By: Dustin Dietz
After receiving a sizable contract extension shortly after the season began, Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler yielded a disappointing slash line of .256/.326/.423, along with a bWAR of 2.1 in 2012. Based on the above average production Kinsler produced in previous years, which led to him earning the extension, fans and pundits expected more out of Kinsler. Kinsler’s cavalier body language and slumped shoulders after pop outs only exacerbated the angst among the masses last season.
Kinsler was not much better in the field as he generated a negative UZR for the first time since 2008. During the offseason, there was speculation Kinsler might be moved to first base to make room for mega prospect Jurickson Profar at second base. Kinsler felt he was more valuable to the club at second base, and after the team signed Lance Berkman to be the primary designated hitter in January, Kinsler’s spot in the middle of the diamond was safe for the time being.
The Rangers hired renowned former Boston Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan in the offseason with aspirations Magadan would be able to improve the approach and mechanics of Ranger hitters, including Kinsler. So far, the results have been outstanding with Kinsler as he has produced a slash line of .324/.387/.544 with 7 home runs and a wRC+ of 149 in 2013.
Kinsler has played at an elite, MVP level the first six weeks of ’12. The biggest difference so far in Kinsler’s game has been his approach at the plate. According to PITCHf/x, Kinsler is swinging at fewer pitches as his O-Swing, Z-Swing, and Swing percentages are all lower than they were in ’12. I realize we are looking at a small sample size here, but early season plate discipline numbers are typically trends which last the rest of the season. When Kinsler does swing at pitches outside of the strike zone, he is making contact with 80.3 percent of them, a substantial increase from the 71.5 O-Contact percentage Kinsler yielded in ’12.
Kinsler’s early season success can also be attributed to the fact he has destroyed right handed pitching, something he has not done historically. The Rangers second baseman has yielded an outstanding slash line of .348/.414/.652 against right handed pitching in ’13, while his career line is .262/.340/.440 against north paws. The .652 slugging percentage is second in all of baseball behind only Shin-soo Choo’s .739. One can expect Kins’ numbers against righties to regress towards his career average, but his ability to hit to right handed pitching early on in the year is an encouraging sign.
Kinsler is winning battles.
The headline might be somewhat perplexing, but it will make sense in a moment. Many fans and writers are cynical of the WAR (wins above replacement) statistic because many misinterpret what the meaning is. For example, baseball writer Jon Heyman tweeted a couple of weeks ago his disbelief that phenomenal second year outfielder Bryce Harper had the same WAR as Pittsburgh outfielder Starling Marte. The number is not meant to represent how a player with a 5 WAR is better than a player with a 4 WAR. Rather, the WAR statistic represents the overall value the player provides for his team, and while Harper is a fantastic player, Marte and his superior defensive skills had supplied the same amount of wins for his team as Harper at that time.
Now that I have explained WAR for the baseball illiterate who refuses to accept the statistic’s validity, or the fact the earth is round, I will mention Kinsler is currently second in MLB among position players with 2.2 bWAR, behind only Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez’s 2.8. To put Kinsler’s stellar play into perspective, he has already surpassed the bWAR of 2.1 from last season. Quite simply, Kinsler has been the most valuable player to the Rangers. While Profar is probably ready to contribute at the big league level right now, there is little chance he would be producing the way Kinsler is from the second base position.
While Kinsler’ nonchalant demeanor in the batter’s box and in the field can indeed be vexing, I hope many realize how great he has played up to this point. Kinsler still does have the propensity to pop out rather often. However, if he continues to play at the level he currently is, he will not only be a bargain at the $13 million dollars he is being paid in ’13, but he also will be in MVP consideration at season’s end and helping lead the Rangers to a third American League West crown in four years.
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