The acquisition of Ian Kinsler is a boon to baseball writers needing topics for offseason speculation. On defense, there are so many possible moves. Cabrera to first, Martinez to first, Castellanos to third, Lennerton having a role, Dirks being resurrected.... And on offense, Kinsler opens many doors with his history of leading off.
There are so many ways to look at the trade. Kinsler was swapped for Fielder, so we can compare their value. At second base Kinsler replaces Infante; is this an upgrade? And on the lineup card, does Kinsler replace Austin Jackson?
Ian Kinsler has eight years of experience and is 32. Thus his career provides plenty of data to draw conclusions, and while he is past his peak he is not likely to fall off a cliff next year. The Rangers used him for over 30 games in every spot in the lineup other than cleanup during his tenure, but he has primarily led off since his third season. This is somewhat of a surprise with two seasons of 30+ home runs, which led to over 500 plate appearances in the third spot, but Kinsler has a consistently high on-base percentage.
Ian's home run totals are on the decline: 32 in 2011, 19 in 2012, and 13 in 2013. Comerica Park will make it difficult to reverse that trend. Kinsler has a career on-base percentage of .349, and while he naturally performs better against lefties, he has maintained a .337 on-base percentage against righties. His strikeout rate is below 12%, barely over his walk rate of 9.6%. He strikes out less often than Omar Infante, and walks nearly twice as much.
But Infante is gone, and Austin Jackson is the incumbent leadoff hitter. At least he was until the end of the playoffs. Jackson has four full seasons under his belt and no more than five plate appearances at any spot other than leadoff. He has performed well, with a career on-base percentage of .344. The league average for leadoff hitters in 2013 was .324. Jackson's ability to reach base is remarkable given a strikeout rate of nearly 24%, more than double Kinsler's.
Both Kinsler and Jackson bat right-handed, but strangely Jackson has a reverse platoon split reaching base and hitting for more power against righties. Jackson will be playing his age 27 season in 2014. His peak home run output is 16. Dropping down in the order could remove some pressure to make contact and result in more power. Either way, Jackson is likely to hit more home runs in 2014 than Kinsler, being younger and without the move from Arlington.
If stolen bases are what you want from the top of the order, Jackson managed only eight in 2013. While Kinsler's days of stealing 30 bases are gone, he managed 15 in 2013. Though Kinsler needs to slow down in October, having been caught stealing five times between the 2010 and 2011 playoffs.
Austin Jackson was injured from mid-May to mid-June in 2013. Leyland used Andy Dirks and Omar Infante in the top spot of the lineup. They performed nearly identically, and you may be shocked to learn that Dirks hit .311 with an on-base percentage of .330 in the role. On paper there was little fall-off with Jackson out, but the games felt like they were missing a table-setter. In 2014, Ausmus should use Kinsler as the primary leadoff hitter with Jackson being an excellent backup plan.