Jose Iglesias has been a revelation since coming over from the Red Sox in the Garcia/Villarreal trade earlier this summer. In fact, he has been impressive all year. The Cuban youngster has been raking to the tune of a .323/.367/.401 line this season while providing elite, highlight-reel defense at the shortstop position. The defense was expected - the kid is amazing with the glove - but what Iglesias has done at the plate flies in the face of what most scouts expected from him coming into the season. We know that Iglesias is the real deal in the field, but can we expect his offensive production to continue as well? I think most BYBers recognize that he will probably not continue to hit .320+ for the rest of his career. But what exactly is his true talent level?
Iglesias is posting a .374 BABIP this year, which is certainly a high number but not absurd for a guy with his speed. We don't need to look far for proof that an elevated BABIP can be sustained; Austin Jackson has posted a .362 BABIP over his career. Joey Votto, Mike Trout, and Chris Johnson have each sustained a .360 or higher over a signifcant sample size as well. So while Igelsias may be getting a bit lucky, there's nothing to say that his BABIP is a complete fluke yet.
Other than a high BABIP, those four players have something interesting in common. Jackson and Trout both have some serious speed that helps them leg out a lot of infield hits - something that Iglesias shares - but Votto and Johnson aren't exactly burners. All four players happen to feature a LD% above 22%, which is very high. They can all be found in the top 25 LD% among active players, and Votto and Johnson (who don't feature blazing speed) are among the top five. In fact, nine out of the top 10 highest BABIPs among active players correspond with a LD% of at least 22%.
What we've learned: in order to sustain a BABIP above .350, a player needs to rip line drives in about 22% of his at-bats, and it helps if he is fast as hell. The good news is that Iglesias is pretty damn quick, the bad news is that his LD% is at just 18% for the season. This leads me to believe that the amount of luck involved is more than a smidgen, and he is due for some significant regression. But we already knew that - he's obviously not a .320 hitter - so how much regression should we expect?
Iglesias moved quickly through the minors after defecting from Cuba in 2010. He played 70 games between A and AA in that first year, and spent all of 2011 and much of 2012 in AAA Pawtucket. As such, we have a pretty good sample size of numbers from a competitive league. In those three years, Iglesias posted a slash line of .257/.307/.314. A .622 OPS in the minors is not exactly encouraging.
As a comparison, I took a look at a list of active players ranked by OPS. At .622 Iglesias would land neatly between Brendan Ryan and Chris Getz, two middle infielders who provide most of their value with their gloves. Two middle infielders who are fighting for playing time on third-place teams.
If we compare defense abilities - which is inherently subjective, bordering on insane - most would agree that Iglesias and Ryan are comparable, while Getz is a step below. So let's ignore Getz for now and say that Jose Iglesias, while in the minors, was basically Brendan Ryan.
Will Iglesias be able to improve over his minor league production at the plate? And even if he doesn't, is a Brendan Ryan clone a bad thing? As a worst-case scenario, I'd say no. Ryan has been able to produce about 2 fWAR per season, despite struggling to hit his way out of a wet paper bag. 2 WAR is certainly acceptable for a $2M shortstop, and the Tigers have Iglesias locked up for that price through 2015. If that is truly Jose's floor, he is set up for a very successful career.
But if you're expecting Brendan Ryan defense and Chirs Johnson offense, you are probably setting yourself up for massive disappointment. Iglesias is what he is; an elite defensive shortstop who will struggle to hit 20 extra base hits every year. He's also a pretty valuable player.