2015 Player Previews: 2B Ian Kinsler

When the Tigers made a mega swap with the Texas Rangers, most were optimistic that Ian Kinsler could give the Tigers what they had lost in Omar Infante via free agency; a solid second baseman defensively that could be dangerous at the plate. They got that and then some in 2014 with Kinsler. Now, can he repeat it?

2014 In Review

2014 Ian Kinsler Stats
Detroit 161 726 5.4 102 .275 .288 .303 .307 .420 4% 11% 15/4 20 15.4

After a disappointing 2013 season, the Tigers elected to capitalize on the opportunity to jettison first baseman Prince Fielder, in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler, who would replace the soon-to-depart Omar Infante via free agency. The Tigers saw a solid bat in Kinsler who was better than what he gave the Rangers in his final season in Texas, and potentially even a defensive upgrade and another veteran in the clubhouse. What the Tigers received however likely exceeded their expectations, as he turned in a banner year, posting the 2nd highest WAR of his career at 5.4, which was the equivalent of what the Tigers got from Cabrera.

Kinsler was one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball, worth more than two full wins in the field alone according to his defensive runs saved. It was a tremendous improvement after two years of what amounted to average defensive performance, which led many to speculate that Kinsler’s skills in the field had quickly eroded.

Kinsler’s offensive productivity netted out to be about what many expected, however, it was very much a tale of two halves. He posted an OPS over .800 in the first half, which coupled with his excellent defense resulted in an All-Star selection. However, he cooled considerably in the second half, hitting just .239 with a .270 on-base percentage and limited power.

The Tigers were likely thrilled with what they got out of Kinsler in 2014 – his defense was outstanding, he proved to be a threat on the bases with 15 swipes (and numerous extra bags taken), and his offense was solid, more or less about what could be expected. There was some speculation after the season ended that the Tigers were looking to make an upgrade, especially after his second half swoon, but the moves to trade second base prospect Devon Travis and part-time shortstop Eugenio Suarez put to rest those thoughts.

2015 Player Projections

2015 Ian Kinsler Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 675 3.5 .272 .285 .326 .415 .326 8
Steamer 676 3.9 .266 .278 .322 .413 .325 7

While it seems like he’s been around awhile and much was made of his decline in Texas, Kinsler is actually just 32 years old, and is still a good bet to be a solid/average offensive producer, with an average around .270, a minimal amount of walks, but some solid gap power and around 15 home runs. Both projections are very much in lock step on this.

Kinsler’s xBAbip from 2014 would indicate he’s due for a jump in his average on balls in play, but in fact the .288 he hit last year was higher than his career norm, and in turn, both projections see a bit of a regression there, which will keep his average down as well. Kinsler also saw similar performance in 2013, when his expected average on balls in play was 25 points higher than his actual average on balls in play.

Finally, coming off a very good defensive season, both expect another good defensive season, which should only be helped by the return of Jose Iglesias at shortstop.

The TigsTown Take

There was a lot of concern about Kinsler’s ability to produce at the plate when the Tigers acquired him, and while his second half was a disappointment, his season as a whole was slightly better than league average. This concern was based on the fact that his offense was significantly better at the Ballpark in Arlington then it was on the road. Kinsler didn’t bring his home field offensive success with him, as he was slightly better away from Comerica than at it, but it also wasn’t a drain on his productivity, as others hypothesized.

While he’s going to turn 33 midway through the season, Kinsler held up very well in 2014, and was praised for his work ethic. He added value on the base paths, swiped 15 bases, and showed the quick twitch reactions in the field that many Rangers fans thought he had lost.

After staying healthy all year and exceeding 700 plate appearances for the third time in his career, the projection services are forecasting him to get close to that again. However, Kinsler has only averaged about 600 plate appearances over the course of his career, hitting the disabled list in six of the nine years of his career.

With Kinsler, the Tigers appear set at the keystone, with good defense and average offensive productivity, including an aggressiveness on the base paths that energizes fans and teammates alike. The biggest risks for Kinsler in 2015 are that his offense continues down the path that he followed in the second half, and that the injury bug creeps back up and bites him again. A betting man would be smart by saying he’ll keep his offense from sliding, but will spend some time on the DL this year.

2015 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.

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