30 Rangers In 30 Days: Ian Kinsler
By Eric Reining
Yesterday I missed out on my chance to continue the consecutive-days chain of 30 Rangers in 30 Days, so shame on me, I guess. After covering the starting rotation, catcher, and 1st baseman, today begins the boomerang around the infield, starting up the middle with 2nd baseman Ian Kinsler.
Unless I’m mistaken, Kinsler, 30, is the longest-tenured Ranger on roster, which kind of speaks to the high turnover rate of the organization as a whole. Since his first at bat in 2006, Ian has generated more WAR than anyone else on the Rangers (27.5 fWAR), proving himself to be an above average fielder, a well above average offensive second baseman (career wRC+ of 112), and an elite base runner (+40.3 BsR, where 0.0 would be considered average). You could quantify his exceptional production with basic statistics or advanced metrics, but either way he’s performed as one of the best at his position in the entire sport.
The excellent first half of his career (2006-’12) was rewarded last April when the Rangers decided to invest 5 guaranteed years and $70 million (with an option in year-6), sending a clear signal that, along with Yu Darvish and Derek Holland (along with the newly-extended Matt Harrison), Kinsler will be part of the franchise’s core for years to come.
The timing of Kinsler’s extension ran parallel with a falloff in production, leaving many fans fraudulently questioning if he no longer cares since, you know, he just got paid. In April, Kinsler hit at a .298/.400/.574 (160 wRC+) clip; after that, his best (and only other good) month was in August when he provided a triple slash of .261/.339/.486 (117 wRC+) — which is essentially on par with his career numbers. Other than those two stretches, Kinsler was an average- to below average hitter, finishing the year at a mere .256/.326/.423 (99 wRC+).
The real quandary here is, which do you find more accurate: the player he has been, or what he showed last year? Sure, even as putrid as his offensive numbers were, he was still worth 3.2 fWAR in 2012, which paled in comparison to his MVP-like 2011 where he generated 7.5 fWAR. Or, if you want to look at his career in the large sample, cumulatively, he’s been about a 5.0 fWAR/year 2nd baseman (about two wins better than he produced last year).
From that perspective, 2013 is going to be pivotal, because that’s when his 5-year, $70 million extension kicks in. If he shows to be closer in talent to how he performed in 2012, it will be difficult for him to justify the dollar figure of his contract, but if he’s anything like he was before, then the Rangers should be able to capitalize on a few more well above average years, cashing in on a ton of surplus value from its star 2nd baseman.
Logic dictates that Ian will rebound quite nicely in 2013. Just as it’s irresponsible to judge a player on the small sample of one month, or two months — when a player has a proven track record — it’s also a mistake to judge them on just one season. Sabermetrics imply that every player is capable of an aberration (see: David Murphy’s 2012); sometimes those aberrations come by way of negative seasons as well.
For what it’s worth, both Bill James and FanGraphs have Ian Kinsler at nearly identical triple slash lines in 2013: .264/.345/.445 from Baseball reference, and .264/.345/.449 from FanGraphs, good for 4.7 fWAR.
If you’re asking me, which I don’t know why you would, my thought process meshes pretty well with each of those, though I could see him being even a hair better. I have a hard time believing 2012 was anything other than simply a down year from Ian Kinsler, and I can’t ignore the 7.5 wins he produced the year before. If we’re talking about which figure he’ll be closer to — the 7.5 of ’11 or the 3.2 of ’12 — I tend to side with the former. I can easily imagine a 5.0-5.5 fWAR season in 2013, and it wouldn’t terribly surprise me if he duplicated, or came dangerously close to, his 2011 production. After all, much in life deals with compensating, so I say one bad season deserves a great one.