DETROIT -- While the Tigers took batting practice on Friday afternoon before their series opener against the Rays, Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler took part in their usual middle-infield routine, which centers on the unusual double plays they turn. One after another, Iglesias flipped and tossed the ball to a waiting Kinsler, focusing on getting the ball where the second baseman can best make a grab and turn a relay throw.
As a double-play duo, Kinsler and Iglesias have assembled a highlight reel of plays over the past season-plus. As a shortstop, Iglesias has his own resume of unbelievable grabs and throws. This appears to be the season he has the advanced metrics to back up his prowess.
A quarter of the way through the season, Iglesias has a higher Ultimate Zone Rating (2.4) than he did in three-quarters of a season last year (2.3), according to Fangraphs.
The uptick is not because of his highlight-worthy plays. It's the routine plays making Iglesias' numbers better -- or, as manager Brad Ausmus called them in Spring Training, the "meat and potatoes" of defense.
"He's definitely fundamentally gotten a lot better," Kinsler said.
According to Inside Edge scouting info, Iglesias' conversion percentage on "routine" plays -- those with a 90-plus percent likelihood of being made -- is up from 98.3 percent last year to 98.9 percent so far this season.
Some of that has to do with consistency in mechanics, repeating a release point on throws and throwing to a spot. The rest is positioning.
Kinsler said he and Iglesias talked about metrics in Spring Training, which morphed into a discussion about how range is viewed and calculated.
"Positioning is huge," Kinsler said. "If you are able to position yourself a couple of feet to the left or to the right and you are able to get to that ball and make that play, now all of a sudden the metrics think you're great. You have to be able to position yourself on the field, and then also to turn a double play into a double play. Metrics-wise, it's going to help you."
A lot of the positioning work comes from infield coach Omar Vizquel and defensive coordinator Matt Martin, with help from Ausmus. Beyond the scouting reports on opponents, moving Iglesias toward the hole or up the middle, they've had Iglesias playing deeper in the infield to buy him an extra split-second.
"He used to have a habit, as he came set, coming in a little shallower," Ausmus said of Iglesias. "He's done a better job of staying a little deeper and giving himself a little more range laterally."
Some of that also goes to Iglesias.
"For me, if you have a really good range, and you're able to position yourself properly for the hitter and the pitcher, whatever the matchup is, you're going to make a lot of plays," Kinsler said. "Your bubble for range gets a lot bigger. He's definitely learning. The thing about him is that he doesn't miss a ball right at him. He doesn't miss a ball that he can get his glove on. More times than not, it's going to go in his glove."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.