Putting together the Rays All-Time 25th Anniversary squad
Centerfield: No. 39, Kevin Kiermaier
Having a player with the speed of Kevin Kiermaier hitting ninth in your lineup, despite the inherent flaws in his offensive make-up, is a proverbial bolt in the lineup, allowing for almost a second leadoff hitter. That being said, Kiermaier's offense left a lot of potential untapped during his time with the Rays. His OPS+ is a modest 98 over the course of his career, enough to keep you in the majors when you have the defensive prowess of Kiermaier, but average at best with a bat. His career high in home runs is 15, giving Tampa only a small amount of thump, and he's only walked more than 40 times once. He hits the ball to the opposite field less than 15% of the time, rarely being able to even utilize his speed to get on base.
Kiermaier, beyond being one of the biggest fan favorites, is arguably the best defensive player of his generation at a premium position. Consider this excerpt from my piece on Kiermaier back in August:
""Kiermaier is one of the game's top defensive centerfielders, posting a gaudy 17.6 defensive WAR in his Rays tenure by Baseball Reference measurements. He's done so in only 914 games on top of that. For comparison, Braves legend Andruw Jones, considered by many to be the greatest defender in the history of position, posted an 18.1 dWAR in his first 981 games from 1996-2002. It's there-within that lays the issue, though, as AJ25 had played in 67 more games across the first six seasons he saw big league action in versus Kiermaier who's seen action in ten separate seasons.""- Jameus Mooney, FanSided (2022)
Andruw Jones, who's gaining traction in the Hall of Fame discussion, is widely considered the best defensive center fielder to ever play the game. Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox once famously touted that Jones had 'RBI in his glove,' with Cooperstown electees Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz all three citing how he made them better. A center fielder that valuable often goes understated, but that's what The Outlaw provided for the Rays. It's no wonder why pitchers' ERAs are lower when Kiermaier's on the diamond versus when he's off the diamond. The issue with Kiermaier beyond his expected offensive output is that he averaged only 108 games per season from 2014-2022, excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.
Despite his lack of availability and offensive struggles, Kiermiaer accrued 31.8 bWAR in a Tampa uniform, the fourth-highest total in franchise history. For his defense to hold that much weight in the conversation of his analytical statistics, it automatically makes him the greatest defensive player in Rays history. Since the start of 2016, Kiermaier has 71 Outs Above Average, sixth most in MLB over that span, preventing approximately 64 runs. Those 64 runs sit behind only Francisco Lindor (Cleveland, New York), Nick Ahmed (Arizona) and Nolan Arenado (Colorado, St. Louis), while being the most among center fielders. Those numbers don't even include the 2015 season where Kiermaier won a platinum glove for being the best defensive player in the American League.
A fan-favorite beloved in St. Pete, Kiermaier's defensive play covets him the final spot on our starting lineup.