Ian Kinsler may not be a perennial .300 hitter, but he could very well be the Detroit Tigers‘ best leadoff option for the 2014 season. Kinsler has speed, double-digit home run pop, and plenty of experience batting leadoff on his resume. In 2,728 career at-bats in the leadoff spot, Kinsler has a solid .271 batting average, a .346 OBP, 109 home runs, 290 walks and 115 stolen bases.
Other players who could potentially bat leadoff for the Tigers include Rajai Davis, Andy Dirks, Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson. Jackson has been the Tigers’ leadoff man since his rookie season of 2010, but his place in the Tigers’ 2014 lineup has been left ambiguous.
In fairness to Jackson, it should be noted that his career batting average in the leadoff spot is actually slightly higher than Kinsler’s at .277, and his OBP is basically on par with Kinsler’s at .342. He also averages 112 runs scored per 162-game season to Kinsler’s 114.
Some proponents of the Wins Above Replacement statistic may also point out that Jackson had a higher WAR in 2013 at 3.1 than Kinsler did at 2.5, even though Kinsler had a slightly higher average and home run total.
Therefore, some may very well be questioning why Kinsler should dethrone Jackson and take over as the Tigers’ new leadoff man.
One reason is because Jackson has had an inconsistent, up-and-down career and the Tigers simply do not know what they are going to get from him in 2014. Since putting on a Tigers uniform, Jackson has had one good year followed by one bad year. He had a very solid rookie campaign in 2010 as he hit .293, but then hit just .249 in 2011. He came back with a vengeance in 2012 and hit .300, but then took another giant step back again in 2013. If the trend continues, it should mean that Jackson will have a good year in 2014, but only time will tell.
Over the years, Kinsler has been the more consistent player and the Tigers have a better idea of what they are going to get out of him in 2014. Jackson is a streaky hitter, and in order to start the season off on the right foot, the Tigers would be better off going with Kinsler in the leadoff spot.
Futhermore, Kinsler has better track record of stealing bases, and strikes out far less than Jackson does. Jackson struck out 129 times last season, while Kinsler only had 59 strikeouts. Moreover, Jackson averages 175 strikeouts per season, while Kinsler only averages 86 K’s per year. As a matter of fact, Kinsler has never once fanned 100 or more times in a single season and has only struck out as many as 90 times once.
Kinsler is much better at putting the ball in play, and could very easily see even more hits fall in next season while playing his home games in spacious Comerica Park.
Although it was a small sample size, Jackson performed very well in the final three games of the 2013 ALCS when he was dropped to the No. 8 spot as he went 6-for-9. If that is any indication of how he would hit if he batted lower in the lineup regularly, then most fans would most likely prefer to see him stay there.
Dirks should also be given consideration for the leadoff spot against right-handed pitching. Dirks batted .311 in 106 at-bats in the leadoff spot last year, and the fact that he hits better when he is in the top third of the lineup is finally drawing some attention.
However, placing Dirks in the two-hole would bring greater balance to the Tigers’ lineup, as Kinsler would be leading off, Miguel Cabrera would be batting third, and Victor Martinez would be cleaning up. Thus, the Tigers would have a righty, a lefty, another righty and a switch hitter to round out the top four spots of the lineup. Hunter, another right-handed bat, would be the logical candidate to place in the five-hole.
This would make it more difficult for opposing managers to match up their bullpens against the Tigers late in games. If an opposing manager were to bring in a left-handed pitcher to face Dirks, the most powerful right-handed bat in MLB in Cabrera would be looming in the on-deck circle.
For these reasons, Kinsler seems to be the most viable candidate to bat leadoff for the Tigers in 2014.