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It's Early, But Rangers' Kiner-Falefa On Right Track Toward Gold Glove History

Texas Rangers shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa is out to make history, and is off to a brilliant start this season.

Texas Rangers shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa has made it his goal to be the first person in the history of Major League Baseball to win a Gold Glove at third base and shortstop. He's also eyeing a Platinum Glove.

Those are some lofty goals. But they are not unattainable.

For perspective, the Rangers have played only 11 games this year, which is less than seven percent of their 162-game schedule. That would be the equivalent of the Dallas Cowboys coming off the field after their first series of the second game of the upcoming 17-game season.

This story doesn't have finalities, predictions or hot takes that state Kiner-Falefa should be handed the American League's Gold Glove award after 11 measly games. There are 151 games remaining in the 2021 season. I'll wait until All Star voting is finalized before I start throwing darts with my season award predictions.

If you only pay attention to the Rangers, you might not have thought twice about Kiner-Falefa's ability at shortstop. After all, the Rangers were willingly proactive to sever ties with one of the all-time fan-favorites in franchise history and 12-year incumbent Elvis Andrus to allow Kiner-Falefa to uncontestedly fill the role. Oh, and he did just win a Gold Glove at third base. 

At worst, your guess might have been he's a very talented infielder that's stepping into a big role and bigger challenge. At best, Kiner-Falefa could make a serious run at Gold Glove history.

Outside of the Rangers world, Kiner-Falefa isn't viewed the same. To be fair, it's difficult to know the ins and outs of every single player on every 40-man roster on 30 big league teams, not to mention all the top prospects and non-roster invitees. Trying to study more 1,200 players beyond their Baseball Reference or FanGraphs profile is a daunting task. (That's why local coverage like InsideTheRangers.com is so valuable).

A small glimpse of a national view of Kiner-Falefa was thrust into our attention when a FanGraphs blogger ranked Kiner-Falefa and the Rangers dead last among shortstops under the premise that he was "a catcher trying to play shortstop." Kiner-Falefa fired back at the article on Twitter and with the local media.

When the season began, I made it a personal goal to really watch Kiner-Falefa at shortstop. When it comes to the eye test, the Hawaiian native passes with flying colors. I wasn't surprised to see it's clear that he's a natural shortstop. He also looks far more comfortable than he did at the hot corner, and is playing with a much higher level of confidence.

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But you can't win awards in the big leagues today without passing the analytics test. Baseball isn't exclusively judged by the eye anymore. It's mainly about the numbers. So far, Kiner-Falefa fills that checkbox as well.

As of the time of writing, Kiner-Falefa is tied for second in all of baseball in Defensive Runs Saved (4) and Defensive bWAR (0.5), which are two of the most used numbers when analyzing defensive play.

Now, Kiner-Falefa will have his skeptics. If things stood as of right now, Kansas City's Michael A. Taylor would likely win the AL Gold Glove in center field and AL Platinum Glove. That is nothing against Taylor. Texas got to see his talent up close in the opening series, where he threw out two Rangers at home plate in the first game of the season. But very few, if any people would have put Taylor as the favorite to win either award. 

To emphasize, 11 games is too small of a sample size to break out the chisel and carve Kiner-Falefa's name into stone as the AL's Gold Glove winner at shortstop. There's a long, long way to go, but he's definitely on the right track. And there is no denying his ability.


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Chris Halicke covers the Texas Rangers for SI's InsideTheRangers.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisHalicke.
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