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2017 Tigers player preview: Did Jose Iglesias get unlucky last season?

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Iglesias’ numbers took a nosedive from 2015 to 2016.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Luck is one of those things that gets debated a lot among baseball fans. Some are like Obi-Wan and claim there is no such thing as luck. The other side of that is every player has their own true talent level. For example, Miguel Cabrera is very capable of hitting 35 home runs a year. If he plays above that talent level, say he hits 70 home runs, he is overperforming and thus has been “lucky.” If, however he hits only 10 home runs, he is playing below his true talent and is underperforming and therefore has been “unlucky.” In both cases Cabrera’s season will be classified as an anomaly – a fluke – and with everything else being equal, his home run rate will even out and go back to his true talent level, around 35 home runs again. Of course, this does not take things like injury, age, and adjustments into consideration.

Now take Jose Iglesias. His batting average in 2016 was .255. The two previous seasons he played he hit .300 and .303. Which is his “true” talent level? Is he a .300 hitter or a .250 hitter? Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is the go-to stat to see if a player has been lucky or unlucky in his hit rate but it cannot be the only place to look. BABIP shows that Iglesias had a .356 average in 2013, .330 average in 2015, and .276 average in 2016. It is true that Iglesias had a higher than normal BABIP in 2013 and 2015 but it is not accurate to assume that he cannot sustain a high BABIP. Miguel Cabrera has been able to sustain a .347 BABIP for his career.

This is where we look at other stats, mainly batted ball data.

Jose Iglesias batted ball data

Year PA BB% K% LD% GB% FB%
Year PA BB% K% LD% GB% FB%
2013 382 3.9% 15.7% 18.0% 56.5% 25.5%
2015 454 5.5% 9.7% 21.0% 55.9% 23.2%
2016 513 5.5% 9.7% 20.3% 51.4% 28.3%
Jose Iglesias Batted Ball FanGraphs.com

When a player puts a ball in play, it is either classified as a line drive, fly ball, or ground ball. There has not been a big departure of Jose Iglesias’ distribution of balls in play. The biggest difference between 2015 to 2016 was about five percentage points more in fly balls (from 23.2 percent to 28.3 percent) and losing about the same in ground balls (from 55.9 percent to 51.4 percent). Line drives go for hits the most often, around 69 percent of the time in 2016 according to FanGraphs. Fly balls and ground balls went for hits around 24 percent of the time in 2016. Speedsters can beat out infield hits, so their hit rate on ground balls are typically higher. While Iglesias is no burner, he has enough speed to have a higher than average hit rate on ground balls.

Jose Iglesias hit rate

Year IFH% LD Avg FB Avg GB Avg
Year IFH% LD Avg FB Avg GB Avg
2013 10.8% 0.740 0.174 0.299
2015 10.7% 0.675 0.122 0.302
2016 11.3% 0.566 0.148 0.244
Jose Iglesias hit rate FanGraphs.com

There are two stats that jump out here for Iglesias in 2016. First is the very low hit rate on line drives. Iglesias had the fifth lowest batting average in the league at .566 in 2016. If it had remained at .675 clip from the previous year, Iglesias would have had nine more base hits. Secondly is the hit rate for ground balls. Here, Iglesias lost 12 hits from the previous year (going from .302 to .244). Add those 21 hits to his hit total and Iglesias would have had an even .300 batting average for 2016. A figure that would have remained consistent from 2013 and 2015.

We can go even deeper into the stats using average exit velocity from Statcast. Unfortunately, this data does not go back as far as 2013. According to this stat, Iglesias’ average exit velocity on line drives for 2015 was 87.9 and 88.2 in 2016. There is not much difference at all. In fact, because it slightly went up we should have expected a slightly higher hit rate on line drives for Iglesias in 2016. For ground balls, Iglesias had an average exit velocity of 81.8 in 2015 and 82.7 in 2016. Again, not much difference at all. He was basically the same hitter both years with different results.

It is always hard to project stats from one year to the next. There are too many variables to consider (injury, age, adjustments, etc.). Also, as we continue to split the data, the sample size keeps shrinking, making the data less and less reliable. However, nothing seems to have changed with Iglesias from 2015 to 2016 except for the results, putting him on the unlucky side of things. If everything remains the same for 2017, I would expect him to hit closer to .300 again, just like he did in 2013 and 2015.