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Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Throwing Ian Kinsler a pity party

By Christina Kahrl

So, Ian Kinsler isn't happy that he was traded from Texas. And say what he will, for his sake you can hope it motivates him to bigger and better things with the Tigers. While it might strike you or me as a little strange -- the path to the postseason is a lot more direct from Detroit via the AL Central than it is from Arlington in the hyper-competitive AL West -- some folks aren't big on change. I think we can all sympathize with his plight: This deep into his career after eight years, Kinsler owed a lot of what we think about him as a player to Rangers Ballpark.

 Ian Kinsler
Ian Kinsler's new uni won't be the only thing that will make him hard to recognize in 2014.
Which is really where my focus is when I wonder what Kinsler will do in 2014. I'm still one of the people who looks at a guy who has left the ballpark that made him the 30-homer masher in his prime, a ballpark where he slugged .511, as opposed to the guy who has slugged .399 everywhere else in his career. A guy who turns 32 in June. A guy whose Isolated Power has dropped from .223 in his age-29 season -- the tail end of a normal player's peak -- to .136 last year. His career lows for walk rate? They've both come in the past two years, having dropped down toward 8 percent, where it used to be up around 12.

So that's a guy who has lost 100 points of slugging across three years while calling one of the game's great hitters' nirvanas home, and he's lost a third of his walk rate. Skip hating on change of venues, that's a pretty clear indication of a decline. If you're a Tigers fan, you should be worried about Kinsler.

That's because Kinsler is going to a much more power-neutral park in Comerica, indexing at 98 for righty homers against Rangers Ballpark's 113 (where 100 is average). In his career, Kinsler has hit just .200/.298/.329 in Comerica, but to be fair, that was hitting against Tigers pitching. He won't end up with an OPS below .630. His OPS the past two years has been down around .750, despite which the various projection tools out there are a bit more sanguine about what's likely to come next:

Bill James Handbook: .773 OPS
Dan Szymborski's ZiPS: .764
Baseball Prospectus: .747
FanGraphs' Oliver: .744

I think you know I'm leaning toward the bottom half of that quartet, perhaps below even that if Comerica and age undermine what power Kinsler has left. That won't make him a bad player, not in general, and not on a team I expect to win the AL Central regardless. But then you start looking at his plummeting values in a defensive metric like UZR -- which handles high-opportunity positions such as second, third and shortstop well -- and you have additional reasons for worry.

So yeah, feel a little bit sorry for Ian Kinsler, because there are certainly a few reasons that transcend the inconvenience of having to move midway through a contract he might have felt meant he'd retire as a Ranger. Instead, feel sorry for Kinsler because it may not just be the new uniform that makes him hard to recognize before this year's done.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.