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Ian Kinsler has become a great defender

9/8/2011

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Ian Kinsler's defense is so good these days that when the second baseman makes a mistake, it comes as a shock.

In Wednesday's loss to Tampa Bay, Kinsler charged a ball and made a nice play to glove it. But his throw to first was off-balance and rolled toward the Rays dugout, allowing an unearned run to score. Manager Ron Washington wasn't upset his second baseman threw the ball.

"He had a chance to get him, he just didn't quite do it," Washington said.

That's clearly the exception and not the rule. Kinsler has been tremendous at second base this season. He has the arm to throw out runners from a variety of spots, including behind the bag. He turns a double play better than most second baseman in the league and the routine plays, ones that used to give him some trouble earlier in his career, have become, well, routine.

"I try to improve my range and my ability to make plays at different angles," Kinsler said. "A lot of it is just experience and getting comfortable playing second base. You continue to try to grow and get better."

You can measure Kinsler's defense in many ways beyond just errors and fielding percentage. He has 12 defensive runs saved, third-most by any second baseman in the majors and the second-most on the team behind Adrian Beltre (15). To put in perspective how improved that is from last year, Kinsler had 8 defensive runs saved in 2010.

In Ultimate Zone Rating (or UZR), Kinsler has the fourth-best mark of any big league second baseman. BTW, for an explanation of all that's involved in UZR, click here (courtesy of our friends at FanGraphs).

But the best way to see how Kinsler is doing is just watch him. Watch how he sprints to second base, receives a throw, quickly transfers it into his hands and makes a throw to first for a double play. His manager believes no one in the game does it better. And his coaches marvel at his athleticism around the bag.

"He’s very quick on double plays," infield coach Dave Anderson said. "Some guys are quick because they have to make up for lack of arm strength. He is quick and has the arm strength."

Kinsler said it's matter of getting to the bag in time and getting the ball out of his glove quickly.

"And you have to protect yourself, but you can’t be scared to take a hit," Kinsler said. "You have to be able to stand in there and take a hit and make the throw."

Washington and Anderson said Kinsler does a better job of positioning, putting himself in the proper spots to make more plays. And when he gets to a ball, it's usually an out.

"He’s had a chance to play the same position for a while and is talented and athletic and you can see how great he is defensively," Michael Young said. "He works at it and he'll only get better."