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Walks are the key to Jose Iglesias' success

Walks and hits have gone hand-in-hand for Iglesias this season.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It all starts with a walk. On May 31, Jose Iglesias walked non-intentionally for the first time in 88 plate appearances. His one lonely walk in that month came in an interleague game against the Washington Nationals, where he was walked in front of the pitcher. During that walk-less streak, Iglesias went from hitting .284 all the way down to .215.

However, June was a successful month for the Tigers' shortstop. He had a 10.2 percent walk rate and preceded to hit .333. Unfortunately, he's now back to another walk slump in July -- he hasn't walked yet this month -- and his batting average is just .200. Last year, Iglesias finished with a .300 batting average. In 2013, his last healthy season, he hit .303. He was also hitting close to .300 for most of the first month of 2016 when his walk rate was 10.7 percent.

Are you sensing a pattern yet?

If there are any sort of signs for why he wasn’t hitting, they should easily show up, right? Well, not really. While Iglesias' batting average on balls in play (BABIP) during his first slump was down to .176, his line drive rate was at 19 percent and his ground ball rate was at 53 percent, right in line with his career marks. Also, all the plate discipline signs that were there that showed he was a true .300 hitter in 2015 were still there this year, even during the slump.

One noticeable difference during his first slump is that Iglesias was swinging at a lot more pitches, from less than 40 percent of the time to over 48 percent of the time. He was being too aggressive, liking pressing too much, therefore not taking any walks. Naturally, his batting average suffered for it. Even though he was still making just as much contact as before, he still wasn’t hitting .300. However, during his recent slump (a 10-game sample, mind you) his swing rate is back to his career norms.

Time Period AVG BB% Contact % Z-Contact % Swing % Z-Swing %
2015 .300 6.8% 90.5% 96.0% 45.7% 57.5%
4/5/16 - 4/28/16 .284 10.7% 93.1% 98.5% 39.2% 49.6%
4/30/16 - 5/29/16 .159 1.2% 88.9% 95.4% 48.4% 57.2%
5/31/16 - 6/30/16 .323 10.7% 90.2% 98.0% 41.2% 50.3%
7/1/16 - 7/10/16 .200 0.0% 91.9% 94.1% 40.8% 47.9%

Iglesias is one of the best players in baseball at putting the bat on the ball. Last year, among all players with at least 450 plate appearances, Iglesias’ 90.5 percent contact rate ranked third in MLB behind Michael Brantley’s 92.6 percent and Daniel Murphy’s 91.9 percent. And when Iglesias swung at pitches in the zone, his contact rate, 96 percent, was ranked fourth, with Ben Revere sneaking ahead of him, along with Brantley and Murphy. This is how you hit .300.

Even during his slumps, Iglesias’ contract rate was still around 90 percent, which still would have ranked him in the top ten in baseball. Altogether, his contact rate is sitting at 90.7 percent, ranked third in all of baseball. This time DJ LeMahieu and Martin Prado are ahead of him (both of whom are hitting above .300). Only Martin Prado has been better at making contact in the zone at 97.6 percent compared to Iglesias’ 96.9 percent.

Hitters go through streaks all the time. Iglesias’ contact rate during his slumps suggests that his batting average should not fall as much as it does. Flukes happen. However, it is interesting to note that his batting average has a positive correlation with him taking more walks. Maybe in Iglesias’ case, walking is more important than just increasing his on-base percentage.