OK, so not really. In fact, if you don’t know Brad Ausmus personally, then he probably doesn’t even know you have a fantasy team, let alone care about it. But the headline is a good attention-grabber and you all know how I love to lure you in with the headline. But while we all know that real-life managers don’t make their decisions based on how they’re going to impact the fantasy world, some times it feels like that when you own a player or two on that team and you don’t agree with a decision…or potential decision as the case may be here. I’m talking about the idea of Ian Kinsler batting leadoff for Detroit this year while Austin Jackson is moved down to the five-hole, or possibly even lower. Kinsler? Really?
Listen, I understand that Kinsler’s numbers in the leadoff spot throughout his career look pretty damn good. He’s got a .271/.346/.467 slash line over 3,093 plate appearances with 115 stolen bases (79.9-percent success rate), a 0.82 BB/K and last season he posted a career-best 9.6-percent strikeout rate. Jackson, on the other hand, while he has a comparable slash line of .277/.342/.416 in 2,554 plate appearances, has only a 73.6-percent success rate on the bases (67-for-91), a 0.36 BB/K and has a 23.9-percent career strikeout rate. If we’re just using these numbers, then sure, Kinsler looks like the better choice.
But using career totals like that for these two particular players doesn’t quite tell the whole story, does it? These numbers don’t tell you that Kinsler is 32-years old (soon-to-be-33 in June) and has been on a statistical decline for the last couple of seasons. In fact, since 2011, his power numbers are down, his speed numbers are down, and that career-best strikeout rate, while impressive, is more than two-percent lower than his career rate and probably stands a greater chance of regressing than it does of staying the same or improving. Even the batting average has been under .260 in two of the last three years. So while looking at a career total gives you one story, the numbers aren’t exactly “current” for this particular conversation.
And while I just glossed over the age briefly, that definitely needs to be addressed. Not that an older ballplayer can’t be successful in the leadoff spot, but let’s face it, Kinsler hasn’t exactly been a bastion of health over the years. Yes, in 2011 and 2012 he appeared in 155 and 157 games respectively, but virtually every other year, there’s been some sort of injury keeping him out of the lineup. Obviously you can’t predict injuries, but you are now potentially putting Kinsler in harm’s way a little more by asking him to be a table-setter from the leadoff spot. There’s a reason his stolen base numbers have declined over the last two years and it’s not from a lack of opportunity. There is, in my opinion, a much greater chance for hamstring or groin injuries and given his age, the healing process just isn’t as fast as it used to be.
Now as for Jackson, I can understand the arguments against him, citing his year-to-year inconsistencies at the plate and the higher strikeout total. But let’s also acknowledge that Jackson has lowered the strikeout rate over the last two seasons, has maintained a solid walk rate and traditionally puts the ball in play more than Kinsler does. A lot more, in fact. Jackson is a continued work in progress and just entering his physical prime right now. While his year-to-year numbers may be inconsistent, he has been a successful batter out of the leadoff spot. He is also faster than Kinsler and, with the right instruction, can certainly post a stronger success rate on the bases. And actually, if you look, you’ll see that in 2010 and 2011, he had a combined success rate of 81.7-percent and the only reason his career rate is looking so meh is because he saw much fewer opportunities over the last two years and simply didn’t get enough work on the bases to hone his craft.
With Jim Leyland gone, the expectation was that Jackson would see the green light a lot more, but if Ausmus shoves him down into the five-hole, that’s simply not going to be the case. Obviously the five-hole should give him more RBI opportunities, but it’s going to dramatically cut down on the runs scored and potential steals. I mean, just imagine what it’s going to be like to have a base-clogger like Victor Martinez out there in front of you all the time. You don’t need to be some great statistician to understand the fact that a much slower guy in front of you is going to hinder your running. It’ll be like that guy in Rookie of the Year nearly lapping the Rosinbagger kid on the bases but without the kitchy music playing in the background.
For fantasy purposes, you’re going to have to take a much different view of each guy if this batting order switch sticks. Kinsler should see more runs scored and, ideally, more stolen bases. It shouldn’t have any effect on that declining power though. And as far as the average and OBP go, well, they should fall in somewhere between his 2012 season and his somewhat resurgent 2013. I was never high on Kinsler and the move to Detroit to begin with and while the move to leadoff should help his value a little bit, I will shy away for the injury risk and look for someone else at the keystone…especially in the fourth or fifth round. I’d much rather wait a few rounds more and grab Jose Altuve for speed or Jedd Gyorko for power.
Jackson gets an immediate downgrade, in my opinion, should he bat fifth or lower in the order. If he’s hitting fifth sixth or seventh, again, he should see improved RBI opportunities, but it seems doubtful that he’ll be running the bases as much. Maybe if he’s batting eighth or ninth and he and Rajai Davis form some sort of speed tandem at the bottom of the order, then great, but he’ll also see fewer at-bats from down there. In drafts, he’s usually coming off the board in the ninth or 10th round where, had he been leading off, could have been a steal here in his age-27 year. However, stuck further down, I’m bumping him down my draft board by more than just a few notches.
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