Rest-of-Season Showdown – Ian Kinsler vs. Neil Walker

It’s been a rough year for Ian Kinsler and Neil Walker, in very similar ways. Neither is having trouble getting on base, as both have batting averages in the .270s and on-base percentages around .340. The problem is that both Kinsler and Walker have suffered through season-long power outages, severely diminishing each man’s fantasy value.

On the year, Kinsler is the No. 10 fantasy 2B, with Walker slotting in at 13th. However, both have heated up in the month of July, with Kinsler posting an .843 OPS, and Walker sitting at .885 (neither had even broken the .750 mark in any of the season’s first three months). Walker has launched three of his seven 2015 homers since the calendar turned over from June.

Kinsler only has one long ball this month, but he’s also hit two near-homers that struck the top half of the wall, and has a total of six extra-base hits. With both players finally showing signs of power production, let’s take a look at who you’d rather have on your fantasy team rest-of-season.

After hitting between 12 and 16 homers annually in his first four major-league seasons, Walker had a power breakout last year in his age-28 season. He blasted 23 home runs, and posted a career-best .195 isolated power. Last year didn’t come out of nowhere either, as his ISO had been steadily climbing since 2011 (.134, .146, .167, .195).

For the first three months of this season, Walker hit just four homers. His power wasn’t completely gone, as he still connected for 19 doubles, but as fantasy owners, we needed those doubles to start going over the wall. While it’s obviously a small sample, his recent power outburst suggests that he may have righted the ship.

Especially encouraging for Walker is the fact that he’s been showing power to all fields this month. For example, here’s Walker showing off his pure pull power:

Here, he shows off his opposite field pop:

For good measure, here he is splitting the difference a bit, with a deep blast to right-center:

As for Kinsler, his power has been fading fairly steadily since his second 30/30 season in 2011, but he’s still offered plenty of extra value on the basepaths. He’s chipped in a minimum of 15 steals in each of his last eight major-league seasons, as opposed to Walker, who has six stolen bases total since the start of 2013. One of the big problems with Kinsler this year is the fact that he’s swiped just six bases, despite maintaining a high OBP.

Though he ran efficiently last year, going 15-for-19 on SB attempts, the 33-year-old Kinsler’s baserunning value has deteriorated sharply in recent years. He was caught stealing on 11 of his 26 attempts in 2013, and this year he’s been thrown out four straight times since his last successful swipe back on May 19. Perhaps he’s not running as much because, well, he really shouldn’t be running at all anymore.

When I looked at Kinsler’s player card, I was surprised to see his total baserunning score at an ugly -0.9. His lack of steals is just the beginning, as his ability to take an extra base in general is gone. That’s a scary thought for a guy who has really relied on those 15-20 annual steals to keep his fantasy value up.

When you remove stolen bases from the equation and just look at pure hitting production, Kinsler has been just an average hitter in each of the last four years. His weighted offense since 2011 sits just a couple percentage points above league average.

Batting leadoff in a Tigers lineup that remains very potent even with Miguel Cabrera on the shelf, Kinsler will still score runs by the truckload. However, with Kinsler’s speed almost completely gone, Walker’s power sets him apart as the preferred option for the rest of 2015.

Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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Is this going to become a regular series? I liked it, succinct and to the point.