Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will wrap up their season in a sentence, look at the positives of their 2018, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2019. Today, we discuss Ian Kinsler.
The Season in a Sentence
Ian Kinsler was ultimately a disappointment after coming to the Red Sox in a mid-season trade, but he brought some now-underrated stability to second base at least.
Although it was mostly disappointing for Kinsler in a Red Sox uniform, you can’t fairly call the entire three-month tenure a failure. For one thing, his defense was a real asset for this Red Sox team. Obviously, the one bit of defense most of us remember for him was the error in Game Three of the World Series — and we’ll get to that — but he was more good than bad. Remember, he won the Gold Glove this year, which means something even if A) Gold Gloves are not a perfect measure of defense and B) that was more from his time with the Angels. His defense was clearly above-average with the Red Sox, and that was even more evident for most of us who had been yearning for some defensive stability at the position all year. Brock Holt was fine, but both not great and not really an everyday guy. Eduardo Núñez also got a ton of playing time there and, well, I don’t want to re-live that experience. Kinsler’s mere presence at the keystone position was a positive for the Red Sox.
Beyond that, you have to search a little bit. His contact rate was a positive in some ways, at least. Obviously, we are in an era in which pitchers are as talented as ever and batters are changing their swings, leading to all-time record strikeout rates all across the league. It’s becoming rarer and rarer to have guys who almost always put the ball in play, but Kinsler is one of them. He could have been better in this area, but in the regular season he still struck out less than 17 percent of the time with the Red Sox. The league-average was over 22 percent in 2018. Kinsler also hit more line drives and used the whole field more in Boston than he did in Los Angeles, leading to some stabilization of his batting average on balls in play. The BABIP was a major issue for him in L.A.
The lasting images of Kinsler from the postseason are mostly negative, and he might be the only player on this Red Sox roster for whom you can say that. That being said, he was actually pretty good in the ALDS against the Yankees. While many (myself included) didn’t want him starting much in that series, he did perform pretty well with at least one hit in each game. The only game he didn’t start was Game Three — Brock Holt’s Cycle Game — but he did come in later and reached base in each of his two plate appearances. By the end of the four-game series he had hit .308/.357/.462. You can’t win the World Series if you don’t win the Division Series, and Kinsler was legitimately a big part of that.
There are many places where we could start this section, but to me the most logical starting point is with Kinsler’s power production. The veteran second baseman’s most intriguing quality, at least at the plate, has always been his somewhat surprising pop. Although he doesn’t walk a ton and his batting average isn’t quite as high as you’d like to see from someone with his low strikeout rates. Kinsler has been a good offensive second baseman, however, because he hits extra base hits and home runs. That didn’t happen in Boston. Obviously it was a small sample, but by the end of his two-month regular season stretch he had just six doubles and a single home run for an Isolated Power of .068. That was 98 points lower than his time with the Angels. Boston was clearly just fine without the production we were hoping for from Kinsler, but it still would have been fun to see.
Oddly enough, I’m also going to go back to the contact here, which was included in the positives as well. Broadly speaking, Kinsler is a good contact hitter and his contact skills were still above-average with Boston. Relative to his standards, however, they were disappointing. I mentioned the lack of strikeouts, but even his 16.8 percent strikeout rate was nearly a seven percentage point increase over his time with the Angels. Over a full season it would have been the second highest of his career, just a tenth of a percentage point behind his career high. The quality of contact also suffered. He did hit more line drives, but he also hit fewer fly balls (per Fangraphs — it should be noted that the line between fly balls and line drives can be arbitrary). That, along with the fact that his hard-hit rate (again, per Fangraphs) plummeted after the midseason trade, helps explain his extreme dropoff in power.
Finally, we have to talk about the latter portion of Kinsler’s run through the postseason. Although he was mostly good in the ALDS against the Yankees, things fell off quickly against both the Astros and the Dodgers in the ALCS and World Series, respectively. The veteran played in seven games during that stretch (starting five) and had just two games with hits. Overall, he had just two singles and a double without drawing a walk, finishing the postseason hitting just .143/.143/.190 over the final two rounds. He also had that huge error in Game Three of the World Series that cost the Red Sox that game and almost cost Nathan Eovaldi his arm. Fortunately, that didn’t end up being anything more than a footnote and Kinsler didn’t become an all-time Boston sports punchline, but it was still painful at the time.
The Big Question
The Year Ahead
Kinsler was acquired largely because of the fact that he was a free agent at the end of the year, and he’s now on the open market. It seems pretty clear that he’s not going to come back to the Red Sox, as they appear to be planning on Dustin Pedroia being ready for 2019. Even if he’s not, it doesn’t seem likely they’d look to Kinsler again to fill that role. As for what he’ll get, I’d assume he’s going to be on the lower-end of the free agent spectrum. He’s been trending down for a couple of years now, and he looked really bad at the end of last year, so it’s not impossible 2019 is the last year we see Kinsler in the majors wherever he ends up.