Last season, Ian Kinsler
was worth $21 in an AL-only league for the second consecutive season. In fact, it was the fifth time in six seasons he has been worth at least $20 as only his injury-shortened 2010 season prevented him from continuing that streak. Noticeably absent last season were his steals. In all of his full seasons, Kinsler had never failed to steal fewer than 21 bases prior to last season, when he stole just 15 bags and was also caught 11 times. Kinsler was well aware of this and blamed it on two factors, as he recently told
Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press
For only the third time in eight big league seasons, Kinsler failed to steal at least 20 bases. He stole 15 with the Rangers. But he was sidelined for a month with a rib injury and when he did steal, many times it was as part of a hit-and-run in front of the strikeout-prone Elvis Andrus, Kinsler said in a teleconference after he was traded from Texas to Detroit in late November.
"A lot of times that didn't work out for the team and I got thrown out by two to three steps," he said. "So those necessarily have to go down as a stolen base attempt but those necessarily in my mind aren't a stolen base attempt. I'm moving because of the hit-and-run."
Three of Kinsler's 11 caught stealings were of his own doing in that he was picked off twice and thrown out at third base another time. There were four instances of him being thrown out with Andrus at the plate, one of which came on a first pitch (a very unlikely hit & run count). Moving away from Andrus may help, a little, but that should be the least of Kinsler's worries as he has bigger roadblocks in his way to reaching his goal of stealing more bases in 2014.
His age will be his biggest roadblock. Kinsler is currently 31 and will turn 32 during the 2014 season. Since baseball expanded to 30 teams, only 32 players
have had at least two seasons in which they have stolen as many as 20 bases at age 31 or older. Over the past five seasons, that number dwindles to just 11 players: Ichiro Suzuki
, Juan Pierre
, Jimmy Rollins
, Coco Crisp
, Bobby Abreu
, Shane Victorino
, Alex Rios
, Rajai Davis
, Scott Podsednik
, Chone Figgins
, and Willie Bloomquist
. If we look for any player that has swiped at least 20 bags at age 31 just one time, the list is only 21 players long
His lack of steals last season were also hurt by his lack of opportunities. Baseball-Reference.com defines stolen base opportunities as times that a player is on first or second base and the next base is unoccupied. Kinsler, partly due to his time missed with his rib injury, had 44 fewer attempts last season than he did in 2012. Yet, his number of opportunities was well in line with what he did in previous seasons when he did steal 20 bases, as the table below shows.
Another factor is he is slowing down. Bill James developed the Speed Score
metric to help track this with players. Fangraphs publishes a score that measures the first four factors of Speed Score (Spd), and Kinsler's
is in decline. His Speed Score was 6.5 in 2011, 5.9 in 2012, and just 4.7 in 2013. A review of all of the Speed Score data from 1998 to 2013 shows, that just eight players have been able to steal as many as 20 bases in a season with a speed score of 4.7 or lower: Jeff Bagwell, Jose Canseco
, Craig Biggio, Bobby Abreu
(2x), Matt Lawton, Shin-Soo Choo
, Adam Kennedy
, and Norichika Aoki
. It is not impossible for a player in their 30's to have a higher speed score, but Kinsler appears to be fighting the same uphill battle
as Ben Zobrist
Even Baseball HQ's version of Speed Score (Spd
) views Kinsler unfavorably as his score has declined each of the previous six seasons. He has gone from 25% better than the league average down to league average in that time.
We don't know how new skipper Brad Ausmus
will manage the running game as he replaces Jim Leyland, who preferred a plate techtonic-like method of steals. The Tigers nearly attempted fewer bases (137) as a team over the past two seasons than Rickey Henderson did in 1982 by himself when he stole 130 bases. What we do know is that Kinsler is aging, and the odds are increasingly against him turning around his slide in stolen base production. Kinsler may hit leadoff
, or he may hit second. If he hits second, it is unlikely he will steal as many bases so he doesn't give opposing managers a chance to pitch around Miguel Cabrera
. That said, if Kinsler does hit in front of the two-time reigning MVP, he could have a better offensive year at the plate because he could score a lot of runs to negate the loss in steals.