Saturday, November 23, 2013

Projecting Fielder, Kinsler

Can Kinsler and Fielder reverse two straight years of decline?
Since Prince Fielder and Ian Kinsler were swapped on Wednesday, I've been thinking a lot about how they're going to fare in their new homes. That's what I do for fun when baseball season is months away and top fantasy commodities get traded for each other.

I have to admit, it's salivating to imagine what a slugger like Fielder will be able to do with 81 home games in Texas. My first thoughts were that a return to his 35-40 homer, 120 RBI glory days might be in order. Just like Adrian Beltre left skid marks (and a big contract) behind in Seattle, Fielder was going to ditch Detroit and re-find his power stroke in Arlington's hitter heaven.  He's going to be a beast again!

That's not outside the realm of possibility but, after digging through the numbers, I no longer think it's going to be the case. Fielder's power numbers dropped sharply in the first two seasons of his giant contract, seasons in which he was 27 and 28 when the season began. It's easy to blame  Comerica Park's spacious dimensions for the decline, but in each of his two seasons with the Tigers he hit only 12 home runs on the road. Plus he's probably not going to get as much of an edge (power-wise, that is) from trading home parks as one might expect now that he has so many more road games in the offense-suppressing stadiums of the AL West.

Then again, he's still only 29. I like his chances of a bounce-back to at least his 2012 levels with the potential to reach the heights from his Milwaukee days. I'd be perfectly fine with reaching a bit for him, but first base is so deep that I won't get bent out of shape if someone else is willing to reach a little bit farther.

Here's what I think Fielder's numbers will look like next year (very Ryan Howard-esque):

Fielder's 2014: 92 runs, 33 home runs, 112 RBI, 1 steal, .295/.383/.537

Kinsler's a bit tougher to project. He's going to be 32 next season, and his numbers have dropped off dramatically since his monster 2011. His runs, walks, homers, stolen bases, slugging percentage, and ISO are all trending downward. He pops up an awful lot and doesn't run as well as he used to. To make matters worse, he owed much of his success to the Rangers home park, where he was a career .304/.387/.511 hitter. Everywhere else, though, he's been subpar, as his .242/.312/.399 shows. Going to a much softer division with friendlier road parks should help, but whatever boost he sees there will likely be negated by leaving Arlington behind. All signs point to continued decline.

But while I'm skeptical about Kinsler's chances for a bounce-back, I will readily admit that maybe we're being too harsh on Kinsler. He's not the elite player he used to be, but he's still a good player. 31 isn't terribly old, either. As Dave Cameron pointed out on FanGraphs, everyone wrote off Shane Victorino under similar circumstances last year and it turned out talk of his decline was premature. The same has happened to Carlos Beltran, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Lance Berkman, and countless other players in recent memory.

Therefore, it seems unwise to predict nothing but gloom and doom for Kinsler. He's going to be hitting near the top of a loaded lineup, probably behind Austin Jackson but in front of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. If he can stay healthy, which is never a given with Kinsler, he should be able to provide fantasy owners with pretty useful numbers, especially in the underrated runs scored category.

Kinsler's 2014: 96 runs, 16 home runs, 72 RBI, 12 steals, .268/.331/.402

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