Texas Rangers' Kinsler working to quiet critics

Posted Friday, Mar. 09, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Texas Rangers' position player who divided the fan base more than any other last season was Ian Kinsler, and there wasn't a close second.

Too many pop-ups and too low of a batting average, cried fans in e-mails and on Twitter, especially as the leadoff hitter for a team trying to defend its American League championship.

But the fans who think Kinsler isn't good enough to be a leadoff man are like the people who think they're going to come back from Las Vegas as big winners.

They just don't know what they're talking about.

If Kinsler isn't the best leadoff hitter in the American League, he's in the top three. Only Jacoby Ellsbury had a better season from the top of a batting order in 2011, and the Boston center fielder was the runner-up in the MVP race.

Kinsler scored 121 runs and drove in 77. That's nearly 200 runs from the top spot in the order from a player who also walked a club-high 89 times, stole 30 bases, hit 32 homers and added 34 doubles.

But like his critics, Kinsler believes he can be better.

"The ultimate goal is to score runs and get on base for the hitters behind you," said Kinsler, who has one career .300 season and two 30-30 campaigns. "I think I can combine those two things. I've done it before. To maximize every at-bat is key."

That project started June 8, when Scott Coolbaugh came aboard as hitting coach with Kinsler's average at .235. The swing wasn't altered, but the focus became getting Kinsler in a better hitting position and trying to reduce the amount of body in his swing.

The average had climbed to .255 by the end of the season.

Too much body, said Coolbaugh, causes Kinsler to get under balls and pop them up. Kinsler is at his best when his swing is short and dominated by his hands.

The goal for Kinsler is to hit the ball harder, said Coolbaugh, and not necessarily farther.

"When he takes a swing it looks the same, but mechanically there are some small things that he does to allow him to have those things work," Coolbaugh said. "His hand-eye coordination is so good that if he allows himself to use his hands and eliminates the body from the swing, he stays out of the air."

Kinsler is going to make outs. That's the nature of the game. In his view, a pop-up is the same thing as rolling over to shortstop, and an 0-for-2 game with two pop-ups, two walks and two runs scored is a productive day if the Rangers win.

But don't suddenly expect Kinsler to start beating the ball into the ground and trying to use his speed to get on base. Don't expect his home run total to suddenly drop off.

His style has made him a two-time All-Star, and there's no sense in trying to alter course.

"That's not how I make an impact in the game," Kinsler said. "That pitcher understands what I'm trying to do. He understands that I'm trying to get on base, and that helps me in other aspects of the game."

The Rangers don't want him to change a thing. Manager Ron Washington said that Kinsler has the ideal traits for the leadoff spot -- an ability to hit for power, a keen knowledge of the strike zone, and peskiness on the base paths.

Rickey Henderson was the best. Washington didn't pronounce Kinsler as a Hall of Famer, like Henderson, but there are similarities between the players.

"He takes a walk, he can steal a bag and crosses the dish," Washington said. "That's a leadoff hitter to me. That's what Rickey Henderson was.

"He can get you one run with one swing of the bat. If you walk him, it turns into a triple. You can score a run that way, too. That's what they do, and to me Kinsler is one of those guys."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter:@JeffWilson_FWST

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