Thursday, June 3, 2021

The best player in baseball that you've never heard of

 I know that title sounds a lot like click-bait, but this time it's actually true. If you have heard of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, it was probably in the context of his ungainly name, or maybe from me talking about him on my blog. Playing for the Rangers is definitely not the best way to make a name for yourself. The primary reason for his relative obscurity is probably that most of his value lies in his glove work. It was not until Isiah's fifth minor league season that he hit his first pro home run. In his first two seasons with the Rangers, his batting averages of .261 and .238 were certainly not impressive, especially combined with his lack of power. Another problem was that over his first two seasons, he played all over. And I mean all over. Over his first two seasons he played as much at catcher as anywhere else.

A Ranger? Seriously?

In 2020, though, Isiah finally settled down offensively as he stopped playing catcher, and was able to focus on 3rd base and short stop. In 2020 he hit .280 with 8 stolen bases -- not very impressive numbers, but he starred in the field, with 10 defensive runs saved according to Baseball Reference, winning the Gold Glove at 3rd. 

This year, playing at short stop, Isiah is having his best season yet. He is hitting .283, with 10 stolen bases and just one caught stealing. His fielding is just as good as last year, with 8 defensive runs saved and a .980 fielding percentage at short stop. 

The hobby and the baseball world still haven't woken up to Kiner-Falefa's performance. Except for guys like Ozzie Smith, glove men are always underappreciated, and he is nothing if not a glove man. On COMC, you can find plenty of his cards, including parallels and rookie cards, for under a dollar. 

I decided to take my own advice, and get some of his cards on COMC. Though I generally focus on vintage, Isiah Kiner-Falefa is one of my favorites, and it's also nice to change things up a little occasionally. 

2019 Topps Gold, /2019, $.39

2019 Topps Black, /67, $1.75

2019 Topps Chrome Sapphire, $1.27

2019 Topps Allen & Ginter Hot Box, $.60

It's quite possible that Isiah Kiner-Falefa will stay under-appreciated his whole career, or that his fielding will cool off and he will go back to being average. But I'm not getting his cards for the investment (investing on a gloveman is a bad idea); I'm getting them because he's my second-favorite current player. And if his cards do heat up, I'd be kicking myself if I hadn't gotten any. Who knows, maybe I'll become an Isiah Kiner-Falefa super-collector (not sure yet if I'm joking).