Underrated players come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, they’re benchwarmers or quad-A players with the hidden ability to produce at the highest level. Sometimes they’re young guys or role players who are ready to take the next step. In a few cases, however, they’re true superstars who for whatever reason simply don’t get the respect they deserve. In Ian Kinsler, the Rangers have a world-class second baseman overshadowed by both the other big bats in his own lineup (Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre) and the bumper crop of second basemen (Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia) plying their trade around the American League. Though Kinsler wasn’t voted onto the AL All-Star team this year, he did quietly finish with his second 30/30 season in the past three years, and suffers from a public perception that simply doesn’t match the sky-high reality of his production for a number of reasons.
Impressively, Kinsler led all qualifying second basemen last season with both the league’s highest walk rate, at 12.3%, as well as the lowest strikeout rate, at 9.8%. Both marks were career bests. While Kinsler’s final .255/.355/.477 triple-slash doesn’t look elite, his average and OBP were held down by a ridiculously unlucky .243 BABIP, nearly 40 points below his career average and the fifth lowest in baseball last season. Kinsler’s 128 wRC+ provides a more accurate depiction of his offensive output, and with a return to a more luck-neutral BABIP, Kinsler could put up numbers that will firmly cement him as an elite bat at the keystone position.
Early in his career, Kinsler had defensive issues, if defensive metrics are to be believed. Drafted in the 17th round in 2003 as a shortstop out of Missouri, Kinsler was moved to the opposite side of second in 2005. It’s possible that Kinsler took some time to learn the position, because he posted three fairly bad defensive years in his first three seasons in the majors from 2006-08, averaging -7.9 UZR per year. Since then, Kinsler’s glove has graded out well extremely well, at an average of 10.2 runs per year, and in 2011 posted a career-best 15 runs above average in a career-high 1269 innings.
Only 29, Kinsler finally put it all together last season, posting a 7.7 WAR mark that was good for fourth in the AL, and second only to Pedroia among second basemen. Kinsler’s one of the best leadoff men in the game, and will continue to produce as the spark in Texas’ explosive lineup. Kinsler may be considered one of the better second basemen in the league, but fact is, he’s poised to prove that the “second basemen” qualifier should be dropped, because he’s one of the best players in the game overall and a driving force behind Texas’ back-to-back World Series appearances. With Yu Darvish in the fold, Texas hopes to break through and win its first World Series in franchise history, dating back to their time in Washington as the Senators in the 60’s. If they do, Kinsler will be a major reason why.