Can Ian Kinsler Still Play Second Base?

The baseball world was rocked last night when the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers hooked up for an unexpected blockbuster trade. The Tigers sent first baseman Prince Fielder and $30 million to the Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

The trade could be a massive win for the Tigers, as the team clears enough salary to lockup ace Max Scherzer, while also addressing a hole at second base (due to free agent Omar Infante).

Kinsler’s offense has undoubtedly taken a hit over the years. The right-handed batter has witnessed his home run total and park-adjusted OPS+ drop 59.3 and 11.0 percent, respectively, since 2011.

Year Age HR OPS+
2011 29 32 118
2012 30 19 97
2013 31 13 105

The bigger question in Motown, however, is whether Kinsler can actually still play his longtime position.

Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski obviously seems to think so.

According to Zach Links of MLBTradeRumors.com, “When asked if the 31-year-old can play [second base] for years to come, [Dave] Dombrowski sounded optimistic about [Kinsler's] ability to maintain his first step and range. He acknowledged that it could be an issue that is revisited down the line, but Kinsler figures to stay at second base for ‘the next couple years or maybe longer.’”

The infielder has yet to hoist a Gold Glove (not that it truly matters, however) and only owns a career 0.9 UZR/150. But not all is lost. According to DRS (Defensive Runs Saved runs above average) and RngR (Range runs above average), it’s possible Dombrowski isn’t spewing rhetoric.

Year Age Innings DRS RngR
2006 24 1032 -3 -2.8
2007 25 1136.2 4 -3.0
2008 26 1064 -9 -1.3
2009 27 1258 22 9.7
2010 28 905.1 7 5.3
2011 29 1269 18 11.0
2012 30 1265 1 3.0
2013 31 1095.1 11 1.0

In 2013, Kinsler’s 3 DRS tied the slick-fielding Darwin Barney for third place among all second baseman. And while the 31-year-old’s 1.0 RngR was a bit further down the ranks (10th place), it was still good enough to tie Omar Infante, who manned the position for the Tigers last season. Essentially, Kinsler isn’t “bad” defensively.

But Dombrowski and the Tigers aren’t banking on Kinsler to flash leather at second base. If the eight-year veteran can simply hold his own defensively (as he’s done in the recent past), the Tigers will still net at least above-average production from second base.

Once Kinsler’s critics realize that the infielder doesn’t need to hit 30 home runs to provide value, perhaps they’ll recognize that Dombrowski’s latest move could be the one that pushes the underachieving Detroit Tigers back into the World Series.

All statistics sourced from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.

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3 responses to “Can Ian Kinsler Still Play Second Base?

  1. Kinsler CAN still play D. I’ve watched him play every game the last 8 years and he makes the easy ones he’s supposed to make and he makes a lot of really nice plays. No he’s not the best in the league, but he’s far from deserving of the criticism he gets. He’s solid in the field, powerful at the plate, plays hard, plays hurt. I’m excited to get Fielder, but I’m sad to see Kins go. You guys are getting a quality guy and a quality player.

    • Thanks for the comment, Justin.

      I agree. Advanced defensive metrics show that Kinsler is a solid defender. And while his offense is rapidly declining, he doesn’t need to be an elite player to provide value.

  2. Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Fielder, Tigers, Kinsler, Miller – MLB Trade Rumors

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