Kinsler's offensive game reaching new heights
Rangers leadoff hitter advancing in all facets of run production
The Texas Rangers have played 28 games, and Ian Kinsler has scored 28 runs.I've run this formula through my Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus Silver Edition graphing calculator and come to the infallible conclusion that Kinsler is on pace for 162 runs scored in the 162-game season. That, friends, would be just the fifth time since 1900 that a player surpassed 160 runs and just the third time since the end of World War II that a player scored more than 150. But let's put the calculator away and not get ahead of ourselves. The point here is that Kinsler is on an incredibly productive run-scoring pace, in part, of course, because of the deep and balanced cast following him in the Texas lineup, and in part because of his personal improvement in pitch selection and on-base ability. But, no, don't pencil Kinsler in for 162 runs just yet.
"I don't think it's humanly possible to keep up that pace," his manager, Ron Washington, said. The Rangers' club record of 133 runs scored, set by Alex Rodriguez in 2001? Sure, that's in the conversation. "He might score 130," Washington said. "I think Rickey Henderson used to do that regularly." Rickey did it twice. Like Kinsler, Henderson had the ability to drive himself in with one swing of the bat. That capability, however, can become a curse for a leadoff man. Become too preoccupied with the power numbers and you might sacrifice the selectivity required to get on base in any way, shape or form. Thus far this season, Kinsler is getting on base at a .378 clip, an improvement over his .355 OBP from a year ago. If Kinsler can somehow sustain that over the course of the season, then we can expect improvement upon the career-high 121 runs he scored in 2011 (while batting just .255), because it's a reasonably safe assumption that the bats behind him are going to carry their collective weight. And if he can get on base early in a ballgame, he can set a tone, as evidenced by the fact that nine of his 28 runs scored have come in the first inning alone. "We're really good," Kinsler said with a smile. "If I can get on base, whether it's an error or a hit by pitch or anything, we feel we have a good chance of scoring. I like that responsibility." And Kinsler takes a great deal of pride in it. "You can definitely see the impact that it makes on the players behind me when I'm able to get on base and let them work their at-bat differently," he said. "So when I have an off day, it bothers me, especially if those guys don't produce. If I have an off day and they don't produce, I blame myself." The Rangers have been the American League's most productive team in the early going, and Kinsler's improved plate discipline -- his 8.9 strikeout percentage is on pace to be a career low, and his 12.6 walk rate is on pace to be a career high -- sets the tone for that triumph. Not that he's been tabulating his OBP. "You don't look at it as a percentage," he said. "You look at it as trying to have a good at-bat every time, and hopefully the results will be there. You try to work on plate discipline and strike-zone judgment, and hopefully all of that results in a better at-bat." The results have been there for Kinsler, whose OBP ranks best among AL second basemen. His .895 OPS is second only to Cleveland's Jason Kipnis, who has 19 fewer plate appearances. And if you're willing to consider WAR a worthy way of evaluating a player's overall performance, keep in mind that Kinsler's FanGraphs-tabulated WAR of 15.8 from 2009-11 puts him ahead of such luminaries as Prince Fielder, Matt Kemp and teammate Josh Hamilton in that same timetable. In other words, Kinsler is pretty darned good at what he does for a living, and, if the first month-plus of 2012 is any indication, he's getting better. The Rangers recognized this by extending him two seasons ahead of his free-agent eligibility with the five-year, $75 million contract he signed in mid-April. The deal is inherently risky, given Kinsler's age -- he'll turn 30 next month -- and the attrition rate of the average middle infielder, but it is validation of the strides he's made since Texas took him with the 496th pick in the 2003 Draft, and since a pretty pedestrian Minor League career. What Kinsler has done the past few years is far from pedestrian. And the experience of serving as a tone-setter for the two-time defending AL champs has given Kinsler the confidence to take his game to another level. "Bringing yourself to that focus level [in the postseason]," he said, "you definitely learn from it. The game slows down for you, and hopefully you're able to be more successful. There's something to be said for experience." And as much as we like to analyze and scrutinize the advanced numbers, there's something to be said for the bottom line that is runs scored. And Kinsler's pace, in that regard, is everything the Rangers could have hoped for. "Production, for me, is scoring runs and driving them in," Washington said. "Your best producers drive in 100 and score 100, so they're producing 200 runs for you. If he can get me close to 200, I'm satisfied. And he did that last year, [despite] hitting .250." As of Monday morning, Kinsler is batting .284. He's scored 28 and driven in 17 in 28 games. You don't need Texas Instruments to know it's a positive pace.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.