Ian Kinsler, the Chase Utley Alternative

By Tommy Rancel

Since joining the Phillies lineup full-time in 2005, Chase Utley has averaged .301/.388/.535 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 29 home runs and 101 RBI per season. These numbers are typical for a star corner outfielder or a slugging first baseman – not a second baseman. For example, in 2009, Utley hit .282/.397/.508 with 31 home runs and 93 RBI. The average full-time major league second baseman hit .283/.348/.446 with 17 home runs and 74 RBI last year.

Utley is a consistently elite performer who shows no signs of slowing down. But Ian Kinsler may soon pose a threat to his throne atop the second base rankings.

Kinsler one of baseball’s unluckiest players in 2009. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was just .241, the lowest BABIP among qualified major leaguers, and 47 points lower than his career mark of .288. This drop in BABIP led to career lows in batting average (.253) and on-base percentage (.327).

Kinsler posted a career high 54% fly-ball rate (FB%) last season, with a career-low 15.4% line drive rate (LD%). If he rebounds toward career levels (47.1% FB, 20.0 % LD) a healthy batting average regression will likely follow.

Despite the low batting average, Kinsler still had a productive season for the Texas Rangers, smoking 31 home runs and swiping 31 bases. He became just the third second basemen (Brandon Phillips and Alfonso Soriano) in major league history to record a 30/30 season.

Looking at the spider charts of Kinsler and Utley, both players rate above average across the board. Utley’s batting average looks a lot better, but remember Kinslers’ BABIP fluctuation.  

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The final category is steals. Surprisingly, the 31-year-old, Utley stole a career high 23 bases last season after swiping 60 bags over the previous four. Kinsler has 91 career steals, including 80 over the past three years. He has increased his steals total in each of his four seasons: 11 in 2006, 23 in 2007, 26 in 2008, and 31 in 2009. Utley is on the wrong side of 30, while Kinsler is just 27; that age gap could widen the disparity in steals between the two players over the next few seasons.

One potential pitfall with Kinsler is health. In his four-year career he has spent 134 days on the DL with a variety of injuries. These include: a dislocated thumb, left foot stress fracture, sports hernia, and a strained hamstring last July. Utley missed 31 days with a broken bone in his hand in 2007, but has avoided a DL trip in the past two seasons.

Unlike previous years, Kinsler will not be leading off for the Rangers. This will give him fewer plate appearances, but should not be seen as a net negative. Instead, focus on all the increased RBI opportunities he will have hitting behind Michael Young and Josh Hamilton. In addition to the potential for more RBI, we know Kinsler’s power is real. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) has increased every season, going from .168 in 2006 to .235 in ’09. 

B-Rank looks past Kinsler’s 2009 batting average and ranks him 12th overall; Utley ranks slightly higher at 10th overall. Meanwhile, Kinsler’s average draft position (ADP) of 17.2 means he could produce similar or better numbers than Utley (ADP 5.4) without expending a mid-first round pick. 

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In a 12-team mixed league, a team picking late in the first round could conceivably draft a combination of Prince Fielder and Kinsl
er, a killer 1-2 punch on the right side of the infield to start the draft.

For more information on Ian Kinsler and hundreds of other players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

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