Make no mistake, Jose Iglesias will always get paid for his work with the glove. We've seen one highlight reel play after another since the Tigers traded for him in July of 2013. However, a .300 hitter he is not. Iglesias' hot start this spring has been due to some exceptional luck.
Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is one of my favorite baseball statistics. I won't bore you with the definition here since it's basically exactly what it sounds like. To make things easy here though, the league average BABIP is .300. So, 30 percent of the time, when the average player puts bat on ball and it stays fair, they will get a hit. A player with a BABIP of .200 is having awful luck and a player with a BABIP of .400 is likely enjoying a career year. Got it? Good.
In over 400 games of minor league experience, Jose Iglesias is a .267 hitter. In 144 games of big league action entering this season he hit .274. So, we have 500 some games of professional experience that tells us that he is about a .260-.270 kind of batter. When you play the kind of defense he does, you will take that production. If he happens to hit .280 once in a while with 20 stolen bases, that's just gravy.
As the calendar hits June and the season is well into its second quarter, Iglesias is hitting .329 with an on-base percentage of .386. Both his average and his on-base percentage are second only to Miguel Cabrera among Tigers hitters. Some may be tempted to ask: Is Jose Iglesias an elite defensive shortstop and a .330 hitter? Don't bet on it.
In April, Iglesias hit .377. However, his BABIP was an absurd .410! In May he cooled off to the tune of a .299 average, but that BABIP was still .323. This suggests that Iglesias' hot start can largely be chalked up to some pretty impressive luck. These trends have a way of evening things out. It's like if you find a five dollar bill on the ground. That's a pretty nice moment, but it's probably just replacing the five you lost two years earlier. In Iglesias' case, that five dollar bill he keeps finding is showing up in soft blooper over the infield as well as in infield singles.
It's not all doom and gloom though. There are few trends in his game that point to continued success. Prior to this season, Iglesias struck out in 16.8 percent of his plate appearances. While that is still better than league average, he has cut that rate in half all the way down to only eight percent. That's Placido Polanco territory! We have also seen him work the count more than in 2013 and his walk rate has increased from 4.1 percent to 7.3 percent. These trends are promising as they are far more sustainable that BABIP.
Obviously his BABIP will come down as the Tigers move through the summer. However, given other improved rate statistics, it's entirely possible the Tigers have the best defensive shortstop in the American League and a .280 hitter. There's not a team in baseball that doesn't want a guy like that.