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Why Ian Kinsler can continue his powerful start to 2016

Ian Kinsler's approach has him back to hitting for serious extra base power.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

During the offseason, Rob noted how declining exit velocity made Ian Kinsler a good bet to trend downward at the plate this year. Boy, have we been dead wrong so far. Through the first 11 games of the season, Kinsler has a .407 wOBA and a 174 wRC+. For context, Miguel Cabrera had a .413 wOBA and 165 wRC+ in 2015.

Kinsler already hit four home runs after not reaching that mark until July 20 last season. Combine his hot start at the plate with his elite defense, and Kinsler is one of nine players in the majors with at least 1.0 rWAR through Sunday.

Last year, Kinsler experienced a power outage in the first half of the season, hitting only three home runs before the All-Star break, and 11 total on the season. Overall, he had an average exit velocity of 86.4 miles per hour, and a .323 BABIP, which is the second highest BABIP of his career. His line drive percentage of 25.4 was the highest mark of his career, a percentage that had a solid case for regression. So far in 2016, his line drive percentage is down to 18.2 percent, but his exit velocity (86.41 mph) and BABIP (.325) are nearly identical to 2015.

Why then is Kinsler having so much more success in the power department this year? The easiest (but also laziest) answer is to say that he's simply off to a hot start and is due to regress. While that's somewhat true -- no one should expect him to keep up the 59 home run pace he's on right now -- there's a lot more to his start than pure luck. This is baseball. There's always more than meets the eye.

As mentioned, only three of Kinsler's 11 home runs last season came in the first half of the year. By looking at heat maps, he was swinging at more pitches on the inner half of the plate in the first half of 2015, and spraying the ball all over the field for little power. His ISO through the All Star break was .101.

Kinsler 1st half 2015

Following the All-Star break, Kinsler swung at more pitches on the outer half of the plate, but pulled the ball more and hit for more power. With his body type, he needs to get his hands extended to drive the ball with authority, so swinging at pitches that are more middle-to-outside of the zone allows him to do that. In the second half, he posted an ISO of .170.

Kinsler 2nd half

This year, it has been the same story as the second half of last season, just in a smaller sample. Kinsler is once again focusing on pulling the ball, and all four of his home runs have either been to left or center field. His heat map shows that his hot zone is in the middle-to-outer half of the plate, and then way up-and-inside where he can turn his hips and pull the ball to left field. While his exit velocity is the same as last season, it hasn't mattered because his swing trajectory is largely aimed to pull, allowing him to make better contact when he connects on his favorite pitches.

Kinsler's current .260 ISO is unsustainable; however, his approach is largely the same as what it was in the second half of 2015 when he slugged .495 with a .170 ISO. That should allow him to continue hitting for extra bases throughout the year. With his approach, he will go through some droughts where he pops a lot of balls up, but he'll also continue to run into some fastballs and send them over the left field wall.

While he will regress closer to his career norms as the season goes on, that's not that big of a deal considering a normal Ian Kinsler is still really good. If he goes 2014 Victor Martinez on everyone and decides to flip the bird to sustainability, I don't know a single Tigers fan that's going to complain. But, in the likely event that he doesn't sustain his current pace, his tendencies at the plate show that we should still expect a bit more power out of the leadoff spot in 2016.