Ah, our two favorite alphabetical second basemen: Ian Kinsler and Jason Kipnis. In 2016 both matched and exceeded, respectively, their home run totals from the previous two years en route to each of their second-most valuable seasons in their careers. Both are five-category hitters, albeit modestly, and they project to put up similar batting lines in 2017. They're a comparison worth picking through with a fine-toothed comb.
Given the two are such similar players, I wanted to lead with the issue of playing time volume. Neither is particularly exemplary nor problematic in regard to health, but Kinsler has averaged roughly seven more games per year the last half decade. He also routinely bats first while Kipnis bats second. The playing time difference is marginal but important in such close comparisons; the additional plate appearances account for additional counting stats. Advantage: Kinsler
Ignoring his injury-hampered 2014 season, Kipnis has hit for an above-average BABIP, spraying line drives to all fields as his modus operandi. Kinsler, not so much; his tendencies to pop up and pull the ball eat into his effectiveness on balls in play. Kinsler holds the edge, however, in plate discipline, striking out less often than his contemporary by several percentage points. Perhaps by no coincidence, both experienced spikes in their strikeout rate as their power kept pace with the league-wide surge. (We'll get to this in a second.) Kipnis' was fueled by chasing more pitches outside the zone; Kinsler's, fueled by a sizable dip in contact. What you make of their plate discipline trends depends on what you make of the legitimacy of their power outbursts in 2016. Assuming both sustain or regress, Kinsler's superior contact skills and batting eye hold an edge despite inferior batted-ball skills. Advantage: Kinsler
As aforementioned, Kinsler's contact nosedived in 2016. Maybe it's not such a bad thing; his excellent contact skills afforded him some wiggle room when substituting contact quantity for contact quality. He produced the most hard contact of his career, coinciding with a career-best pop-up rate, and hit the fewest ground balls in any season since 2009. So, too, did Kipnis, however, with exception to his own career-worst pop-up rate that still ranked better than Kipnis' did. Both are likely to regress—each seemed sapped of power the last couple of years—but Kinsler has always held a slight edge in this regard, in terms of peripherals and outcomes. Advantage: Kinsler
Runs + RBI
The Tigers don't project to be particularly good, but hitting ahead of Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez has its benefits. Kipnis' teammates are no slouches, though; any variety of Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, and a healthy Michael Brantley will produce comparably to the fearsome heart of Detroit's order. Kipnis is a mortal lock for 100 runs for the first time in his career — impressive, yes, until you consider Kinsler has achieved the feat six times in the last decade. Kinsler historically has held a slight edge, but it can't reasonably be considered an edge any longer given how talented Cleveland's lineup is and Kipnis' preferable spot in the batting order. To me, it comes out as a wash, but if you're looking for particulars, I'd give the former to Kinsler and the latter to Kipnis. Advantage: Draw
The days of stealing 30 or even 20 bases in a season seem to be far behind Kinsler and Kipnis at this point. Both have managed to beat the aging curve, floating in the 10- to 15-steal range the past couple of years. At least Kinsler is showing signs of life: he made 20 attempts for the first time in three years. Kipnis' frequency of attempts, however, declined for a fifth straight year and gives us no reason to believe a reversal is in order. For that reason, coupled with marginally deficient durability, I must give the ever-so-slight advantage to Kinsler. Advantage: Kinsler
Kinsler has been a fantasy stalwart his entire career, even as he staves off decline. Kipnis' down year in 2014 amid a shorter string of successful seasons casts more doubt on his productive capabilities, and the idea of him falling into the single digits in stolen bases further muddies the waters. Advantage: Kinsler
Honestly, when I set out to write this, I thought this could be closer. In fact, if you asked me to pick Kipnis or Kinsler without thinking, I probably would've blurted out the name of the former. This reevaluation has proven fruitful for me, so I hope it has done the same for you. Even Kipnis' relative value, given his 20-slot discount per NFBC ADP data, isn't enough for me to reconsider. The discount does make things incredibly close, though, and I wouldn't fault anyone for preferring Kipnis because of it. In a vacuum, though, Kinsler prevails.
And the winner is… Ian Kinsler.