Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s surprising transformation makes him a Yankees’ utility gem

Isiah Kiner-Falefa was 4-for-5 with four RBI Tuesday night in the Yankees' 10-2 win over the Mariners.

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SEATTLE — Even though it was only early March, Isiah Kiner-Falefa could already sense the situation he was in.

While the Yankees were still in the midst of their spring training position battle, Isiah Kiner-Falefa found himself playing second base in an exhibition game against the Tigers. This move came as Anthony Volpe made a strong impression and Oswald Peraza waited in the wings, adding further competition for the shortstop position.

As the Yankees scheduled Isiah Kiner-Falefa for three consecutive games away from his usual position at shortstop, he astutely recognized the opportunity to embrace a different role that would ensure his place on the team. This shift in mindset showcased his adaptability and determination to contribute in any way possible.

In a span of fewer than 90 days, Isiah Kiner-Falefa has successfully flourished in his super-utility role, propelled by a resilient mindset and a revamped approach at the plate focused on generating solid contact rather than solely aiming for gaps in the defense. This shift in mentality has been instrumental in his recent success.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa expressed his dedication and hard work in making the necessary adjustments to his game, acknowledging the support and guidance provided by the team’s hitting coaches. Despite initial temptations to revert to his old habits of hitting ground balls or relying on slap hits, he credited the coaches for emphasizing the importance of sticking with the changes he had made. Their consistent encouragement and focus on his development have been invaluable to his progress.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa noted that his efforts and commitment to the adjustments are finally yielding positive results.

As of Wednesday’s game, Isiah Kiner-Falefa boasted an impressive .382 batting average with a stellar 1.181 OPS. He had recorded six extra-base hits and 12 RBIs in the 11 games played since May 16.

Over his previous 23 games, Isiah Kiner-Falefa had maintained a batting average of .294 and a solid .848 OPS, showcasing his consistent performance over an extended period.

The pivotal factor in his resurgence, particularly his enhanced power in the recent fortnight, has been his commitment to swinging with greater force.

As of Wednesday, his hard-hit rate stood at a career-best 42.6 percent, a significant improvement compared to his 2022 rate of 30.1 percent, which ranked in the bottom seven percentile of the league.

His average exit velocity of 89.1 mph and barrel rate of 4.3 percent have both reached new heights in his career. Similarly, Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s average launch angle of 9.0 degrees indicates a shift in approach, demonstrating a willingness and capability to not solely rely on hitting ground balls.

The Yankees’ hitting coaches, led by Dillon Lawson, provided Isiah Kiner-Falefa with their own set of metrics, including bat speed, which has a direct impact on exit velocity. These internal assessments, along with other metrics, convinced them that improved performance was on the horizon for Kiner-Falefa.

By embracing the process, Isiah Kiner-Falefa gained the confidence to trust in his adjustments, and as a result, he is now reaping the rewards of his efforts.

Lawson expressed his pride in Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s journey, acknowledging his dedication and resilience throughout the process. He commended Kiner-Falefa for staying focused on supporting the team and being a valuable teammate, even during challenging times. According to Lawson, investing in others and maintaining a positive mindset, despite personal struggles, has been a winning strategy for Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Now, he is enjoying the rewards of his persistence and commitment to improvement.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s offensive mindset aligns well with his defensive role on the team.

Aaron Judge is seen congratulating Yankees' central fielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa after his outstanding an defensive save against the Angels at Yankee Stadium on April 20, 2023.

During his regular stint at third base for the Rangers in 2020, Isiah Kiner-Falefa believed he needed to contribute more offensively, and that influenced his training approach.

Upon transitioning to shortstop in 2021, Isiah Kiner-Falefa aimed to become a player known for his high batting average and base-stealing abilities.

Given his versatile role this season, which has seen him play in various positions such as 12 games in center field, 11 games in left field, five games at third base, one game in right field, and one game at shortstop, Isiah Kiner-Falefa understands the importance of being able to hit for power in order to maintain his presence in the lineup.

Understanding the importance of offensive production, Isiah Kiner-Falefa emphasized the need to drive the ball in order to secure playing time. In his previous season as a shortstop, his primary goal was to accumulate hits, regardless of their quality. However, he has since adopted a new mentality, focusing on being aggressive and generating solid contact at the plate. This shift in approach has allowed him to embrace his role as a versatile player and contribute offensively from various positions on the field.

The Yankees are now benefiting from their commitment to Isiah Kiner-Falefa and his continued development.

According to Nestor Cortes, Isiah Kiner-Falefa is an invaluable asset to the team due to his understanding of his role and his strong commitment to the team. Cortes believes that Isiah Kiner-Falefa embraces his responsibilities and genuinely enjoys being part of the Yankees.

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