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The moves made by Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers this off season have been met with a wide range of views from fans and media alike. While no fan base is without hand-wringing and second guessing, the Tigers have seen much dissent over the winter additions and subtractions to the team. While Dombrowski has undoubtedly sacrificed parts of the power hitting game, he has also made a few additions that, in my opinion, make the Tigers a much stronger, more well rounded club. In particular, Ian Kinsler seems to be made for the new, speedy, defense minded Tigers. Not only is he solid in his position on the field, he adds speed and smarts on the base paths, giving the Tigers a small ball game they have been long missing. More than that, his history shows he has the ability to give the Tigers something they desperately need, a killer post season bat.
While Kinsler’s name doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of pitchers the way Prince Fielder‘s has, he is a far more multi-dimensional player. For every bone-headed play he makes at second base, he more than makes up for it with spectacular, highlight reel outs. In 136 games for the Rangers last season, he had 211 put outs total, with 89 double plays and 13 errors and a fielding percentage(FLD%) of .978. Not too shabby when you compare them to the numbers of Omar Infante and his 2013 defensive production. In 118 games for the Tigers, Infante had 157 put outs, 73 double plays and 10 errors with a FLD% of .980. In addition to comparable(if not slightly improved) defensive numbers, he adds a proven bat in the number one spot, picking up 15 stolen bases with a batting line of .277/.344/.413, 13 HR and 72 RBI. If he’s batting lead off as we’re all expecting, you can compare his numbers to those of Austin Jackson, who, with 8 stolen bases, hit .272/.337/.417 with 12HR and 49RBI. Yes Kinsler’s numbers are very similar to Jackson’s, but look at the difference in RBIs and OBP between the two. This shows that Kinsler knows how to move the runners around the bases and how to get on base himself. And while perhaps some may see his RBI production as a reason to bat him lower in the line up, my belief is that it shows he has the skill to get himself on base early on in the game and then bat runners in when the opportunities arise later in the game, as the team is moving through the batting order. Also remember, we haven’t lost Jackson’s bat. If anything Dombrowski has done the best thing he could for Jackson, he’s given him room to grow in a less stressful batting slot, which should increase his numbers over the course of the season and also add speed to the lower, slower part of the lineup.
Kinsler’s main asset in the eyes of this Tigers’ fan, though, is his fantastic post season career. While Kinsler holds his own during the regular season, his history indicates he is a star in October. Over seven playoff series, he’s hit .311/.422/.484 with 4HR and 20RBI. Looking at the Tigers’ last two post season performances, nothing can convince me that the Fielder trade wasn’t in the absolute best interest of a team with the goal of winning a World Series. Comparing Kinsler’s post season wonders to those of the player he’s replacing, Infante batted .255/.305/.291 with no home runs and 3RBI in eight series. The move looks a lot more like an upgrade when you put the two second basemen’s career offensive post season numbers side by side. And for an even more shocking differential, go apples to apples and compare the traded players’ post season numbers side by side. Fielder’s abysmal post season performances have left him a line of .194/.287/.332 with 5HR and 11RBI in eight series. Pretty dismal in their own right, and simply embarrassing when compared to Kinsler’s. Does this mean that Kinsler is a lock to continue his post season success this season and for many seasons to come? Not necessarily. However, if post seasons past are sign of future success(and I definitely believe they are the most telling indicator), the Tigers are the clear cut winner in the Fielder trade.
For a team that sees any season not ending with a World Series Championship as a failure, it’s hard to argue that the Kinsler trade was a bad move for the Tigers. Will Fielder hit more home runs and have more RBIs than Kinsler over the course of the season? Almost assuredly, yes. But history indicates that Kinsler can hit when it really counts…in October.