The Padres acquired veteran infielder Ian Kinsler in late December to a two-year deal with a team option for a third. Kinsler is one of the most well-respected contact hitters of the last 13 seasons. What can the Padres expect of him?
Most baseball fans know what Kinsler has been for most of his career. In the first 10 years, he hit .276 with a 110 OPS+ while earning four All-Star selections. He has also won two Gold Gloves in the last three seasons. He has racked up 1,943 career hits and could very well reach the 2,000-hit plateau as a Padre. Although he has never been considered one of the games elite sluggers, he has 248 home runs to his name.
Enough about what Kinsler has been in the past, what matters to the Padres is what he can contribute in 2019, at 36 years old.
Gone are his 30-homer days; he had two of those, both with the Rangers in their homer-friendly sandbox in Arlington. He has hit at least 20 home runs in five seasons and those are likely gone or at least fading fast.
First of all, Petco Park is the worst park for hitters he has ever called home. Texas and Detroit, where he has played 12 of his 13 seasons, are both friendly to hitters. Do not expect the same offensive numbers for Kinsler, who has put up numbers like a 128 OPS+ and 28 home runs in 2016 with the Tigers. Perhaps the expectations for power numbers need to be scaled back. Kinsler is certainly capable of still hitting 15-20 home runs. His career low while playing at least 105 games is 11.
What you can expect from Kinsler is that he will put his bat on the baseball very often. In 2018, his contact rate was 88.8%, only 2018 All-Star Michael Brantley had a higher percentage in all of baseball. His strikeout rate was 12% last season, 7th-best among qualified hitters. Kinsler is one of the best contact hitters in the game. He actually may be a good comparison for Luis Urias in that department. He should be someone Urias looks to model with his approach at the plate.
A lineup always needs guys that are hard to strikeout and put the ball in play, Kinsler has always done that, even in the twilight of his career. However, the last two seasons have not been kind to him in numbers “on the back of his baseball card.” Despite the favorable contact and strikeout rates, he has hit a meager .238 in the last two seasons, with an 89 OPS+.
Padres fans should prepare for similar numbers, especially as he plays half of his games at Petco Park. However, to be fair, his BABIP in those two years was .247, almost 40 points lower than his career average. Perhaps he is due for some better luck as well.
Couple those numbers with the fact that Kinsler has played just nine games at Petco Park in his career, with a .229 average and 67 OPS+, and it’s not looking like he will return to All-Star form in San Diego.
FanGraphs projects Kinsler to hit .246 with a 93 wRC+, which, given the numbers his last two seasons, would be an improvement and probably somewhere near where Padres fans should expect.
Ian Kinsler can still be a good signing without hitting 30 homers or batting .290. Expect lots of contact, minimal strikeouts, a solid glove at second base, a sure, veteran presence in the locker room but not anything close to his prime numbers.