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The Detroit Tigers second baseman was just one of many at his position that saw a big boost in power in 2016. Brian Dozier, Rougned Odor, Robinson Cano, Daniel Murphy, and Jose Altuve saw big jumps in homers. Kinsler went from a measly 11 home runs in 2015 to 28 (!) in 2016. That’s some jump. His slugging went from 0.428 to 0.484. He hit 32 home runs way back in 2011, but that’s five long years ago. Since then, he hit 19, 13, 17, and 11.
The question on my mind as we look at Kinsler in 2017: why did his power increase and is it sustainable?
Let’s get to answering that question. The rest of his game has been very consistent: lots of runs scored, good OBP, good batting average, double-digit steals, so the power is the big change in 2016. I should also point out that he sacrificed some contact for power. His 16.9% K% was a career high, though still much better than average. His swinging strike rate was also at a career-high 6.6%, but again, it was still ridiculously low. We fantasy players will gladly take those extra Ks if it comes with all that power.
Average exit velocity 2015: 86.2 mph, #389 in MLB
Average exit velocity 2016: 87.5 mph, #351 in MLB
Average exit velocity, FB + LD 2015: 88.5 mph, #420 in MLB
Average exit velocity, FB + LD 2016: 90.5 mph, #348 in MLB
You can see that he did increase his exit velocities noticeably on all balls in play and even more so on fly balls and line drives, where it is more important to hit the ball hard. It is also easy to see that even with improvement, he is still near the bottom of the league (there are 513 hitters with exit velocity data), so his power is still in question.
How about average batted ball distance? In 2015, he averaged 220 feet, good for #136. In 2016, he averaged 234 feet and finished at #69. That’s certainly a positive sign, matching his exit velocity bump. And, the fact that he is in the upper portion of the league now in distance is good. Here are the names next to him on the 2016 distance list: Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Joc Pederson, oh, and two guys named Stanton and Trout.
How about a little bit more info? Kinsler was #306 on the barrels (squarely-hit balls) per PA in 2016, after being #219 in 2015. This is the first mixed signal we’ve got. He hit fewer balls square in 2016? Yep, 26 in 2015, but only 18 in 2016. That does not seem to jive with all those homers. How about HR/FB%? He went from a lowly 5% in 2015 to a solid 12.5% in 2016. That 12.5% is still not far from league average and matches his value from 2011.
Finally, his hard hit % jumped from 26.4% to 34%, setting a new career high. That is yet another one in the “Kinsler had a real power increase” column.
Putting it all together,
- some of his power increase was simply positive regression from a very down year in 2015,
- some was real improvement in hitting the ball harder (exit velocity, distance, HR/FB%, and hard hit %),
- and some was unsustainable (barreled balls went down and his exit velocity was down with the bottom of the league: Chase Headley, Matt Duffy, Jason Heyward, and Yan Gomes).
I’m going to try to combine all this information into a projection for 2017. Here we go: 22 HR, 96 R, 75 RBI, 10 steals, 0.280/0.340/0.440
There you have it. Kinsler showed real power growth (actually just returning to his former power glory) in 2016 and we should expect a big portion of that to stick around, but not all of it. You just don’t see huge power surges at age 34, so there will be some drop off, especially since his exit velocities were still well below average league-wide. Tschus!