Friday, August 05, 2011

Surprise Value of Ian Kinsler

Can a ballplayer batting .239 be valuable? That's a question of perception that an old dog has had to learn in a brave new world. It turns out a ballplayer batting .239 can be surprisingly valuable if his name is Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers. The batting average turns out to be misleading because of all the other things that Ian Kinsler does very well.

For one, he's a very good fielder. Kinsler's fielding is currently ranked third for second basemen in all of the majors behind Dustin Pedroia and Howie Kendrick. Aided by a strong first step, Kinsler has excellent range and has made only seven errors while making 32 plays outside of his range this season. He's also improved making double plays, an area that was weaker for him in past seasons. His play combined with Elvis Andrus at short gives the Rangers terrific fielding up the middle, just where you want your fielding to be strong.

Kinsler is also one of those rare players that walks more than he strikes out. He's only swung at 19.7 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, giving him an eye similar to the likes of Lance Berkman and Nick Swisher. Kinsler has walked 62 times while only striking out 52 times. So although his batting average is low, his on base percentage is above league average.

And once Kinsler gets on base, he is an excellent base runner. The Rangers are known for their daring on the basepaths and if at times, it backfires and causes them extra outs, that daring succeeds more often than not. Kinsler has stolen 19 bases in 21 attempts, a superb ratio. Plus, he makes the most of his running when on base and legs out his share of doubles and triples. He is currently fourteenth in the majors with his base running score of 3.0. Again, his teammate, Elvis Andrus, is rated the highest in the league in base running and the pair provide an exciting combination for fans of the Rangers.

But Kinsler also has some pop in his bat. He's not quite hitting as many homers as the 31 he hit in 2009 and his homer to fly ball rate is below what he did that year. But he has hit sixteen dingers and is projected to hit 22 overall. He has also hit 25 doubles and three triples to give him a very good slugging percentage for a lead off batter. If he stays on projection, he'll end up with around 34 doubles to go with his 22 homers.

Add it all up and he becomes the third most valuable second baseman in baseball behind Pedroia and Ben Zobrist. Kinsler has already compiled an fWAR of 4.4 which translates to $20 million of value provided for the Rangers. Certainly, if more of his batted balls find open space, it will only enhance his value. He currently tarries with a .239 BABIP which is extremely low to the point of being considered unlucky. If that luck evens out, Kinsler will only build and even more valuable year than he has now.

Kinsler hits the fastball well and absolutely rocks change ups. He is vulnerable to the curve and cutter. But that is hardly unique in baseball.

It's easy to look at Ian Kinsler and dismiss him for his batting average. His overall play with the glove, with his legs and with his patience adds up to value that gets missed more often than not. Ian Kinsler's value is surprising and he's a big part of any hopes the Rangers have of repeating as American League West champions.

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