As Sam O’Toole wrote a couple of days ago on Motor City Bengals, Ian Kinsler has been one of the hottest Tigers. I want to build off that post to underscore something else about Kinsler.
When you watch Kinsler play for an entire game the thing that stands out is how well rounded his game is. Indeed, he’s one of the few two-way players the Tigers have had during this three-year-plus run of AL Central dominance.
By two-way I mean a player who can bring it both offensively and defensively. The Tigers have lacked players of this sort over the last few years, surprising considering the franchise’s success. Of course, two-way players are at a premium. They are difficult to find in the draft and costly to acquire. But you would expect the best teams, as the Tigers have been over the last few years, to have a few two-way guys on their roster.
That’s just not been the case. The key contributors have all had their savant qualities. The big offensive guns of the last few years, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Torii Hunter, Prince Fielder, are limited defensively. And none of them bring much on the base paths. Other contributors, such as Alex Avila, Omar Infante, Andy Dirks, and Ryan Raburn, also have holes in their games on one or both ends.
The only other Tiger close to being a two-way player is Austin Jackson, although he’s slipped defensively recently and been up and down offensively. Jackson still has the tools to restore himself as a two-way threat. Long term, Nick Castellanos has a shot as well.
Kinsler doesn’t really have any glaring holes. He hits for average, rarely strikes out, and flashes some power. He can run the bases. I knew Kinsler was a different stripe of cat when he scored on a double from first in the Tigers’ first series of the year. It was not the kind of double that many Tigers would have come around to score on the year before. Kinsler, however, read the ball adeptly off the bat and glided home easily. His stolen base abilities have been well documented. In the field, Kinsler moves fluidly, vacuums up most balls hit to his side, and turns a snappy double play. There’s very little to dislike about him, other than the occasional over aggression on the base paths.
Here are Kinsler’s ranks in some important categories in the American League (defensive metrics, even 40 games into the season, are still quite fluid, but his numbers are consistent with past performance and thus can be deemed more reliable)
K%: 3rd (best)
Defensive Efficiency: 14th
UBR (proficiency on the base paths): 5th
Speed (base stealing frequency and efficiency): 35th
These ranks put him in the top 25% of all American League position players, a showing that illustrates Kinsler’s multi-faceted skill set and supports the argument that he is the most complete Tiger. The only significant number where Kinsler drags behind the league leaders is BB%, although past performance suggests this should improve.
In any event, Kinsler certainly makes watching Tigers games this year even more fun than the fun-filled last three years.