As I think I've made clear, I'm an Ian Kinsler fan. I mean, I'm a fan of all the players on the Rangers, really -- I even grudgingly rooted for a couple of guys last year who I didn't really want to root for -- but Kinsler was one of the players who is on the short list with players like Buddy Bell and Hank Blalock. Guys who, for whatever reason, I especially rooted for, who I really appreciated and wanted to see do well.
In the midst of arguments about Elvis Andrus and whether to trade him or extend him last year, I got into a Twitter discussion with someone (I forget who, exactly) who said I was being overly emotional about Elvis. Players, he said, are pieces on a chessboard, to be moved around and exchanged based on their utility, without regard to who they are. I've probably made variations on that argument before, but really, I don't want to get to the point where I don't have favorites, where I don't root for certain guys. One of the advantages of being a basement-dwelling blogger rather than a "real" journalist is that I am a fan, and I can openly admit to having favorites. And Ian Kinsler was one of my favorites.
Why, exactly, was Kinsler one of my favorites? I think part of it stems from a carryover from reading all those Bill James Baseball Abstracts in my adolescent years in the 80s, learning to value players who do lots of things well rather than a couple of things great. Guys who get overlooked by the mainstream media and fans because they don't have a singular marquee skill...guys like Bobby Grich and Dwight Evans, whose Hall of Fame cases I've argued.
And to be clear, I'm not arguing that Kinsler is a Hall of Famer. But like Grich and Evans, he's someone who does a lot of things fairly well. While he hit .319 one season, he's not someone who was going to hit for a high average year in and year out -- he's a .270-.280 hitter. He had good power for a second baseman, topping 30 homers twice, but he wasn't really a slugger. He had a reputation for being a bad fielder when he first came up, but under the tutelage of Ron Washington, turned himself into an above-average defensive second baseman...nevertheless, it seems like many fans (and even a few in the media) still were convinced he was a liability with the glove.
Of course, Kinsler was drafted out of Arizona State as a glove-first shortstop, which makes it even more curious he gets knocked by some for his glovework. Kinsler, just as a reminder, was a 17th round draft pick as a college junior. The only other 17th round pick that year (who actually signed) to make the majors was Luke Montz, a catcher the Expos drafted who logged all of 49 at bats. 495 players were picked ahead of Kinsler in the 2003 draft. The Rangers took the likes of Brian Mattoon, Adam Bourassa, and Andrew Wishy ahead of Kinsler in that draft.
Remarkably, through the 2013 season, Ian Kinsler has the highest bWAR of any player drafted in 2003. And this is part of what makes me nuts when I see fans who say that, well, yeah, Kinsler is good, but with his talent, he should be better. Kinsler, as a college junior, was so little regarded that last to the 17th round. 495 players went ahead of him.
And he's been the best player from that draft.
But somehow, that isn't good enough. You'd think fans would see him as someone who worked hard, who maximized his talent, who came into pro ball as someone who no one expected would even sniff the majors, but who maximized his ability and turned himself into one of the best second basemen in baseball.
But no, he's someone who, according to some fans, is a disappointment because he's not the best second basemen in the game.
I remember the first time I heard about Ian Kinsler. In spring training, 2004, the big story was the Alex Rodriguez trade, which went down right at the start of camp. The Rangers were bad with ARod and were expected to be even worse, and there wasn't much positivity coming out of Ranger camp.
But if you were paying attention, there were a few good things being talked about. And one of those good things was about how a guy in his first camp was creating buzz in the back fields, a glove-first shortstop showing more promise than anyone expected. There wasn't the sort of minor league coverage online then that we have now, but I'm pretty sure I remember Jamey Newberg talking about how he was someone to keep an eye on as the minor league season progressed.
Kinsler started the season in low-A Clinton, and immediately showed the buzz was justified. He put up the type of eye-popping numbers in Clinton that are so insane that it makes fans almost disregard them. Playing shortstop, Kinsler put up a .402/.465/.692 line in 255 plate appearances, with 42 extra base hits and 16 steals in 21 attempts. Mid-season, he was sent to Frisco -- a two-level jump -- and kept on mashing, going .300/.400/.480 in 326 plate appearances. For the year, he had a .345/.428/.575 line, getting himself on Baseball America's top 100 list.
Oh, and in the midst of that incredible season, John Hart traded him. With the Rangers in a race in the A.L. West, and needing a middle of the order bat, Hart traded Kinsler and righthanded pitcher Erik Thompson to the Colorado Rockies for 37 year old free-agent-to-be Larry Walker. Fortunately for the Rangers, Walker kept Hart from doing any more damage than he'd already done to the organization, exercising his no-trade rights, with the result being that Kinsler stayed put.
Full disclosure...at the time, I was more distraught about losing Thompson, a small, hard-throwing righthander, than I was Kinsler. I wasn't completely sold on Kinsler, thought he might be a fluke, wasn't sure that the offense would really translate. I thought he might be a good utility player, maybe a decent middle infielder, but nothing special.
So yeah, I was wrong. Kinsler has been special.
Ian Kinsler has spent 8 years in the majors. After just those 8 seasons, he has a bWAR of 34.7, which places him 50th among second basemen all time. Kinsler almost certainly will crack the top 40 before his career is over, and probably has a better than even money chance of making the top 25 all time.
If you prefer fWAR, Kinsler is currently 61st all time among second basemen, but again, has a pretty good shot and ending up in the top 25 of all time there, too.
Kinsler is fourth all-time among Ranger players in career bWAR, trailing only Pudge Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Buddy Bell.
A position player has recorded at least 6 bWAR just 22 times in a season in Ranger history. Ian Kinsler has two of those seasons -- 2009, when he was 9th among position players in the A.L. in bWAR, and 2011, when he was 8th in the A.L. His 2011 season placed him 5th in the majors among position players in fWAR, but again, because his contributions are in a variety of areas, and are more subtle than mashing 41 homers or driving in 100+ runs, he didn't even get much attention in the MVP balloting that year, finishing 11th in the A.L.
There would probably have been more of those seasons, he would probably be even higher in these WAR rankings, if he could have stayed healthy. Injuries have been a Kinsler bugaboo through much of his career...he was on the d.l. in 2013, and never seemed really healthy after he came off the d.l. He only played 120 games in 2006, 130 games in 2007, 121 games in 2008, 144 games in 2009, just 103 games in 2010. That 2008 season was particularly frustrating, as that was his big offensive breakout year, and if he'd stayed on the field, he probably would have cracked 6 WAR then, as well.
And even when he was healthy, he never seemed to really be fully healthy. Part of that was just the wear and tear that second basemen get, part of that was probably from his aggressive baserunning style, part of it was probably just Kinsler himself. Part of the argument for him switching positions, when there was talk of moving him to first base, was to try to keep him healthy, try to save his legs so he'd be more productive.
And the baserunning...I've mentioned this before, but Ian Kinsler has been, throughout his career, a remarkable baserunner. He's slowed down the past couple of years, and seems to be still be trying to figure out what he can and can't do as he ages, but from 2006-11, he was 136 for 158 stealing bases, an 86% success rate. That's phenomenal, considering how much he was running -- 34 steal attempts per 162 games.
But where Kinsler really excelled was on the basepaths when the ball was in play. Fangraphs ranks Kinsler as the 56th best baserunner of all time. If we use Baseball Prospectus's stats, Kinsler was 20th in the majors in baserunning runs in 2007, 13th in 2008, 4th in 2009, 1st in 2011, 5th in 2012, 29th in 2013.
Ian Kinsler, during his Ranger career, has been elite on the basepaths. And yet, for many fans, his performance on the bases is one of his biggest failings.
And while its maddening, it is somewhat understandable. Kinsler gets picked off, and that sticks in your mind. Pickoffs happen rarely, and with Kinsler, it seems like they happen too often...so therefore, he must not be a good baserunner. I can't tell you how many times people have responded to me about Kinsler over the years, especially on Twitter, by saying some variation of, "Yeah, but how many runs does he cost us with his brainfarts on the basepaths?"
And the problem is that, for the "watch the damn game" crowd, what Kinsler does isn't something that is easy to pick up. You don't notice when a runner goes first to third. You don't notice when a runner advances on a ground out or a fly ball. You especially don't notice when the runner is someone like Kinsler -- someone who isn't a burner, but who picks up extra bases with his smarts and his instincts.
And to me, that's one of the things that really symbolizes Ian Kinsler as a player. For many fans, even some in the media, getting picked off, leaning the wrong way, stick in their mind, and they believe he's a bad baserunner, or at least not good. But the numbers show he is, in fact, exceptional...but in ways that don't jump out at you when you are watching the damn game. And I suspect some of the pickoffs, the times getting caught off base, are a result of him taking a bigger lead than others do, looking to break early on a grounder, doing those little things that give him that edge. And so we notice when it backfires, but when it works, it seems so natural, it seems like any player could have done it.
Ian Kinsler has been a terrific player for the Rangers, and we've been lucky as Ranger fans to have him here. He's been a key part of the best teams in Ranger history, and it doesn't just make me sad that he's traded, it makes me sad to think that if the Rangers win a World Championship -- or when they do, since I think there's a good chance they do so before his contract is up -- Ian Kinsler won't be part of it. He's someone I was hoping would be a Ranger For Life.
On the other hand, there's something Sam Miller pointed out to me on Twitter Wednesday night:
@lonestarball bummer news. Bright side: No decline phase. Remember him forever at his best.— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBP) November 21, 2013
And there's something to that. If Kinsler stayed in Texas, then he was going to end up moving to first base. And maybe he'd be rejuvenated, maybe his bat would return and he'd put up another 30/30 season, and we'd all be happy.
But more likely, he would have not hit enough to be more than an average first baseman, we would have watched his skills continue to decline, fans would complain about his popups and his body language and how much money we were paying him, and why couldn't we have traded him for something good back in the 2013-14 offseason?
And I would have spent untold hours arguing with these people, on LSB, on Twitter, even though I'd know, in my heart of hearts, they were probably right.
I would have loved to have seen Ian Kinsler stay here, stay at second base, age gracefully, and retire a Ranger. But it wasn't meant to be.
And if it wasn't meant to be, at least I got to enjoy him in a Ranger uniform for the best years of his career.
More from Lone Star Ball:
- Still more Ian Kinsler/Prince Fielder trade reactions
- Evaluating the Kinsler for Fielder trade
- Kinsler/Fielder trade reactions from around the interwebs
- Ian Kinsler/Prince Fielder trade poll
- Tigers reportedly sending $30 million to Texas in Fielder/Kinsler trade
- Report: Rangers, Tigers agree to Kinsler/Fielder trade