Blue Jays Are Reaping the Rewards of Isiah Kiner-Falefa Deal

Isiah Kiner-Falefa has been one of the most productive players on the Toronto Blue Jays this season, bringing stability to an inconsistent lineup.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run during the third inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field.
CLEVELAND, OHIO - JUNE 22: Isiah Kiner-Falefa #7 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run during the third inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on June 22, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays made a few signings this past offseason, one of which was bringing in utility player Isiah Kiner-Falefa on a two-year deal worth $15 million.

The deal was met with criticism from the fanbase at first, given the depth the Jays already had. The club had multiple utility-type players on the roster in Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal, Ernie Clement, and Davis Schneider, all of whom can play multiple infield positions and even the outfield.

As well, Kiner-Falefa is historically a defense-first player. His best season at the plate came back during the shortened 2020 campaign, when he posted a 93 OPS+ with the Texas Rangers. For a Blue Jays squad that struggled to put runs on the scoreboard amidst a disappointing offensive campaign last year, Kiner-Falefa didn’t check a lot of boxes.

With so many players of a similar type on the roster, playing time was tough to come by at first.

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The club moved Espinal to the Cincinnati Reds early in spring training, creating a spot for Clement on the big league squad. As the season wore on, the Jays eventually designated Biggio for assignment, creating more playing time for additional utility players.

Meanwhile, Kiner-Falefa has established himself as an everyday player all over the diamond.

While his signing was met with negativity off the bat, the former Rangers and Yankees utility player has fit right in on the Blue Jays roster. He is producing with the bat at a rate that far exceeds his previous stat lines.

IKF at the Plate

For a Jays squad that has struggled to find consistency at the plate, Kiner-Falefa has been one of the bright spots on the squad just about all year long, thanks to his excellent contact skills.

So far this season, the 29-year-old owns a .292/.338/.420 slash line with seven home runs, 33 RBIs, and has hit to the tune of a .758 OPS through 281 plate appearances.

Kiner-Falefa is one home run away from tying his single-season high set back in 2021. Should he continue his current trends, he will set career highs in RBIs, OBP, SLG, and OPS.

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He collected the first multi-home run game of his career back on June 22 against the Cleveland Guardians and was riding a 13-game hitting streak until he went hitless in Sunday’s contest against the New York Yankees.

IKF has even splits against right- and left-handed pitchers (although he has only taken 77 PA against LHP) and has hit up and down throughout the order. Manager John Schneider has used him mostly in the eight hole (49 games with a .724 OPS), but he has also found himself in the leadoff spot on occasion, where he has gone 5-for-17, generating four runs and two home runs.

Kiner-Falefa’s bat speed and average exit velocity won’t top the charts, but the Hawaiian product has elite contact ability.

He ranks in the 97th percentile in Whiff% and the 94th percentile in K%, showing off his ability to put the bat on the ball with regularity.

Moreover, Kiner-Falefa has amassed a 39.6% squared-up contract rate (+6.2% compared to the MLB average) and a 34.6% squared-up swing rate (+9.0), although his lack of bat speed means he doesn’t have many ‘blasts’ (per Statcast).

His squared-up swing rate ranks fifth in the league, while his squared-up contract rate ranks 14th amongst MLB batters. He knows how to put the barrel on the ball.

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IKF in the Field

Defensively, Kiner-Falefa has mostly split his time between second and third base, with 246 2/3 and 290 innings at each position, respectively.

He has just three errors on the year, including one at shortstop, where he suited up for 96 innings while Bo Bichette was on the IL earlier in June. With four Outs Above Average (OAA) in total, he ranks in the 91st percentile. He has produced a fielding run value of +3 (80th percentile).

Kiner-Falefa also sports a positive DRS at every position he has played, having had the most success at the hot corner (+6 DRS).

Kiner-Falefa’s 1.6 defensive bWAR leads all American League players, just ahead of teammate Daulton Varsho (1.5). His 3.0 bWAR leads all Blue Jays position players as well.

As a versatile utility-type player, Kiner-Falefa is doing everything the Blue Jays need of him while suiting up for almost all of the club’s games this season.

Considering he is earning $7.5 million and authoring a 2.0 fWAR, the newest Blue Jay has been an absolute steal for the club. He has been one of the brightest spots for a struggling squad trying to contend in the AL East.

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From a questionable signing to one of the most reliable players on the team, Isiah Kiner-Falefa is looking like one of the best offseason signings for the Blue Jays in recent memory. That said, he could see himself moved later this year should the club continue to fall down the standings and look to move tradeable assets.