Commentary

Time to reassess Ian Kinsler's role

Rangers need to look at dropping leadoff man in order, possible position change

Updated: October 9, 2012, 12:23 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

Josh Hamilton isn't the only player the Texas Rangers will have to make a decision on this offseason.

It just seems like he is, after Hamilton's awful end to the 2012 season and the fact that the lasting image of him is a dropped fly ball to shallow center field on a routine play in Oakland and an 0-for-4 showing that lasted all of eight pitches in the equivalent of a Game 7 in the new first round of the playoffs.

[+] EnlargeIan Kinsler
Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesIan Kinsler still provides pop, but his on-base percentage, stolen bases and walks tumbled in 2012.

But what to do with the free-agent slugger is just one question that must be answered in the next few months. It's a long list that includes filling out the rest of the rotation, deciding what to do about catcher and plugging some holes in the bullpen.

Just as important as any of that: figuring out the proper role for Ian Kinsler.

How the club uses Kinsler next year can have all kinds of ripple effects. As general manager Jon Daniels, CEO Nolan Ryan and the front-office staff sit in meetings to analyze what caused the collapse and how to utilize the offseason to fix it, they must talk about what to do with Kinsler.

No, I don't mean trading him. He's signed a long-term deal here and is a versatile player who has also become one of the club's leaders.

But he didn't look like a leadoff hitter in 2012. So why should he get the chance again in 2013?

Kinsler is supposed to be the spark plug of this lineup. He's the guy who sets the tone as the leadoff hitter. Too often in 2012, he wasn't able to give the Rangers that jolt. And as the offense sputtered to a halt, running out of gas just as the exit for the postseason came into view, Kinsler wasn't able to do anything to help get the motor running again. He hit just .220 in September, his worst month of the season. He wasn't on base often either, putting up his lowest on-base percentage of the season in that final month.

The plusses to using Kinsler as the leadoff hitter are clear. He might not be conventional, but he can alter games with a home run or a couple of stolen bases. We saw him do that with regularity in 2010 and 2011.

He hit just .255 last year but had 32 home runs and did score 121 runs, the No. 1 job of a leadoff hitter. He stole 30 bases and walked 89 times in 155 games. He had a .355 on-base percentage, which showed what a good job he did drawing walks and staying patient even while his batting average lagged.

It wasn't the same in 2012. Kinsler played in two more games and hit .256. But most of the other numbers look different. His on-base percentage was .326. Among AL players who led off at least 98 games, only one (Desmond Jennings) had a lower percentage. Kinsler had 60 walks, 29 fewer than last year. He stole 21 bases, fifth among leadoff hitters but well shy of his mark from a year ago. He was picked off six times, a club record and the most in the American League.

In fairness, opposing pitchers did everything they could to stall the Rangers' running game and Kinsler wasn't the only one unable to swipe bases at his usual rate.

He did score 105 runs, again his main mission as the leadoff hitter. Still, the numbers weren't good enough.

It was not the kind of season Kinsler is accustomed to putting up. And it extended beyond the plate. After signing a new long-term deal and saying he hoped to play his entire career in Texas, Kinsler had 18 errors, tied for his career high and equal to his number of errors for 2010 and 2011 combined. His .970 fielding percentage was the lowest of his career and his 2.0 WAR number was his worst since his rookie season.

But whether Kinsler leads off is only part of the decision when it comes to the 30-year-old veteran. It's time to see what Jurickson Profar can do in a full-time position in the big leagues. We've heard scouts rave about him, and it appears he's got the right attitude. But all we got was a taste late in 2012. Let's find out if he has all of this potential we keep hearing about.

To make room for Profar, the Rangers could look at trade possibilities for Elvis Andrus this winter. But with two more years on his contract, Andrus is still very valuable to a club considered a contender in the AL. If the perfect deal isn't there -- such as a pitcher with some major pedigree or an outfielder who could help replace Hamilton, for instance -- perhaps it's time for Kinsler to move positions.

He said when the new contract was announced that he'd move somewhere else if needed, though I'm sure he didn't think it would be this soon. Why not shift Kinsler to the outfield -- he's got the speed and athleticism to handle it -- and put Profar at second base?

To go along with that change, let's find out if Andrus can lead off. My hesitation in the past on this is that I liked the idea of speed in those top-2 spots. But if Profar is here, he gives you some speed and a little power. He'll have to work on his bunting, but give him a full spring training to work with manager Ron Washington and he'll get there.

Andrus has the speed to swipe bases and annoy the opposition from the leadoff spot and he had a higher on-base percentage than Kinsler last year. Kinsler has a lot more power than Andrus and could drop into the lower half of the order, giving him some RBI chances and adding a little punch to that part of the lineup.

Of course, what the club does this offseason and the other pieces they acquire will impact what happens with Kinsler. The good news is that he's versatile enough to handle it.

Kinsler can still impact this team and is a critical part of its core. Let's see if he can do that down a bit in the lineup and at a different position, if necessary, to get some more young talent on the field.

After struggling in 2012 at the top of the order and watching the offense slowly disappear when it mattered most, it's time to shake things up.

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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