The other day, Chris McCoskey of the Detroit News wrote a column on Ian Kinsler speculating about his Hall of Fame chances. Have you thought about Kinsler as a potential Hall of Famer? Me neither. But the idea isn't actually all that preposterous.
McCoskey writes of the Detroit Tigers second baseman:
Kinsler, by the end of the season -- maybe by August, the way he's going -- will have amassed 1,000 runs, 200 stolen bases, 1,500 hits and 200 home runs in his career.
With his single and two-run home run Tuesday, he’s at 1,551 hits. He has 199 stolen bases, 964 runs scored and 189 home runs.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, he would become the 40th player in major league history to reach those levels in all of those statistical categories -- joining a big batch of current or soon-to-be Hall of Famers: Derek Jeter, Robin Yount, Craig Biggio, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and George Brett, to name just a few.
"I mean, that's what I want to be," Kinsler said. "Not just those numbers, but also on the defensive side of the ball. Really, whatever it takes, I want to be able to do everything well, not have a hole in my game."
His career WAR (wins above replacement) of 48.3 probably makes the same point. And yet, Kinsler still makes most all-underrated teams.
I'm not a fan of cherry-picking categories like that. The 1,500/1,000/200/200 club also includes some non-Hall of Famers such as Ron Gant, Mike Cameron, Steve Finley, Don Baylor, Reggie Sanders, Devon White and Johnny Damon. It does, however, speak to Kinsler's all-around game. Those non-Hall of Famers I just listed? They were outfielders. Of the 11 infielders to do it, seven are in the Hall of Fame and the other four are Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Jimmy Rollins. So in that way, it is pretty exclusive company.
Kinsler's career WAR puts him in shouting distance. Of the 14 second basemen above 60 career WAR, via Baseball-Reference, 10 are in the Hall of Fame, all except Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker and Willie Randolph and the still-active Chase Utley. Those four have something in common: excellent defensive evaluation, boosting their WAR numbers. Baseball-Reference rates Kinsler 13th all time in fielding runs saved among players who primarily played second base.
Despite the good metrics and good reputation, Kinsler has never won a Gold Glove. In that regard, he's like Utley, who has even more impressive metrics but never won over the Gold Glove voters. To be fair, Kinsler has lost out to some good second basemen: Dustin Pedroia, who ranks just behind Kinsler on the all-time list, has won four; Robinson Cano has won two; Placido Polanco, an excellent defender, also won two. Jose Altuve won last in what was a poor vote for a player who has never had strong metrics.
Anyway, while that could hurt Kinsler in Hall of Fame voting down the road, the bigger obstacle is the perception that he has never been "the guy." Here he is compared to the other great second basemen of his generation:
If you look at who makes the Hall of Fame from recent decades, there's kind of an unwritten rule about one player per position, or maybe one player at the position for each league. For instance, Whitaker, Randolph and Grich get trumped by Rod Carew and Joe Morgan (best in the 1970s) and then Ryne Sandberg (best of the 1980s). Alan Trammell, a clear Hall of Famer, was a contemporary of Cal Ripken and loses that debate. Barry Larkin, a similar player, gets in because he sort of succeeded Ozzie Smith as best in the National League.
Anyway, Kinsler has never really been regarded as the best second baseman in the game or his league. For much of his career, the debate was between Pedroia and Cano. Pedroia won an MVP award and has two other top-10 finishes; Cano has five top-six finishes. Kinsler's best finish has been 11th.
Of the four guys, Cano has the best Hall of Fame chance, as he's already nearing 60 WAR and will combine a high peak value with a long career. Utley's peak was amazing but his WAR is propped up by his high defensive rating and he won't have the career stats that scream Hall of Famer. Kinsler is in a similar boat to Pedroia, needing a strong run into their late 30s to have any shot. That will be an interesting development because the two were once teammates at Arizona State. Pedroia won the starting shortstop job, and Kinsler eventually transferred to Missouri.
Pretty good career for a second-string college shortstop.