It is hard to imagine that when the Detroit Tigers’ General Manager, Dave Dombrowski, traded for Ian Kinsler, he knew exactly what he was getting. Yes, acquiring the All-Star second baseman gave Detroit a chance to shed the burdensome Prince Fielder contract, but, at any level, it was hard to see the evolution of Ian Kinsler coming.
At the time, the narrative surrounding the then 31 year-old was that Kinsler was a quiet, offensive-minded middle infielder, who had only had one truly great season, and was projected to regress.
And, while it is almost certain that Kinsler will never hit 30 home-runs again, he has developed into one of the best second basemen in the game, and the centerpiece of one of the best teams in baseball.
Kinsler’s excellence since coming to Detroit has been defined by his glove, his leadership, and his ability as a table-setter. In 2015, he has developed in all three facets.
One year removed from his first major defensive accomplishment, the Wilson Defensive Player Of The Year, Kinsler has not skipped a beat at the outset of this season. Heading into the second of three games with St. Louis, the 32 year-old is the in the top five amongst all second basemen in the following categories: dWAR (0.8), total chances (183), put-outs (67), assists (115), double plays (26), fielding percentage (.995) and range factor (5.25).
Many argue that Kinsler should have won the Gold Glove over Dustin Pedroia, and many more will support him in his bid to win in 2015. Paired with Jose Iglesias, Kinsler has been a focal point of Detroit’s shift to an excellent defensive team. Through 36 games, the Tigers were fourth in the league in regards to fewest errors allowed.
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Kinsler is no slouch on offense, either. Despite a home-run drought that he has never experienced, Kinsler has been pivotal atop the Tigers’ powerful offense, and somehow, more productive than he traditionally has been. Through 31 games, according to Bless You Boys, Kinsler had an OPS hovering near his career average (even in the midst of a power shortage), his walk rate was two whole points above his career average, and he was seeing an average of about four pitches per plate appearance.
These are all signs of a highly intelligent, and selfless baseball player. In 2014, Kinsler posted a slashline of .303/.337/.470 before he collapsed in the second half and posted a line that is hard to look at (.239/.270/.357) and hit more pop-ups than seemed fathomable. In 2015, Kinsler has changed his approach, and sacrificed his home-run total to be what the Tigers need. He has become a line drive hitter, who gets on base before an un-rivaled heart of the order, and impacts the game with his speed, as well as his ability to score runs.
Kinsler’s influence stretches beyond the white lines, however. In an article by Chris Iott, the MLive reporter chronicles how in the wake of Torii Hunter’s departure, Kinsler has stepped into a role as the Tigers’ unofficial clubhouse spokesman.
“The most important thing is the fans,” Kinsler said of his new role in Iott’s article. “The second most important thing is my teammates, that they don’t have to worry about it. They don’t have to have people hovering over their shoulders if they’re not comfortable with talking.”
Kinsler has become a leader for a team that needed one. And, in a lineup that is filled with names that make it easy to overlook a guy like Ian Kinsler, the Tigers’ second basemen has made it impossible, on and off the field, to do so. If the Tigers are going to get a chance to see what that lineup can do in the playoffs once more in 2015, Kinsler will be the one to guide them there.