Baseball has always been woefully lacking in defensive statistics, and so it's been very hard to compare players this way. How can you accurately measure range? The ability to do this is improving with sabermetrics; there's a statistic called Ultimate Zone Rating that measures a defensive player's ability against the league average (for an explanation, go here). But it is wildly complex and has little chance of becoming a mainstream statistic, certainly not anything like batting average or earned run average.
Because judging defensive ability is hard to do, that part of the game has traditionally been overlooked, or underrated. But that's changing. In recent years, teams have begun to stress defense even more. The Rangers made a strong push to improve their defense by moving in one of the best third basemen in the game (Adrian Beltre), to replace a guy considered a below-average third baseman (Michael Young).
On the Texas Rangers website, a few of the players talked about the improved defense:
As a pitcher it gives you a lot of confidence, said CJ Wilson, because you know he's just so phenomenal on the third base line. If I throw anything slow to a righty or inside to a righty, they're going to pull it to Elvis or Adrian, and I'm like 'That's an out.' That's the way I'm going to feel.
Newcomer Mike Napoli, who will fill in at first base and catcher on occasion, said It's amazing. He (Beltre) is one of the best over there. But that goes for our whole infield. We have one of the best infields in baseball, and if pitchers get them ground balls, it's going to be outs.
Kinsler has a reputation of being a little bit sloppy at second base, but he does have tremendous range, which is very important at his position. Our defense is pretty solid all the way around, said Kinsler. From behind the plate, we have three catchers basically on the roster, and our infield is pretty solid all the way around. Our outfield is still going to be the same from last year which was terrific. So defensively, we're going to be able to help our pitchers out a lot, and I think that's going to be our strong suit.
When Cliff Lee signed his deal with Philadelphia, the Rangers needed to find another way to prevent opponents from scoring runs. Improving the defense is one way to do it.