Talk about a guy flying under the radar: Ian Kinsler is about to become just the ninth second baseman to hit 30 home runs twice in his career. He's second in the American League in runs scored. He plays terrific defense, has drawn 82 walks and is 25 for 27 stealing bases.
It's been a great season for AL second basemen and Kinsler's season compares well with Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano (not to mention Ben Zobrist and Howie Kendrick). Here are the stats for all five players, including Ultimate Zone Rating from Baseball Info Solutions and WAR from FanGraphs. (Stats heading into Monday's games.)
Now, is Kinsler really having a better season than Cano? Even though Cano is hitting more than 50 points higher, Kinsler's ability to draw walks brings him even in the all-important on-base percentage. Kinsler rates a 13-run advantage in the field according to UZR (seven runs better in Defensive Runs Saved). According to FanGraphs, Kinsler picks up another three-run advantage on the basepaths -- plus-5 runs to Cano's plus-2. (Kinsler rates as one of the baserunners in the majors.) Cano has created 104 runs, Kinsler 101 (as the Rangers' leadoff hitter, Kinsler has received 46 more plate appearances than Cano, so he gets a boost from more "playing time.")
While the advanced metrics factor in ballpark effects, I'm still bothered by this line from Kinsler:
Would he be the same hitter if he didn't play half his games in Arlington? You can make a similar argument about Pedroia, a dead-pull hitter who loves Fenway Park (.905 OPS at home, .778 on the road). As good as Kinsler is in the field and on the bases, I have a few doubts about him being an elite hitter in another park. (His career OPS is .918 at home, .722 on the road.)
That said, he's a terrific all-around player and key to the Rangers' success. He's also fascinating because he's never the same player year to year -- but always one with a lot of value. In 2008, he hit .318, didn't walk much, hit for some power. In 2009, his average dropped to .253 but he hit 31 home runs. Last year, he .286, started walking more but hit just nine home runs in 102 games. This year, he's added the power, kept up the walk rate, but seen the average drop again. At least he's been healthy; he's already set a career-high in games played.
He's hot in September (.309, eight home runs) and he enjoyed the postseason a year ago --.296/.381/.537, although all three of his home runs came in the Division Series. I have a feeling he'll be one of the key guys to watch this October.