Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Target: Center Fielder Kevin Kiermaier

The Pittsburgh Pirates could significantly improve their outfield's defense by looking into veteran center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.
Sep 10, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) runs the
Sep 10, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) runs the / Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates could use another quality outfield option, along with a defensive improvement. They can improve both by looking into veteran center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.

If the Pittsburgh Pirates give Henry Davis more time behind the plate next year, they’ll need to add some outfield depth. Last year, the Pirate outfielders were okay, but not great defensively. They had -3 outs above average, which spread about across three outfield spots makes them all playable guys. Their main center fielder was Jack Suwinski who, to his credit, played the position well for someone who is probably better suited for a corner outfield spot. Ji-Hwan Bae also looked decent in center, as both had +3 OAA.

But Suwinski moving to an outfield corner and Bae becoming a utility man would probably benefit both. In an effort to add (significantly) more defense, the Pirates should look into veteran center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier is coming off a very solid season in Toronto, and would fit nicely in PNC Park’s spacious center field. 

Kiermaier took home the 2023 American League center field Gold Glove after racking up +18 defensive runs saved, +13 OAA, and posting a +7.9 UZR/150. Kiermaier was tied with teammate Daulton Varsho for the most DRS in the AL, and second most in MLB among center fielders, with Brenton Doyel leading the way with +19. He was also tied with Chicago White Sox star outfielder Luis Robert for the most OAA in the American League, and just three behind Doyel for the most in baseball.

Kiermaier is fast, and can cover a ton of ground in the outfield. He was in the 87th percentile of sprint speed last year. The center fielder also has one of the best arms in the game, averaging 92.8 MPH on his throws. That is the 17th highest by any outfielder in baseball last year, and the 18th best among all players.

Many underrate Kiermaier’s offensive prowess. Fans see that glove-first outfielder moniker many label him with, and automatically assume he's Jarrod Dyson 2.0 when that's not the case at all. Last year, Kiermaier batted .265/.322/.419 with a 7.1% walk rate, and an above average 21.1% strikeout rate. His .154 isolated slugging was slightly below average, but respectable for a center fielder. With a .741 OPS and .320 wOBA, Kiermaier ended the year as a slightly above league average hitter with a 104 OPS+ and wRC+.

It is the second time in the last three seasons Kiermaier has posted a wRC+ above 100. Last year, the league average center fielder hit .246/.318/.408 with a .315 wOBA, and 98 wRC+. Kiermaier may not have batted like prime Mike Trout, but he was above average in all three triple-slash numbers, wOBA, and wRC+. He's not just another no-hit all-glove player, like Jarrod Dyson was in 2020, or Austin Hedges in 2023. He can hold his own with the bat, and be a productive member of the starting nine beyond his value with the glove.

While Kiermaier may have top of the line speed, he's never been very aggressive on the basepaths. However when he is aggressive, he's typically successful. Last year, he attempted 15 stolen bases, and was successful 14 times.

Kiermaier is one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball. Since his debut in 2013, he has +165 defensive runs saved, the most by any outfielder by a wide margin. Mookie Betts has the second most with +148, nearly 20 fewer runs. On top of that, Kiermaier is an average to slightly above league average batter. Kiermaier may not be able to carry a line-up, but he can carry a team’s outfield defense. Last year, he signed a one-year, $9 million deal, and I would expect him to sign something similar this year. For a full-time outfielder, that would definitely be worth it, especially one who has the prowess that Kiermaier has.

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