Moving Jose Iglesias to the top of the Detroit Tigers batting order is an idea that sells itself. The offense has looked much better of late with Victor Martinez's return, and J.D. Martinez's month-long tear. Still, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus would do well to prime the engine even further by installing Iglesias and his stellar on-base percentage ahead of the Tigers' monster heart of the order.
Early in the season, batting Iglesias ninth was sound policy. We really didn't know what to expect of the fiery young shortstop offensively after a year on the shelf. There were many who thought his 2013 campaign was a fluke. Even those who didn't had to expect he would have some rust to work through before we really knew what we had in him at the plate. On top of those concerns, there was the fear of re-injury to his shins, all leading the Tigers to attempt to limit his at-bats in the ninth spot, and to give him regular rest days. But he had other ideas. Instead of knocking off the rust he's simply raked, raked, and raked some more for three solid months.
Beyond that, he has been disciplined. He is drawing walks at a solid 6.8 percent clip and is the hardest hitter on the team to strike out, doing so only 8.9 percent of the time. We're three months in now. Most of these rates have stabilized and aren't likely to collapse. This is who Jose Iglesias is right now. He is getting on base at a .380 clip and is among the top five in batting average in the game. And yet he's getting the fewest at-bats of any regular on the team. Moreover, when he is on base he often has two of the Tigers' least potent bats coming up to drive him in. A change is due.
The top of the order has been built on the platoon of Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis, followed by Ian Kinsler batting second. How do their numbers compare against right and left-handed pitching?
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Iglesias has been the best hitter of the four, regardless of which side the opposing pitcher throws from. Additionally, Anthony Gose should not be hitting lead-off right now. He should be batting ninth against right-handers, where, without the immediate presence of Miguel Cabrera and the thunder in the middle of the order, Gose can be turned loose to steal much more often without fear of running the team out of a big inning. After a brutal stretch for Gose over the last six weeks, dropping him to the bottom of the order might even take a little pressure off of him and allow him to find his hitting stroke again.
Jose Iglesias should be an All-Star
Jose Iglesias is not only the best shortstop in the American League, he's been one of the best players in baseball.
Against left-handed pitching, Rajai Davis and Iglesias are far out-performing Ian Kinsler. You might even consider batting Rajai behind J.D. Martinez in the seventh spot to lengthen the powerful heart of the order. Throughout his career, Rajai has mashed left-handed pitching, and that has continued this season. But Iglesias is getting on-base at a monster clip against lefties. He is standing on base nearly half the time. Even if his numbers haven't stabilized yet -- his BABIP against lefties is .457 -- he's so far beyond the others it matters little. Iglesias' defense is often described as of a quality that can actually spark the offense. It's time to put that spark in the second spot of the order as well.
The other main reason to bat Iglesias second is his minuscule strikeout rate. This is often described as the key attribute of a true No. 2 hitter. He puts the ball in play, moving the lead-off hitter over whenever he reaches base. With his speed Iglesias is also very difficult to turn a double-play against. Ausmus must recognize this as well, as he did try him there for a few games in mid-June. But it's time to make a brief experiment a full-time reality, let Iglesias settle into his new role and go from there. He has the eye, the hands and the speed to make it work perfectly.
The x-factor here is Ian Kinsler. Having scuffled through a very rough six weeks by his standards, his numbers bear little resemblance to what we'd expect, particularly in terms of power. Kinsler is a guy with a long enough track record to trust. It's still too early to drop him to the bottom of the order, in my opinion. Instead, I'd re-install him in the lead-off spot against right-handers. His eye for drawing walks has rebounded from last season, he is getting on-base at a good clip, and, despite a few recent gaffes, is still one of the better baserunners in the game. Against lefties, you could go with he or Davis leading off, with the other batting seventh to lengthen the order.
The Tigers' offense looks a lot better with Victor Martinez back in it, and hopefully soon Alex Avila as well. But, any way you slice it, Jose Iglesias needs to be taken better advantage of. It's time to believe in what we're seeing from him on a daily basis and put it to work.