The Tigers’ offense has gotten off to another quick start, owning the best batting average in the majors after the first week of games. Leading the charge for Detroit is Jose Iglesias, who has collected seven hits in 16 at bats, good for a .438 batting average. Perhaps this should not be surprising, as Iglesias had a hot spring and a solid 2015 season. So while the 2016 campaign is still very young, Iglesias looks to be on track for another impressive year.
Iglesias has two seasons with 100-plus games in his career, and has batted at least .300 in both of them. However, many are skeptical of his ability to continue this trend because of his high career .331 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Undoubtedly, this figure does stand out, but Iglesias might be the exact type of player who can sustain an elevated BABIP mark because of the way he hits.
More than 81 percent of the hits in Iglesias’ career have come as singles, and there is no indication of the shortstop ever becoming more of a power hitter, evidenced by his six career home runs and high soft-contact rate (26.6 percent). He also owns a significant ground ball rate (56 percent) which may seem troubling at first glance. But for Iglesias, it is more important where he puts the ball in play than how. During his career, he has pulled just 34.6 percent of his batted balls, going up the middle or the other way a substantial amount of the time. For a speedy player who can get out of the box quickly, this is a great recipe for success.
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All seven of Iglesias’ hits this season have gone for singles. Of course, he has only had a handful of plate appearances so far, but his early numbers are positive with a reduction in pull rate (28.6 percent) and ground ball percentage (35.7 percent). He has seen a large uptick in line drives, but this classification is somewhat misleading. Over half of Iglesias’ singles have been either sliced or golfed liners up the middle or to right field. These hits do not have much velocity, but they effectively fall in the shallow outfield grass. As a contact hitter without much power, this is exactly the strategy he should be aiming for.
However, it was Iglesias’ first hit of the year that truly demonstrates the type of batter he is. On Tuesday night in Miami, Iglesias hit a grounder to the left side of the infield that was a reach for Adeiny Hechavarria. Because of his speed, Iglesias was not only able reach first base in time, but he also advanced to second on an errant throw by the Marlins’ shortstop. Iglesias ranked 26th in infield hits in 2013 and 12th in 2015, and he should continue to excel in this area because of his quickness.
Sixteen at bats at any point in the season are far too few to draw serious conclusions from, but over 700 career balls in play are enough to start making assessments. It is easy to want to dismiss Iglesias’ high BABIP as unsustainable luck, but he is showing again this season that he knows how to use his abilities to his advantage. Weak contact and lots of ground balls are unlikely to be any hitter’s dream, but Iglesias makes the most of each ball he puts in play. If he can continue to use the whole field and beat out infield singles, 2016 could be his third straight season batting at least .300.