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January 26, 2016

Tale of the Tape

Ian Kinsler vs. Jason Kipnis

by Matt Collins

The BP fantasy team is on to second-base week, and with that comes another Tale of the Tape. In the last two weeks, we’ve seen Jonathan Lucroy edge out Travis D’Arnaud behind the plate, and Jose Abreu overtaking Edwin Encarnacion in a close battle at first base. In this edition, we have a couple of AL Central foes taking each other on at the keystone position. They both find themselves in the four-star tier on the positional rankings, and have been mainstays at the position over the last couple of years. It’s Jason Kipnis vs. Ian Kinsler.

Batting Average

In 2015, both Kipnis and Kinsler had big years in this category, with the former putting up a .303 AVG to Kinsler’s .296 mark. Both players’ seasons represented career highs in this category, though they have been remarkably similar throughout their time in the majors. They are separated by just four points in career AVGs and just six over the last three years. Not even luck can separate the two, as each put up his career-best average thanks to a BABIP exactly 36 points above his career mark. While both have been able to maintain K rates below the league average throughout their careers, Kinsler’s has consistently come in a bit lower. However, to Kipnis’ credit, he has cut his down in each of the last three years. No matter where you decide to look, these two are remarkably close here. The one point of separation is consistency, as Kinsler has maintained an AVG of at least .275 in each of the last three years while Kipnis watched his drop to .240 in a rough 2014. That consistency gives him the slightest of edges here.

Advantage: Kinsler slightly

On-Base Percentage

Although they both had strong showings in AVG a year ago, Kipnis ran away with the OBP edge, with a .372 mark compared to Kinsler’s .342. Looking ahead to 2016, since their AVGs project to be almost equal, it all comes down to drawing walks. Throughout his career, Kipnis has maintained an above-average walk-rate, settling in around nine percent last year. Kinsler, meanwhile, has been more erratic. In the past, he was a high-walk player, drawing a free pass more than 12 percent of the time at his peak. Over the last two years, however, he has watched that mark freefall. Even with a bit of improvement in 2015, he still finished with a 6.4 percent rate. To make matters worse, his plate-discipline numbers remained essentially unchanged from 2014. Kipnis has a clear edge in drawing walks, and with the race being so close in AVG, he gets the easy win here.

Advantage: Kipnis

Home Runs

Once again, these two were incredibly close in 2015 with Kinsler’s 11 homers edging out Kipnis’ 9. Although neither is a big-time power hitter, those are hard to find at this position and both of these guys can help out a little. Kinsler does have a little bit of a past here, as he was a 30-homer hitter earlier in his career. Of course, the passage of time and his move out of Texas have made those days irrelevant. With that being said, he hit 17 just two seasons ago. Kipnis, on the other hand, is coming off back-to-back single-digit home-run seasons, making his 17-tater 2013 seem like it was eons ago. His home-park advantage is a small point in his favor, and he is certainly young enough where it’s not too hard to see him getting back to his 2012-2013 talent level. However, Kinsler has more of a track record and has shown more recently, giving him a slight edge.

Advantage: Kinsler slightly

RBI

Kinsler owned this category last year, knocking in 73 runs to Kipnis’ 52. As I alluded to above, the power is similar between these two, as both hit doubles in bunches as well. Lineup position certainly favors Kipnis here, as he’s projected to hit in the middle of Cleveland’s order while Kinsler will be atop Detroit’s. However, the Indians don’t have great table-setters in front of Kipnis; he’ll have Francisco Lindor and not much else. Even hitting at the top of the lineup, Kinsler should benefit from being a part of the Tigers’ deep nine. Neither will be near the top of the leaderboard here, but Kinsler is in a better overall lineup and has the slightly preferable power profile.

Advantage: Kinsler

Runs

This one was a bit closer last year, with Kinsler scoring 94 runs to Kipnis’ 86. Obviously, the latter has a clear OBP advantage, which is very important here. He also has a potentially good stable of hitters behind him in Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana, and Yan Gomes, but he’ll be relying on bounce-backs from each. Kinsler, on the other hand, is on top of a lineup that is stacked with power bats. Even with the lower OBP, the fact that he hits in front of Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, and J.D. Martinez, as well as question marks in Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos, gives him the edge.

Advantage: Kinsler

Stolen Bases

While the last two weeks have been positions in which stolen bases are not a priority, second base bucks that trend. Unfortunately, neither of these guys is a major producer in this category. With that being said, they can be solid contributors, as both swiped double-digit bags in 2015. In fact, Kinsler has a couple of 30-plus-steal seasons in his career, though those came five and seven years ago. He’s settled into a 10-15 steal profile, with an annual dropoff eroding that total. Kipnis, meanwhile, has two 30-steal seasons in the last four years, with another 20-steal year coming before the 12 he put up last year. Kipnis has stolen more bases recently, and Kinsler’s trajectory suggests he could finish in single digits this year. The former gets a relatively easy win here.

Advantage: Kipnis

Injury Risk

One of the major appeals for both of these players is their durability. Although both have hit the disabled list here and there in their careers, they’ve avoided major and recurring injuries. Kinsler, for example, has played in at least 150 games in four of the last five seasons. Kipnis, on the other hand, has done so just once in his career. He does have the age advantage over Detroit’s second baseman, which makes this a little closer, but it’s not enough to edge out Kinsler’s recent track record of reliable durability.

Advantage: Kinsler slightly

Playing Time

To be clear, both of these players are everyday guys and key cogs for teams that are expecting to compete in 2016. It’s hard to see either getting benched on even a semi-regular basis. With that being said, Kipnis’ platoon splits come into play here. Last season, he put up a True Average of just .249 against southpaws compared to his .314 mark against righties. He won’t sit every time a lefty appears on the mound, but he’ll certainly get more days off in these situations. Kinsler is entering his age-33 season, so he may get some days off to keep him fresh, but that speculation isn’t enough to outweigh Kipnis’ very real platoon concerns.

Advantage: Kinsler

Ceiling

Overall, this matchup appears to be one of dependability vs. potential. Kinsler represents the former, as he is what he is for the most part. He’s going to give you a solid AVG, 10-20 home runs, and 10-15 stolen bases. When you combine that with the great lineup he plays in, you have a really solid piece. Unfortunately, it’s not one with the potential for a whole lot more. Kipnis, on the other hand, has a much wider range of possibilities. There is certainly some downside—which we saw in 2014—but we’re talking about the upside here, and there is a ton of that, too. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could come close to combining his 2013 and 2015 seasons. If he does that, he’d be a second baseman with a .300 AVG, 15-20 home runs, and 20-plus steals. The contextual stats don’t have a huge ceiling, but even with that profile he’s close to an elite fantasy keystoner.

Advantage: Kipnis

Overall

Not only are these two players close in our rankings, but NFBC’s ADP data has them separated by just 10 picks. That means if you’re looking to fill this position around 100 picks into a draft, you’re choosing between these two. Kinsler won this matchup 6-3, but it was closer than that indicates, as three of his wins came with the “slightly” qualifier. It’s certainly possible to make an argument for Kipnis based mostly on his ceiling. With that being said, Kinsler still projects to win more categories, with a nod to the lineup around him. That’s enough to give him the overall win.

And the winner is Ian Kinsler

Matt Collins is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matt's other articles. You can contact Matt by clicking here

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Second Base

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Rubbing Mud: The Stren... (01/25)
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