Commentary

Ian Kinsler is offensive catalyst

Rangers leadoff man produces runs his own way -- with power and speed

Updated: March 16, 2012, 12:45 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Ian Kinsler isn't a prototypical slap-hitting leadoff hitter. Maybe that's why so many folks obsess over his batting average. Or have a conniption every time he flies out.

Get over it. It's completely irrelevant.

Kinsler and Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury are the American League's two best leadoff hitters.

End of discussion.

[+] EnlargeIan Kinsler
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesIan Kinsler produced 198 runs in 2011 -- 121 runs scored and 77 RBIs.

The Texas Rangers' lineup is full of big boppers, but Kinsler is the offensive catalyst. What else would you expect from one of only 12 men in MLB history to have multiple 30-homer, 30-stolen base seasons?

Kinsler provided a glimpse of what he can do from the leadoff spot Thursday afternoon with a single, a homer and two runs scored in five innings against Oakland.

When it comes to judging leadoff hitters, forget about batting average and on-base percentage. And don't worry about walks, strikeouts or stolen bases either.

Focus on runs scored. Simple, isn't it?

Think about it, the game is about generating runs. If a team's leadoff hitter is among the leaders in runs scored, then he's doing his job no matter what you think about his overall statistics.

And if he's scoring runs, odds are he's probably doing a pretty good job in most offensive categories.

Kinsler produced 198 runs -- 121 runs scored and 77 RBIs -- last season. Only the New York Yankees' Curtis Granderson scored more runs (136).

No one on the Rangers produced more runs than Kinsler. Michael Young finished second on the club with 194 runs produced and Adrian Beltre was next with 187 runs.

Kinsler's offensive versatility makes him such a weapon.

He has the power to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead one batter into the game, which is a blessing and a curse. He hit seven leadoff homers last season, and has 20 in his career.

But he's also good enough to walk, steal second, move to third on a ground ball and score on a sacrifice fly. Or he can lead off with a single, go to third on another hit and score on a groundout.

He walked a career-high 89 times with only 71 strikeouts last season. It's first time in his career that he's had more walks than strikeouts.

Among AL leadoff hitters, Kinsler finished first in homers (32), second in runs produced (198), third in stolen bases (30) and in on-base percentage (.355) and ninth in batting average (.255).

"My job is to score runs. Producing runs is the bottom line and it doesn't matter how I do it," Kinsler said.

"Batting average, total bases and all the other stats are nice, but my job is to affect the game and be a threat.

"I love being on base in front of the guys on this team because they can take advantage of all my skills. We can do a lot of things offensively to score runs."

Kinsler likes to hit homers. What big leaguer doesn't? Problems for him occur when he tries to hit the ball out of the ballpark.

Kinsler, as you would expect, would disagree. We all know the truth -- and that's OK.

The perfect ballplayer doesn't exist, so you must accept his fly ball-to-ground ball ratio and a batting average in the .275 range to access the rest of his powerful offensive package.

You could argue the worst thing to happen to Kinsler last season was hitting leadoff homers in each of the Rangers' first two games last season because it felt so good he kept trying to do it again.

Kinsler hit .255 last season, and he didn't hit more than .250 in any month until September. In the Rangers' final 25 games, Kinsler hit .330 with 11 homers, while producing 46 runs.

"What we try to get Ian to do is take the same process to the plate every time," hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh said. "He has such good plate coverage and discipline that he's going to get a good pitch to hit most of the time.

"But we want him to hit pitches he can drive. When he swings at good pitches and hits them good, they're going to leave the ballpark. He doesn't have to try to hit homers. They'll come just by having a good approach at the plate."

Few leadoff hitters have the skill set to dominate a game with power and speed the way Kinsler does.

So quit worrying about the flyouts.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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