The Maturation of Ian Kinsler, Elite Player

ARLINGTON TX - OCTOBER 22: Ian Kinsler #5 of the Texas Rangers bats against the New York Yankees in Game Six of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 22 2010 in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ian Kinsler

I'm a huge Ian Kinsler fan. Let's get that out of the way first. I'm just a huge sucker for middle infielders, especially when they're capable of tossing out 30 homers and 30 steals in a single season. Kinsler's actually done that before, when he got 31 apiece back in 2009. So he's got a gold star in my book.

But I don't really want to talk about Kinsler's unique power-speed combination. Most people already know about those exploits. Rather, I'd like to talk about how Kinsler's seemingly improving in every other facet of the game. Sure, Kinsler is still giving us the speed and the power: his isolated power is sitting over .200 and he's on pace for 30 steals on the year. But more importantly, we're seeing a Kinsler that's making more contact, taking more pitches, and showing that his improved defense is here to stay. Put it all together, and frankly, Kinsler probably deserves to be in this year's AL MVP discussion.

When Kinsler busted onto the scene as a 23-year-old in 2006, his potential as a power-speed player was already quite evident. He posted 20-20 numbers in just his second year with the Rangers, with solid K/BB numbers to boot. But he was a poor defender at second base, he had a nasty habit for popping the ball up, and his walk numbers were all over the place during his first few years on the job.

But gradually, Kinsler showed improvements in the weakest facets of his game. There were numerous important things that young Kinsler needed to work out: namely, taking more pitches and striking out less without taking away from his powerful approach, and improving his consistency and footwork as a defender. These days, you'd never know that a young Kinsler had issues with these kinds of things.

Through Kinsler's first 420 plate appearances with Texas this season, he's walked 57 times compared to just 43 strikeouts; among all qualified MLB hitters, only Jose Bautista has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Kinsler so far this season. And the defense? Only Dustin Pedroia and Brandon Phillips have been better defenders at second base according to UZR.

Combine those kinds of skills with Kinsler's unique combination of power and speed, and you're not just talking about one of the best second baseman in the game; you're talking about one of baseball's elite players in general. Kinsler currently ranks 8th among all position players in fWAR despite having a .250 BABIP on the year; there isn't another player in the top-15 with a mark below .298, and only three of those 15 players have BABIP marks below .310 this season. You could reasonably argue that with a more appropriate BABIP, Kinsler is among the leading MVP candidates in the game this year.

When young players reach the majors, even the best ones like Mike Trout and Eric Hosmer, they usually have a few things to work on. Whether it's becoming more patient or learning how to turn raw power into in-game power, or something totally different, there really aren't many players that show up in the majors from day one with a full skill set. Sometimes, those guys simply don't make the adjustments, like Jeff Francoeur or Delmon Young.

But sometimes, the adjustments just take a few years to take hold; Ian Kinsler was already one of the best second baseman in the game before turning the corner. Now that it appears that he's finally doing it? He looks an awful lot like a possible MVP to me.

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