Ian Kinsler talking baseball: Trust your eyes over stats

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Ian Kinsler: "Do defensive stats measure how fast a baserunner is? Do they measure the time in the game? Does it measure how many guys are on base and how fast those guys are? Do they measure game situations?"

Lakeland, Fla. – Talking baseball with a bedrock professional like Ian Kinsler is a joy. It is also edifying.

"What is hitting?" he said as he prepared for his daily work Monday morning. "What is hitting? Seriously. I don't know. There are so many different ways to judge it."

Obviously, a guy who has 5,517 Major League plate appearances and amassed 1,333 hits knows what the base concept of hitting is. He was trying to go a little deeper than that.

"There's OPS," he said. "There's WAR. There's all these different statistics, but isn't it about scoring runs? Runs batted in, runs scored and runs saved – if you save runs and you score runs, as a team, then you win the game."

The point being, there are more factors that go into being productive than just cold mathematics. And Kinsler wanted to relate the point to one of the often-reported "question marks" about the 2015 Tigers – can Anthony Gose hit enough to be the regular center field.

"So if you are hitting .230 like everybody wants to say about Gose," Kinsler said. "Gose this, Gose that, can he hit? Well, if he scores runs, what does it matter? If he's getting on base and scoring every time he gets on base – so be it. He's causing problems for the other team. We have a lot of that."

Despite the low batting average, Gose has scored 71 runs, stolen 34 bases and knocked in 36 runs in parts of three seasons with the Blue Jays.

"You put a bunch of that in our lineup and someone is going to get you, eventually on a day in and day out basis," Kinsler said. "We have a so many weapons. It's not just about one guy. It's a team game."

In Gose's case, even the runs scored and stolen base numbers aren't a full measure of his disruption. There are no statistics to measure the pressure his speed puts on the defense, as has been in evidence this spring.

"Stats don't lie, but you can pull anything from them," Kinsler said. "Do defensive stats measure how fast a baserunner is? Do they measure the time in the game? Does it measure how many guys are on base and how fast those guys are? Do they measure game situations?"

All of those things change the dynamic of a given play and impact its degree of difficulty.

"Do I have to make the double play right now to save the game?" Kinsler said. "If I don't make the double play, this guy scores and they get a lead in the eighth inning. So I am going to try and make this play and maybe I throw it into the stands (because he has to rush).

"All of a sudden I have an error because I'm trying to make a play to win the game."

Another example, one that Kinsler has no doubt experienced more than once:

"There's a ball hit up the middle and there are two outs and a guy on third," he said. "If I don't make the play, that run scores. So I reach and jump and throw across my body and the ball hits off Miggy's glove -- I get an error.

"Do they measure what I am trying to do or how fast that runner was? I mean, what are my opportunities to even make that play?"

Even though defensive statistics have evolved to the point where they measure range and degree of difficulty at least to some extent, there is no category for making or attempting hero plays.

All in all, though, for Kinsler it's an insufficient way to read the game, and not a particularly enjoyable way to watch it.

"There are so many things in baseball that come down to the situation of the game that stats can't measure," he said. "And that is the beauty of the game. It's the eye test. You can look at numbers all day sitting in an office.

"But at the end of the day, it's instincts."

Just baseball-playing humans trying to make plays.

Twitter@cmccosky