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Better know a Tiger: Ian Kinsler

The Tigers' new second baseman is a three-time All Star. Can he meet expectations?

Ian Kinsler singles in a spring training game, March 2, 2014
Ian Kinsler singles in a spring training game, March 2, 2014
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On November 11, 2013, Rob discussed a potential trade for Ian Kinsler. Stevenyc was first to suggest an offer of Prince Fielder. Nine days later, the deal was done.

Ian Kinsler came to Detroit in a swap of disgruntled stars. Prince Fielder struggled in his relationship with the fans in Detroit, and Kinsler bucked management in Texas.

Initial reactions to the trade for Kinsler have been overwhelmingly positive, but let's dig a little deeper and learn more about our new second baseman.

Ian Kinsler was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. He had to overcome asthma in his youth. His high school team won state championships in his freshman and senior years, helped by five eventual major league players. Kinsler gained additional recognition as a first-team All-State selection. The Diamondbacks drafted him in the 29th round of 2000, but Ian chose to attend Central Arizona College. Kinsler played well at the junior college and the Diamondbacks drafted him again in 2001, three rounds earlier.

Kinsler transferred to Arizona State for his sophomore season, occasionally forming a keystone combination with Dustin Pedroia. He transferred to the University of Missouri for his junior year. Another strong season led to a selection by the Texas Rangers in the 17th round of 2003. He signed for a mere $30,000 bonus, but did not stay hidden for long.

Kinsler was assigned to Spokane of the Northwest League to finish 2003. He broke out in 2004 by hitting .402 in the first half of the season in the Midwest League. He played the second half in Double-A, finishing the year with a combined OPS of 1.003. With fewer than 200 games under his professional belt, he played all of the 2005 season in Oklahoma City (shout-out to Bricktown and the Sooners!). Having played shortstop to this point, he spent the season adapting to second base.

The transition was smooth, and Kinsler earned the starting job in Texas for 2006. He has produced with consistency throughout his major league career.

2006 24 120 474 65 27 14 .286 .347 .454
2007 25 130 566 96 22 20 .263 .355 .441
2008 26 121 583 102 41 18 .319 .375 .517
2009 27 144 640 101 32 31 .253 .327 .488
2010 28 103 460 73 20 9 .286 .382 .412
2011 29 155 723 121 34 32 .255 .355 .477
2012 30 157 731 105 42 19 .256 .326 .423
2013 31 136 614 85 31 13 .277 .344 .413

Kinsler’s first season set the tone for his career. His .347 on-base percentage was nearly his career rate, and his .454 slugging percentage was spot-on.

He is a right-handed hitter and his power will be adversely affected by the move away from Arlington. His career slugging percentage is over .500 at home, but below .400 on the road. His seasonal average of 94 runs scored is the product of a strong on-base percentage and will be a major benefit to the Tigers.

Contract Status

Kinsler is signed through 2017 with a team option for 2018. His salary this year is $16 million and in line with his expected value. Interestingly his salary declines to $11 million in 2017.

Keys to Success

Ian Kinsler’s production has ranged from average to All Star. He turns 32 this season, which happens to be Omar Infante’s age. Eventually Kinsler’s production will decline. In the past he has provided power and stolen bases, having twice achieved the 30-30 milestone. The Tigers do not need 30 home runs, and while many are hyping team speed they have others to steal bases. Kinsler needs to delay the effects of aging and continue to reach base at a superior rate. With a .360 on-base percentage, everything else will fall into place. He also needs a nickname; perhaps we can help.

Odd Numbers

3: The uniform number that belonged to Alan Trammell. Kinsler is wearing it this season, with Trammell’s blessing.

5: Kinsler’s career range factor. This is the fourth-best career rate among second baseman, per Baseball Reference. It calls into question the Rangers’ desire to move him to first base and reduce his defensive contribution. For comparison, Omar Infante’s career rate is 4.90. Range factor is a stat with many deficiencies, but his other defensive measures also point to an above-average second baseman.

2014 Outlook

Kinsler replaces Omar Infante who had a .345 on-base percentage in 2013, exceeding his own career rate of .319. Infante is not likely to reproduce his 2013 production, but Kinsler can replace Infante’s offense. Look for Ian Kinsler at the top of the lineup. The Rangers used him mostly in the leadoff spot, and they were known for scoring runs. Get used to seeing him on first base with Miguel Cabrera up to bat. If he steals second, they will just walk Miggy. His speed will be more useful in scoring from first on Cabrera’s doubles, and from second on Martinez’s singles.