[Ed.: This article is a couple of years old, but on the eve of his retirement from Major League Baseball, it’s worth revisiting Kinsler’s Hall of Fame credentials]
After 15 years of agonizing over Alan Trammell’s lackluster Hall of Fame vote totals, the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame announcement seems a bit mundane for Detroit Tigers fans. Sure, we can speculate on whether Ivan Rodriguez will be inducted this year — he’s currently sitting at 78.8 percent of the public vote — but he will eventually get in. Likewise, current Tigers Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are well on track for future induction. Fan favorites Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen are on the ballot for the first time, but are unlikely to garner enough votes for a second year.
Do the Tigers have another future Hall of Famer on their roster, though? Second baseman Ian Kinsler doesn’t sound like a surefire inductee at first, but the advanced metrics make a compelling case. Let’s take a look.
Unfortunately, traditional stats don’t back up Kinsler’s Hall of Fame credentials. For his career, he is a .277/.344/.451 hitter. He has 212 home runs, 211 stolen bases, and 787 RBI. He has never won a batting title, nor has he led the league in home runs or RBI. In fact, the only categories Kinsler has ever led the league in were plate appearances and at-bats, which he topped all major leaguers in during the 2014 season. He has just one Gold Glove and zero Silver Slugger Awards to his name, and has never finished higher than 11th in AL MVP voting.
There are some nice little nuggets here, though. Kinsler is one of five second basemen with 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases in his career, and the other four are in the Hall of Fame. His 212 home runs are 14th among second basemen, and he could crack the top 10 in a couple years. He will earn more clout with every All-Star nod from here on out, as well (only 20 second basemen have been to six All-Star games or more).
However, as advanced statistics start to permeate through the ranks of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), some voters have started to look beyond batting average and home runs when deciding on their ballots. Because of the defensive and baserunning value he provides, this is where Kinsler shines. Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe uses advanced metrics in his JAWS system, which attempts to level the playing field between eras specifically for the Hall of Fame vote. JAWS uses both a player’s career WAR total and their peak seven-year WAR total to create a score for Hall of Fame consideration.
For his career, Kinsler has accumulated 52.9 rWAR in 11 seasons. He is already ahead of Hall of Famers Bobby Doerr, Johnny Evers, and Bill Mazeroski, and is within striking distance of the legendary Jackie Robinson (61.5 WAR). The average Hall of Fame second baseman has accumulated 69.3 WAR. If Kinsler maintains the 5.5 WAR pace he has been on over the past four seasons, he would surpass that benchmark in three seasons. Even in a decline, he would probably get there in four more years. This would put him ahead of 13 of the 20 second basemen who are currently in Cooperstown.
Unfortunately, Kinsler’s peak (or lack thereof) isn’t doing him any favors. In his best seven seasons, Kinsler has amassed 40.5 WAR. This is a respectable total, and ranks ahead of 10 of the 20 enshrined second basemen. However, it is below the average total for a Hall of Fame second baseman (44.5 WAR), and is just fifth among active second basemen (including Chase Utley). Kinsler has four six-WAR seasons under his belt, and two more above 5.0 WAR. He may add a little more to this total if he produces another five-win season in 2017, but nowhere near enough to push him above the average Hall of Famer.
This brings Kinsler’s JAWS score to 46.7, 19th among second basemen all-time. The average JAWS score for a Hall of Fame second baseman is 56.9, with eight of the 20 inducted players above that benchmark. Kinsler is ahead of nine players who have already been inducted, and could feasibly catch a few more (including Craig Biggio) if he stays productive for another three or four seasons.
Warding off Father Time is difficult enough, but Kinsler’s biggest obstacle may be out of his own control. Kinsler ranks third among active second basemen in WAR, and falls even further behind his peers in other areas (notably, peak WAR years). Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, and Dustin Pedroia will all receive much more Hall of Fame hype than Kinsler, and for good reason. Cano and Utley are well ahead in all areas, including total WAR and JAWS. Pedroia has comparable numbers, but has more awards to his name, including an MVP. Houston’s Jose Altuve may inevitably be added to this list as well, and his batting titles will also garner more attention from voters.
Ultimately, Kinsler’s Hall of Fame chances rest on the next few seasons. If he can stave off regression and continue putting up gaudy WAR totals, he might have a shot at induction. If he starts to regress soon — remember, he will turn 35 next season — it probably won’t happen. Either way, it will be fun to watch play out.