2014 Player Capsule: 2B Ian Kinsler

TigsTown continues its look at the key contributors from the 2014 season and what their 2015 outlook is. The Tigers made waves last off-season when they swapped slugger first baseman Prince Fielder in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler, with the hope being that increased financial flexibility would offset production. Turns out the Tigers got both.

Ian Kinsler 2014 Year in Review

2014 Projections and Performance
Perf/Proj PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 629 3.5 .271 .285 .344 .420 .335 4
Steamer 684 3.4 .264 .273 .342 .429 .340 0.2
Oliver 600 3.4 .273 .285 .338 .406 .328 5.6
Actual 726 5.5 .275 .288 .307 .420 .319 15.4

The projections for Kinsler entering 2014 were remarkably consistent, with all three expecting him to be in the neighborhood of a three win player, with solid offense and good defense. Kinsler’s offensive production was in line with what was expected, maybe slightly worse but still in line with the projections. But his defense and baserunning made him far more valuable than anticipated. Kinsler’s glove work was frequently impressive, bringing an excellent defensive presence to a defense that was lacking it – he saved 20 runs defensively, the best he had been in the field since 2009.

As stated, Kinsler was about what was expected offensively, with the gap between his forecasted wOBA and his actual mostly due to a somewhat surprising decline in his walk rate. Kinsler had consistently walked anywhere from 8% to 12% of plate appearances in his career, yet he walked just 29 times for the Tigers, a 4.0% walk rate.

When the Tigers traded for Kinsler, they assumed they’d be getting a decline in overall productivity compared to what they would have gotten out of Prince Fielder, however the financial flexibility in the long run in addition to less salary in the short run was supposed to be worth it. Instead, Kinsler beat his projections by a full two wins, making him one of the best second basemen in baseball this year. Meanwhile, Prince Fielder made it through only a quarter of the season before his year came to an end due to neck surgery, and when he did play, he was unimpressive at best.

Ian Kinsler 2015 Outlook

Contract Status: 3-years, $41 million left on 5-year, $75 million deal signed with Texas
Free Agent ETA: 2017 (Tigers have a $10 million club option)

Based on what he’ll earn over the next few seasons, so long as Kinsler is simply mediocre offensively and good defensively, he’ll be worth the money he’s getting, and the Tigers obviously hope he’ll given them even more than that. $41 million over three years is a very reasonable price tag for what he brings to the table, especially given the lack of alternatives at second base.

At 32 years old, Kinsler is exiting the prime period of his career, but came into 2014 with something to prove and was in remarkably good shape for the team. There’s no telling what will happen to a player as they reach their mid-30’s and everyone ages differently, however, Kinsler appears well positioned to have at least a few good years left in him. The hope will of course be that the minor injuries he’s dealt with in the past aren’t more hampering in his 30’s than they were in his 20’s.

The Tigers have every reason to expect another solid year from Kinsler in 2015, and given players like Hernan Perez haven’t stepped up and Devon Travis is being considered for a move to center field, the job appears to be Kinsler’s to own. Another year like this past season, which is a stretch but also not outside the realm of possibility, and the Tigers would be getting 10 wins from Kinsler, which at this rate might take Fielder most of the rest of his contract to match.

2014 Projections came from three different sources; ZiPS, Steamer, and Oliver, all publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers, and Oliver Projections from Brian Cartwright.

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