Since being acquired by the Detroit Tigers, Ian Kinsler has been arguably the best all-around player on the roster; in fact, no Tigers position player has accumulated more fWAR since 2014. His first two seasons in Detroit were fairly successful, hitting .285 overall with 28 home runs. However, his career before joining the Tigers had a much different feel.
For eight seasons with the Rangers, Kinsler featured a decent amount of pop in his bat. Twice he hit over 30 home runs, and he averaged just under 20 dingers a season. But with this emphasis in power came a lower batting average, and he hit just .272 while in Texas.
With age and wisdom, Kinsler seemed poised to trade in some of his slugging for a boost in average, especially given the players hitting behind him and his new home ballpark. The Tigers would surely take the .296 average and 111 wRC+ that he provided last season, even if it meant a slight drop in home runs going forward. Apparently Kinsler was not on the same page.
Kinsler has quickly changed course to begin the season, batting .317 while already matching his 11 home runs from 2015. His 140 wRC+ would easily be a career high, and he sits at 2.1 fWAR in the beginning of June. Although this level of success was not anticipated, Kinsler is building off of a strong second half from last year. Still, all signs pointed to a player who was prime to move in the opposite direction.
The biggest change so far has come via the long ball- five percent of Kinsler’s plate appearances have ended in homers, which is significantly higher than his mark from recent seasons. Unsurprisingly, his 12.4 percent home run to fly ball rate is a career best and nowhere close to his five percent mark last season. Similarly, Kinsler has improved his fly ball rate from 40.7 percent in 2015 to 47.1 percent this season, meaning he is both hitting more fly balls and turning more of his fly balls into homers.
|20-35 deg.||Occurrence||Exit Velocity|
Kinsler’s Statcast data speaks into this occurrence perfectly. A launch angle between 20 and 35 degrees will typically generate fly balls; Kinsler has consistently increased the rate at which he hits balls in this range since the beginning of last year. Just as important is the fact that his exit velocity has grown as well when reaching this launch angle range. In short, Kinsler is hitting more fly balls than last season and is hitting them harder.
Throughout the strike zone, Kinsler has increased his fly ball rate from the previous season, specifically in the middle band of the zone. He swing rate has slightly decline in this area, but he has enjoyed a bump in slugging percentage in this area. Kinsler is going the opposite way just 20.1 percent of the time, down from 24 percent last year. From all accounts, it looks like he is finding the pitches that he wants and driving them where he wants to with great authority.
There is nothing wrong with hitting singles and getting on base, but Kinsler has brought a new element to the leadoff spot. Though the season is only two months old, he has shown a distinct pattern that has been in development since midway through last year. Most players do not enjoy career-best seasons in their mid-30s, but Kinsler could legitimately hit 25 homers while batting over .300 in 2016, something he has never done before.