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Ian Kinsler & Second Base Value

As you have probably seen, we here at RotoGraphs have been doing a very early slow mock draft over the last few weeks. So far I’ve learned two things:

  1. Second base gets really, really ugly after the first seven or so players come off the board.
  2. There’s more question about Ian Kinsler’s value than you’d think.

There’s little argument that Robinson Cano is the consensus top second baseman available, and Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, Jason Kipnis, Ben Zobrist, & Aaron Hill are generally seen as the cream of the remaining crop, in various orders. But once you get past that group, it thins out quickly. Do you want to be the one hoping Marco Scutaro can repeat his shocking late-season resurgence, or seeing if Rickie Weeks can rebound from an atrocious campaign, or praying Dan Uggla can find his lost power, as I was?

That’s why it’s more important than ever in 2013 that you manage to get yourself a decent second baseman while one is available, especially in twelve-team or AL/NL-only leagues. With that in mind, it’s interesting to see how Kinsler as viewed at this early stage in the winter. In our draft, Jack Moore picked him up as the 36th overall pick and third second baseman taken behind Cano & Pedroia, which sounds about right to me. That’s similar to ESPN’s Tristan Cockcroft, who has Kinsler as the 41st overall player and third second baseman behind the same duo. Yet in one ‘expert draft’ I’ve seen, he was a top-ten pick overall; in another, he went ahead of Pedroia (but behind Brandon Phillips), and over at MockDraftCentral, he’s been the #2 second baseman behind Cano and a top-ten pick overall in drafts over the last few days.

It seems that not everyone is sure what to expect from Kinsler, who is coming off a career-worst 2012 as he heads into his age-31 season. For years, Kinsler has been one of the best hitting second basemen in the game, but as his wOBA dropped from .364 to .327 last year, he fell to seventh – behind Neil Walker and just barely ahead of Uggla. That’s in no small part due to his ongoing troubles away from Texas – on the road, his poor .274 wOBA was one of the eight worst in the American League – though that’s been a career-long concern for him.

In fact, it seems even the Rangers beat writers don’t have a good handle on it. In early December, the Star-Telegram, in an article about a possible Kinsler move to first base, suggested that injury may have been the cause:

Kinsler said his right ankle, which he had surgery on last off-season, started bothering him during the season and didn’t improve until July, which might have factored into his struggles.

Yet that doesn’t align with the facts, given that Kinsler had a solid first half (.279/.341/.442) and then declined badly in the second half (.229/.308/.399) as the Rangers blew the division title to Oakland. Though Kinsler’s BB% dropped by more than four full points, a troubling fall that clearly affected his OBP, there was little in his swing profile to explain the poor second half, and so it’s easy to remain optimistic that his 2013 will be more like the Kinsler we’ve come to know.

It’s that optimism that makes me think I probably shouldn’t be so hard on Kinsler, because even a down year for him was still quite good, since he did come within a homer of a fourth 20/20 season. Given his 2012, I don’t know that I could really talk myself into making him a top-ten pick, but with the state of second base being what it is, that does give him somewhat of a boost in my book. Enough to make me wish I had taken him and not reached too early for Joe Mauer, anyway.