Culture

Just how bad was Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and why did the Yankees choose to bring him back?


In today’s Major League Baseball, what’s the price for a player coming off a wildly disappointing season, one that saw them bat .261/.314/.327 (.642 OPS) with an 85 wRC+ while adjusting to the rigors of a major media market for the first time?

Based on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s one-year deal to return to the Yankees, the answer is six million dollars. The infielder showed no pop — only five qualified players had a lower slugging percentage last season — and failed to cash in on his sterling reputation as a gloveman, committing a few postseason blunders that earned him a spot on the bench.

Still, the Yankees chose to tender him a one-year deal worth six million dollars to be a part of the 2023 squad, likely hoping he settles into a utility spot rather than reprising his role as the starting shortstop. Ranking in the bottom ten of league-wide slugging percentage, OPS, wRC+, isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) and hard-hit percentage was definitely not what the Yankees envisioned when they traded for Kiner-Falefa, even knowing that defense is his carrying tool and offense has always been a struggle.

The 2022 season was a different type of struggle, though. The already light-hitting Hawaiian posted the lowest slugging percentage of his career, thanks in large part to 102 of his 126 hits being singles. In the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium, where players are often rounding the bases in a home run trot even after slightly mishitting the ball, Kiner-Falefa’s two home runs matched the total he had on the road. It’s easy to speculate that playing in the Bronx, and playing as poorly as he did for most of the season, had a profoundly negative mental effect on the former Ranger, not unlike what happened to Joey Gallo.

When things looked particularly ugly for Kiner-Falefa on the field, the vicious side of Yankee fandom came for him. In August, one fan sent a direct message on Twitter to Kiner-Falefa’s father saying that his son had been murdered. During the American League Division Series, fans harassed him as he was driving out of the stadium. The embattled shortstop spoke all year, as many players do when they put on the pinstripes, about how he grew up rooting for the Yankees and how playing for the storied organization was a dream come true. It’s not out of pocket at all to say that dream bordered on nightmare territory for most of the second half.

When his tumultuous season came to a head in Game 3 of the ALDS, the one where he had three miscues that led to a Yankee loss, Kiner-Falefa summarized his feelings and, unintentionally, those of the impatient fans who watched him start 131 regular season games at the diamond’s most important spot.

“Frustration, anger, shock,” he vented. “Me personally, I’m just disappointed in myself. I had opportunities to come up with some key plays and help the team win.”

There …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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