Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
Yesterday’s Detroit Tigers game had some of the most unthinkable scenarios to happen in one game.
Max Scherzer gave up seven runs on 12 hits through three innings. Phil Coke pitching too long with very little command (okay, maybe that’s not too unthinkable). Al Alburquerque‘s game-ending balk gave the Cleveland Indians the sweep of their American League Central rival.
The Tigers still finished the nine-game road trip with a record of 6-3 thanks to sweeps of AL East teams, the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox. All the buzz has been about how Miguel Cabrera is back to his old self, and Victor Martinez all of a sudden has 2004-type power through the Tigers first 42 games.
Another Tiger that has taken off this month has been the new guy, Ian Kinsler.
Kinsler was acquired this offseason as a part of a transformation of the defense and base running ability. The Tigers liked how he played the game and felt he would fit in right away with the reigning AL Central champion.
In April–plus the one game on March 31–Kinsler hit for a slash line of .283/.314/.404. His on-base and slugging percentages were lower than his career averages, and it felt as if the lack of consecutive games played in the first month for the Tigers hurt any sort of rhythm the 31-year-old would attempt to find.
May has been a different story. Overshadowed by the video game numbers being put up from the men who follow Kinsler in the order, the second baseman’s numbers haven’t been one of the top stories for an elite AL team. Through 19 games in May, Kinsler has not only been one of the Tigers’ best players, but one of the top played in the AL.
He bumped his batting average up to .317 after hitting .358, good for sixth best in the AL. He bumped his isolated power up from .121 to .160 as well as his wOBA, which went from .316 to .392. His number across the board have shot up from his mediocre April. At one point during the first month of the season, I looked at Omar Infante‘s 2014 statistics and compared them to Kinsler’s and didn’t see much of a difference, to be honest. Well, Infante has gone to the disabled list since and now Kinsler has proven his worth as a leader and important piece to what the Tigers have built for 2014.
Every year, Kinsler also improves his strikeout rate, something that shows his discipline as a major league baseball player. In May, he has a strikeout rate of just 5.7%. To put that in perspective, Victor Martinez is striking out at a rate of 6.1% for the 2014 season, and this is the man who has more home runs than strikeouts.
Kinsler has been the leadoff hitter lately, due to the recent struggles of Rajai Davis. Kinsler hasn’t shown much home run power (only four homers on the year), but is still finding the gaps, hitting more doubles in May so far than all of April.
The Tigers’ spark plug is currently on a seven-game hitting streak, which includes a four-hit game against the Red Sox on May 18. The leadoff hitter for what has been one of the best lineups in all of baseball has been getting everything going early for the Tigers in the month of May.
To make the Fielder-Kinsler swap even sweeter for the Tigers, Fielder has struggled for the Rangers so far, slashing .247/.360/.360 with just three home runs, one less than Kinsler. Fielder is still walking a lot (14% walk rate in 2014), but his hitting has fallen off. He currently has a below average wRC+ of 85 and a WAR of -0.4.
Kinsler enjoyed the eighth best WAR in the AL in the month of May with 1.1 and currently sits at 1.7, according to FanGraphs. In 2013, Kinsler recorded a WAR of just 2.5, so the change of scenery must be a factor in the high-level play from Kinsler through 42 games.
The not only made the Tigers a couple wins better, but it also brought energy to the team as well. Kinsler leads the way with that energy on the field, whether it is offensively or defensively. The veteran knows his job and does his job to the best of his ability. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus doesn’t miss these types of things and sees Kinsler as a critical part of his team as the season progresses.
All the “Big Three” talk for the Tigers has referred to the trio in the starting rotation of Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, but maybe it’s time to talk about the Big Three in the lineup of Kinsler, Cabrera and Martinez. The Tigers have started to put up runs in bunches as of late which scares other teams around the league even more.
It all starts with Kinsler, because the two guys behind him are a couple of the best hitters in the game with men on base.