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Tigers' Jose Iglesias is (probably) for real

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After missing the entire 2014 season due to injury, Jose Iglesias blew away any and all expectations in 2015.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Show of hands: how many people expected Jose Iglesias to hit .300 with a near-.350 on-base percentage this season? Those of you with your hands raised are liars. After Iglesias missed the entire 2014 season due to bilateral stress fractures in his lower legs, expectations were cautiously optimistic at best. Many fans just wanted to see Iglesias last the entire season, even if it meant only playing four or five games per week.

He did that -- sort of. Iglesias only played in 120 games in 2015, but missed time due to other injuries unrelated to the one that shelved him for all of 2014. When he did see the field, Iglesias played his usual dazzling defense, though advanced metrics weigh heavily against some of the lackadaisical errors he made in the second half. He also surprised everyone by hitting .300/.347/.370 with 17 doubles and three home runs in 454 plate appearances, good enough for a 97 wRC+. This, plus 11 stolen bases in 15 attempts earned Iglesias 1.6 wins above replacement (1.6 WAR) for the year.

There's a good chance he could double that in 2016.

I'll admit it: when looking for data to fatten this article, I expected to write about why Jose Iglesias wasn't the player we saw in the early part of the season. He raced out to a .377 batting average in April, then maintained that average above the .330 mark through May. Cautious optimism turned to utter disbelief as we pointed out Iglesias' ridiculous contact rate on May 15. In fact, another week would go by before Iglesias tallied his 10th strikeout of the season.

To make a long story short, the fall eventually came. After hitting .314 with a .737 OPS in the first half, Iglesias hit a high water mark with a .777 OPS as late as July 25. From that date onward, he hit just .252/.295/.290. Surely this was the regression everyone expected, right? Not necessarily. Check out what Iglesias did at the plate prior to and after that July 25 date.

Dates PA BA OBP SLG wRC+ K% BB% BABIP Contact%
Apr 6 - July 25 314 .323 .370 .407 114 9.6% 5.7% .352 91.1%
July 25 - Sep 3 140 .252 .295 .290 59 10.0% 5.0% .282 89.4%

For such a drastic difference in offensive numbers, there's not a lot in Iglesias' peripherals that suggests he was a different player after July 25. The same goes for Iglesias' numbers post-All-Star break, after August 1, and from just about any other arbitrarily selected date in 2015. Iglesias didn't walk much, but an elite contact rate kept his strikeout rate down.

The only difference in Iglesias' underlying numbers is in his batted ball profile. Iglesias hit line drives 22.1 percent of the time through the first few months of the season, and hit nearly three times as many ground balls as fly balls. For a player that gets out of the box and down the first base line as quickly as he does, this is what you want. Iglesias enjoyed a robust 15.3 percent infield hit rate as a result, leading to a relatively sustainable .352 BABIP.

Down the stretch, Iglesias started hitting the ball in the air more often. His line drive rate dropped to 18.4 percent, and he only hit 1.74 ground balls for every fly ball. He popped the ball up over 20 percent of the time (up from 11.8 percent to begin the year) and made hard contact just 11.9 percent of the time. Pitchers started throwing lower -- the one area where he was susceptible to swinging and missing -- but that contact rate stayed consistent.

Like, man. Look at those numbers.

Jose Iglesias contact rate

It seems odd to get this far into an article about Jose Iglesias with only a cursory mention of his defense, but that's the beauty of his 2015 season. Iglesias made a few mental gaffes that tanked his defensive value -- both DRS and UZR dole out huge punishments for errors on routine plays -- but was still the same dazzling defender that wowed Tigers fans for a few months in 2013. Unlike certain other Tigers infielders, Iglesias doesn't need to improve his glovework or lateral quickness. For him, it's all about increased consistency and, above all, staying healthy.

Catherine's grade: B-

He made the AL All-Star team for the first time in his career. That said, the question still remains whether Iglesias is truly a .300-hitter. He tailed off greatly in the second half, had some injury bugs -- thankfully his shins weren't a concern, these were just fluky in nature -- and his defense showed lapses in judgement. Iglesias has a flair for the dramatic but often times that flair got him in trouble with silly errors. He ended the year in limbo when he suffered a freak right middle finger non-displaced fracture.

Expectations for 2016

Much like J.D. Martinez heading into 2015, we don't really know what we have in Iglesias heading into 2016. Yes, he has back-to-back .300 seasons under his belt, but they're just "flukey" enough (for lack of a better word) that we still have doubts on what kind of hitter Iglesias really is. Luckily, the bar has been raised. The days of hoping for .250 with a decent on-base percentage are long gone. Iglesias' contact rate, batted ball profile, and speed all but guarantee he will be closer to the .280 mark, and while he's not one to walk much, he doesn't appear to be the offensive black hole we were once concerned about either.