Texas Rangers: Isiah Kiner-Falefa Emerging as a Defensive Star

The 2020 season hasn’t been one to talk about much for the Texas Rangers. That is unless you like to discuss negative issues. One of the few positives to take away, though, is the emergence of Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa is an infielder by trade but when he was brought up in 2018 the Texas Rangers decided to convert him to catcher. He did play 35 games behind the plate but injuries to Adrian Beltre and Rougned Odor also saw him play second (20 games) and third (46 games). He even saw action at shortstop for two games.

This season was supposed to begin with Kiner-Falefa relegated to a bench role. Todd Frazier had been signed in the offseason to be the team’s third baseman and Odor and Elvis Andrus were the starters at second and short. However, IKF’s bat in Spring Training (parts one and two) impressed and earned him a starting gig at third base with new signing Frazier sliding over to first base.

It was then that people started paying more attention to his defense. He was making some Beltre-esque plays at the hot corner and he was hitting the ball regularly as well which meant that he was going nowhere. When Elvis went down with an injury Kiner-Falefa moved to short and his defense was even more spectacular. So just how good has he been?

When it comes to defense the best stat to evaluate a player in my opinion is UZR/150. UZR or Ultimate Zone Rating measures a player’s defensive abilty taking into account errors, range , ballpark factors, etc. UZR/150 basically tells their average over a 150-game span. If a player has a UZR/150 of zero then he is average. Any negative number is below average and a positive number is above average.

What is surprising is that Isiah’s UZR/150 at third base is -5.2 so far this season which is below average and also evident by a weak .941 fielding percentage. This is also over 200.1 innings for the Texas Rangers When he filled in for Beltre in 2018 he had a 10.4 UZR/150 in 347 innings and a .960 fielding percentage.

He’s really shined at shortstop this season posting a 5.3 UZR/150 and a flawless 1.000 fielding percentage in 104 innings. Elvis Andrus’ UZR/150 is -5.8 this season in twice as many innings. With Andrus, along with Odor, now benched it appears that Kiner-Falefa is going to see more games at short, splitting time there with Anderson Tejeda.

This is still a shortened season but after 30 games and more than 300 innings it’s no longer viable to say “small sample size”. Based on his past performances along with this season he looks to be a future gold glove winner and, if he keeps it up at the plate, he may even win a silver slugger award or two.