Ian Kinsler’s Positional Value

Kinsler
There have been several theories for several years on what to do with Ian Kinsler, now that Jurickson Profar is here. The Rangers have a knack for keeping the best nine guys on the field (as long as Wash doesn’t interfere). It sounds as though they will just let the positions settle themselves on the field with play and injuries. It doesn’t sound like Texas is keen on dealing any of their middle-infield assets. I can’t blame them, a quick scan through other teams rosters will prove that Texas indeed holds the cards. 
The prevalent sentiment is that Kinsler sooner or later will transform into a first-baseman or corner-outfielder. The problem with that is Kinsler’s value is tied to his position where he plays quality defense at second base. Can Profar supersede Kinsler’s value at second base and will he make up for the lost value of Kinsler in another position? It seems that JD & Co. think this way. They tried to push Kinsler to first base before the season, and he initially agreed- then changed his mind.

After 2013, Kinsler is owed $67 million over the next five seasons, with an option year at the end for another $11 million, when he’s 36. Can Kinsler earn that contract playing in left-field or at first base? Everyone seems to assume that Kinsler will become league average at those positions. However, I found a few comparable hitters at those positions that gleam some hope that Kinsler could continue to provide surplus value at other positions.

IAN KINSLER career line of .273/.351/.813, 112 OPS+ with an average of 25 HR and 5.2 WAR per 162 games, with excellent defense.

ALEX GORDON career line of .274/.350/.792, 113 OPS+ with an average of 18 HR and 4.2 WAR per 162 games, with excellent defense.

FREDDIE FREEMAN career line of .275/.345/.798, 116 OPS+ with an average of 22 HR and 2.2 WAR per 162 games, with below average defense.

Gordon is a very interesting comparison as he broke into the bigs as an infielder, then reinvented himself as an outfielder for the Royals. Hopefully Kinsler can make a similar transition to the outfield. Kinsler definitely has the power to hold his own and still rack up a few wins. Judging from Freeman and Gordon, it looks like the only concern would be Kinsler’s defense playing up at those positions.

Personally I would imagine that Kinsler would fare better at first base, rather than left field- mainly because his skill set is already focused towards the infield. If Kinsler were to play above average defensively at his new position I would imagine it would be first base. I would almost expect him to play below average defensively in left. How many 30 year-old players are elite defensive outfielders? Very few, especially if it’s new to you.

Overall the uproar about positional value has been overblown. Kinsler could easily continue posting his 4-5 WAR seasons at his new position, and possibly even more depending on his development at his new position. Moving Kinsler to first-base makes a lot of sense, given the perpetual lack of production from that position for the Rangers. The last Ranger first-baseman to post a WAR over two was Mark Teixeira in 2006 (4.4). That’s a long line of replacement level players that could come to end very soon.   

Dan Allsup is a  Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can reach him on Twitter @DanAllsup, or email him at Dan.Allsup@shutdowninning.com
Dan Allsup

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