After running through Ian Kinsler's many accomplishments in 2009 -- career highs in homers and steals, good fielding stats, more playing time than ever, and the third 30/30 season by a second baseman in major league history -- Jonathan C. Mitchell moves to an optimistic prediction ...
Not much room to go up from there, right? Wrong. I will show you why Kinsler is due for bigger and better things.
Kinsler had the lowest BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of any qualifying player in the majors at .245. This number was easily the lowest of any season in Kinsler’s career (.339, .282, 310). This is a big deal. Imagine two hits per month that just happen to fall in and not get caught. This would move his BABIP to .271 and his overall AVG to .274, and that is still a low BABIP according to his career averages.
Another area of Kinsler’s 2009 season that was out of the norm was his LD% (line-drive percentage). In his first three seasons he posted LD% of 20.6, 19.6, and 24.2. In 2009 he posted a LD% of 15.9, 10th lowest in the majors. That is surely a number that Kinsler will bring back to normal in 2010.
Kinsler didn’t do anything out of the norm to warrant a drop in his BABIP and LD%. His out-of-zone swing percentage was in-line with his career averages and his contact rates were the best of his career while his BB% was exactly the same as his career average of 9.4%.
With all that said, Kinsler should have no problems bringing his BABIP and LD% back to his career norms. If those two things happen, in addition to his continued progress as a player, I see no reason why Kinsler cannot hit at least .285/.370/.525 and go above and beyond another 30/30 season. Add that to the well above-average defense he displayed last season and Kinsler may very well be on his way to an MVP type season. Do not rule it out.
I wouldn't rule anything out.
Kinsler has played four seasons in the majors. He's got one .285/.370/.525 season (2008), and three .270/.340/.460 seasons. It seems a stretch to predict another 2008, and a big stretch to predict some Great Leap Forward. Particularly because when I look at the same numbers Mitchell is looking at, I see something completely different.
Kinsler did hit 31 home runs in 2009. Was this because he was hitting the ball harder, though? Or was it because he was hitting the ball differently? Yes, Kinsler's line-drive percentage was easily the lowest of his career. But his fly-ball percentage was easily the highest of his career. Isn't it possible that he was consciously going for more fly balls and home runs? And even if he wasn't, doesn't it seem likely that he can't have it both ways? That if his line-drive percentage comes back up -- and with it, his batting average -- his fly-ball percentage will come down? And with it, his home runs?
Kinsler has been immensely valuable in each of the last two seasons, just a notch or two below MVP-caliber. They were completely different seasons, though. In 2008, Kinsler went .319/.375/.517 but played lousy defense. In 2009, Kinsler went .253/.327/.488 but played good defense. (The only common thread was Kinsler's brilliant base-stealing: 26 for 28 in '08 and 31 for 36 in '09).
Like I said, I wouldn't rule anything out. Kinsler turns 28 next June (he shares a birthday with me and Carl Hubbell), and figures to have some fine seasons ahead. If he can hit 30 homers again and get his batting average back above .300 and keep stealing bases brilliantly and play Gold Glove-quality defense ... Well, now you're talking about one of the very best players in the league.
But right now, that's all pie in the sky.