve the outfield defense for 2023.
Coming off hip surgery, 2023 looks like an opportunity for Kiermaier to bounce back and show critics that he still has what it takes to play at an elite level, at least in the outfield. It looks like the Jays will give him that chance, as he's been told the center field job is his to lose.
After a decade of tormenting Jays fans with spectacular defensive plays for the AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays, the projection systems think he'll be an above-average defender again, to varying degrees.
ZiPS DC is the most bullish on the 32-year-old returning to his Gold Glove-caliber form, giving him a 12.9 Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) rating, which is the main reason for their 2.3 WAR projection. Steamer and THE BAT project him to be less impactful, with 3.9 and 4.7 DEF ratings, respectively.
How do these predictions compare to the rest of his career?
In 2021 and 2022, despite playing through the hip injury and having last season cut short for surgery, he was still an above-average defender. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he played most of the schedule with a league-best 9.8 DEF.
In 2019, his last full-length, healthy season, you can see how valuable he was for the Rays, sporting an 18.2 DEF through 129 games. That was good enough for 10th overall in the majors. That's the Kevin Kiermaier the Jays hope to see patrolling center field this season.
On the offensive side of the ball, FanGraphs' Roster Resource predicts that Kiermaier will slot at the bottom of the order, acting as a secondary table-setter for leadoff man George Springer and the top of the order. The Jays don't need him to do anything other than keep his head above water enough to warrant keeping him in the everyday lineup.
The projections don't believe Kiermaier will hit much above .230. The best-case scenario is that he is as healthy as he says, stays fully healthy through the season, and hits closer to his career .248 mark.
That would put him in a great position to eclipse the projected runs and stolen base totals. If he gets on base, he'll add value on the basepaths with his speed and baserunning savvy; since coming into the league, Kiermaier ranks 12th in FanGraphs' BsR baserunning metric.
Despite holding the title of public enemy number one for some fans after the infamous card-stealing fiasco in 2021, Kiermaier has a chance to become a fan favorite in Toronto. So here's hoping he rebounds in 2023 and becomes a valuable piece in a lineup already among the best in the league.