For the season, Ian Kinsler has played pretty well. He’s the No. 6 second baseman in standard fantasy formats and, on the surface, he’s having a pretty typical Ian Kinsler season. His .732 on-base plus slugging is pretty much in line with the .753 OPS he averaged in his last two seasons with the Rangers. He’s got 11 homers so far, following 13 last year and 19 in 2012. He’s showed better efficiency on the basepaths, improving last year’s 15-for-26 mark in stolen-base attempts to an impressive 12-for-15.
However, a look at his plate discipline numbers suggests something amiss with Kinsler. His strikeout rate is great, as always, as his 10.7% K-rate is a notch better than his 11.7% career rate. However, the 32-year-old has suddenly stopped taking walks, with an alarming 4.0% BB-rate — miles away from his career 9.1% mark. In fact, Kinsler’s worst single-season walk rate coming into 2014 was 8.2% two years ago.
While it doesn’t seem like the effects should be quite as severe as they have been, much of Kinsler’s low walk rate can be explained by the fact that he’s simply being more aggressive this year than ever before. He’s swinging at more pitches (47.4%) than ever before and, more importantly, swinging at far more pitches outside the zone than he ever has. His 30.5% O-Swing% is way higher than his previous career-high of 25.5% in 2008, and when we’re talking about a guy who makes contact on over 90% of his swings, we’re also talking about a guy who isn’t going to walk much.
Even still, most fantasy leagues use batting average instead of on-base percentage, and as long as he’s producing in fantasy categories like he always has, why should we worry too much? Maybe he’s missing out on a few runs or a couple more stolen-base opportunities, but he’s still been a very solid fantasy option.
The issue with Kinsler is that his season slash of .282/.314/.418 isn’t really indicative of how he’s played at any point this season since April. He started the season in typical Ian Kinsler fashion, but built on that foundation each of the next two months, ending up with a red-hot June:
- April (101 PA) – .295/.327/.421, .748 OPS
- May (129 PA) – .331/.357/.488, .844 OPS
- June (115 PA) – .303/.356/.560, .916 OPS
By July 3, Kinsler’s season line had ballooned to .306/.342/.487, and he was well on his way to his most productive season since his 30/30 campaign in 2011. There’s a reason I chose July 3, though. That’s the date Kinsler hit his last home run.
Kinsler hasn’t homered in his last 177 trips to the dish. In those last six weeks, he’s hitting a woeful .234/.254/.269. He’s the No. 40 fantasy second baseman over the last month, buried behind guys like Marwin Gonzalez and Alexi Amarista.
The question here, of course, is why Kinsler has fallen off the map, and the answers aren’t easy. There’s nothing alarming in his batted-ball profile; he’s hit a few too many grounders lately, but his line-drive rate in August (20.6%) is his best since April (21.1%). Since that last home run on July 3, his batted-ball profile has been right around 20% LD, 40% GB, 40% FB, which isn’t far off his career norms of 19.9% LD, 35.3% GB, 44.8% FB.
As I said, a few more grounders than usual, but certainly not close to enough to make the sort of impact we’ve seen in his production. I scoured his hit tendencies, results by pitch type, everything. I couldn’t find anything to explain the fact that his power has just simply vanished.
Then I noticed that Kinsler’s average fly-ball distance is 272.38 feet, placing him at No. 198 in the majors — and that’s for the full season. If there was a way to break it down by month, I have a feeling I would see exactly what I would expect from a guy whose isolated power has spent the last six weeks hovering around .050. He’s still hitting line drives. He’s still hitting fly balls. They’re just simply not travelling far enough to leave the park.
That’s pretty scary when we’re talking about a 32-year-old who plays a physically demanding position. Pitchers aren’t attacking Kinsler much differently than they have in the past; it’s not like they’ve suddenly discovered a hole in his swing that went unnoticed for the previous eight years. Likewise, Kinsler isn’t hitting much differently than he has in the past; he’s just not hitting the ball hard enough.
The easiest answer here is that, as he ages, Kinsler is less and less able to handle the rigors of a full season. And, as I noted earlier, he’s a 32-year-old middle infielder; this isn’t an unlikely hypothesis at all. It’s especially telling when you consider that this is the third straight season in which Kinsler’s production has waned as the season reaches its latter stages:
- 2012 (1st half) – .279/.341/.442, .783 OPS
- 2012 (2nd half) – .229/.308/.399, .707 OPS
- 2013 (1st half) – .281/.359/.433, .793 OPS
- 2013 (2nd half) – .273/.328/.393, .721 OPS
- 2014 (1st half) – .303/.337/.470, .806 OPS
- 2014 (2nd half) – .221/.248/.267, .515 OPS
This year has obviously been far more extreme, but he’s faded down the stretch, to a degree, each year since turning 30. As he showed in June, Kinsler still has gas in the tank and is capable of putting up big numbers from time to time, but I’m not feeling optimistic about his rest-of-season projection.
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.