A name many Yankees fans wanted to steer clear of this past offseason, especially considering Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story were readily available. And their disdain towards IKF seemed to be justified in the early going. He had a wRC+ of just 74 through the first nine games of the season. Small sample size, yes, but it was not looking great for the former Ranger and Twin (for a hot second). Just for comparison, in his first season as a Yankee, Didi Gregorius had a paltry wRC+ of 11 through his first nine games. Many liken the IKF trade to the Didi trade: both were not known as being great all-around shortstops.
But Didi quickly enamored himself with Yankees fans, and IKF has done the same in the past week or so. What’s changed?
Pulling the ball?
IKF’s pull rate has shot up.
His pitch heat maps from the past two seasons are not significantly different. In fact, he received a higher rate of pitches on the inner half of the plate last year than has this year.
So why is this a good thing? It actually might not be. IKF is hitting .263 on pulled pitches this season versus .346 in 2021. Where he’s really making his money this year is going up the middle and the other way. Ironically, he’s been doing less of it than last season, but he’s hitting .458 on those batted balls in 2022 compared to .299 in 2021.
If we take a look at his Statcast stats, IKF is seeing a good amount of red (which is a good thing).
Everything has gone up:
Exit Velocity (MPH)
Launch Angle (degrees)
Hard Hit Rate
(One thing that’s a bit shocking is his 13.3 strikeout rate last season was in the top five percent in the league. It’s up to 19 percent this year and it’s not in the top five percent. That may tell you a little something about how the season has started for teams around the league.)
In addition, IKF has become a better hitter with two strikes. We saw it last weekend with him doubling in the game-tying run against Emmanuel Clase’s 100.3 miles per hour up-and-in fastball. Against fastballs with two strikes, IKF is hitting .471 this year compared to just .243 last year.
As seen above, his launch angle has increased. Even if it is a modest increase, he is hitting fly balls with more authority now to the tune of a .300 batting average on such balls, compared to a paltry .135 in 2021.
All in all, I will admit it is a small sample size from 2022 to compare to a full 2021 season. However, IKF has the makings of being another Didi, and so far he’s won back the fans after a slow start.