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Fantasy Implications - Ian Kinsler to Angels

The 2017 season was a disappointing one for veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler, who slumped to a career-low .236 batting average for the Tigers over 139 games. A casualty of the offseason sell-off in Detroit, Kinsler will head west for the 2018 season to join an Angels team that was in dire need of an upgrade at second base.

Kinsler will fill that void for the Angels, and will likely slot into a leadoff role for a team that scored a meager 710 runs in 2017, the 22nd-ranked run-scoring offense in all of baseball last year. But despite a down season in 2017 and a move to an offense that ranked lower than Detroit's last year, there is reason to believe that Kinsler can bounce back in 2018.

Let's take a look at this veteran two-bagger to see if he can provide enough value to make your fantasy squad a winner in 2018.

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You Mean There's a Chance?

One reason for optimism comes from the fact that Kinsler is joining a more potent offense. But wait, you're thinking. Didn't you just say the Angels ranked lower than the Tigers last year? I did, but let me explain. Last season, Detroit's most prolific run-producer was none other than Justin Upton, who was traded at the deadline last year to... the Angels. That means the majority of his season totals (35 HR, 109 RBI) did not factor in to the Angels' year-end numbers. Not only that, but the perennially-durable Mike Trout appeared in just 114 games for LA last year, after playing in no fewer than 157 since 2013. Those two factors alone mean that this is an Angels team that, if all goes well, will pack more punch than it did last season.

If Kinsler leads off, that means he will hit in front of three players (Trout, Upton, and Albert Pujols) with 100 RBI potential. Both Upton and Pujols topped 100 RBI in 2017, and Trout, who notched 72 in his injury-plagued season, has tallied that many twice in his career. All of that means that if Kinsler can get on base, he's going to score lots of runs.

Aside from the change of scenery, a deep dive into Kinsler's peripheral numbers from last year suggest that it may have been a bit of an anomaly, which means he should progress back toward his career averages in 2018. First off, Kinsler managed just a .244 BABIP last year, his lowest since 2011. That number is striking because he posted a career-high 37% hard-contact rate and a ground-ball rate that was about 2% lower than his career average. A guy who hits the ball hard more than ever, without any drastic change in ground balls, should generally figure to reap the benefit of at least league-average BABIP, but that wasn't the case for Kinsler. Even if that number climbs back toward his career average of .286 it will help Kinsler's overall numbers quite a bit.

Kinsler's strikeouts were up a bit over his career average last season (14% against 12.4 lifetime), but were actually lower than his 2016 rates. Additionally, Kinsler walked at a 9% clip, his highest since 2011 and a slight increase over his lifetime totals. The main issue for Kinsler last year was that he hit a crazy number of infield fly balls, posting a 14.4% IFFB rate on the season. There is no secondary reason to believe that will be the new norm for Kinsler, so once again a progression back toward a more normal rate seems in order.

The bad news is that even if Kinsler does bounce back, it doesn't necessarily project out to massive fantasy value. But while his days as a top-tier second baseman are long gone, it doesn't mean he can't still contribute in some leagues. Kinsler is a top-20 second baseman with a decent power-speed combo. With improved personal production in 2018 and the benefits of hitting atop a potent offense, he can provide positional depth in deep leagues with additional middle infielders, or in AL only leagues. If that sounds like your league, then you should consider targeting Kinsler in the middle-to-late rounds. If it doesn't, then he's probably a player to steer clear of for 2018.


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