(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Two disclaimers up front; first of all, I used to be a Red Sox fan. I know. I. Know. Can’t help it – I was born in Boston, grew up going to Fenway, and it was in my blood from the first offing. It took the Red Sox becoming an overbloated sham of a team and me moving to Oakland to start rooting for a respectable franchise; one that valued unconventional means of player scouting, sound financial decisions, and real underdog status. I make no effort to discount my turn coat status – yes, I am a traitor, and I am damn proud of it. But if you want to call into question my fandom of that great team in California, land of sunshine and riches, my friends Tom Sharkey and Kid McCoy got something to say to you (*Kisses fists*). Lil’ RoRo don’t do no drills.

The second disclaimer is that I am not a trained sabermetrician – I understand most of this stuff, but I’m new to the deep analytics game, so excuse me if it makes absolutely no sense or you find it boring. I’m jumping into it because I love it and hey, what the hell, that’s what The Clown Show is all about.

Since everyone is taking such an interest in the batting exploits of the young Jose Iglesias, the Red Sox 3B/SS platinum gloved phenom, I thought I’d do a rundown of exactly what we’re seeing from the young man and if it holds any water. Most of us know what the kid can do with the glove. This guy is as good as Brendan Ryan, the SS most stats guys view as the best in the AL, and for the sake of fun, let’s look one of the defensive highlights he puts up on a regular basis.

This is two years ago, in a spring training game vs. the Yankees:

Shades of Ozzie Smith there, and he certainly hasn’t lost a step in the past two years. His balance is always the thing that impresses me the most – the way he can move from being on the ground to an effective throwing position so quickly and gracefully.

Now onto the bat.

Most important to realize, and to get this out of the way ahead of time, is the fact that we’re dealing with very, very small sample sizes here for the Major League level. Iglesias had 6 ML PA’s in 2011, 77 in ’12, and this year has 74 so far. We can look at his minor league numbers, generally regarded as a good harbinger of possible success in the major leagues (at least at the AAA level), but here’s the thing – they aren’t very good. He was not a good hitter in the Minors, so let’s take just a quick and cursory look at those numbers and then get to the point – why he’s succeeding now.

His slash line (across all levels in the Minors) was .257/.307/.314. As we know, that is not good. Middling .AVG, below average ability to draw walks (his BB rate ratio in the MiL was 6%), and zero pop. In 3 years at the minor league level (1,209 PAs), he had 33 doubles, 6 triples and 4 HRs. 43 XBH out of 282 total hits is horrific. That’s a 15% XBH%; the Major League average is usually between 34-36% (I’m using the equation 2B+3B+HR/Hits for XBH%, though some divide by PAs). Unfortunately we’re not privy to a lot of fun stats from the minor league level, or at least I am too lazy to go in search of them, so I don’t have stats like Line Drive %, BABIP, etc., which could inform a lot.

To wrap it up (Minor League Numbers):

.257/.307/.314 – AVG/OBP/SLG

6% – Walk rate

15.2% – XBH%

74% SB Success Rate

We are looking at a singles hitter with a fabulous glove, okay speed, and no ability to drive the ball (read: none).

I’ll preface this next section by saying his Major League numbers are crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a weird yearly split back to back. Let’s dive in.

I’m throwing out the 6 PAs from 2011. So, in 2012, he was extremely unlucky, to the tune of a .137 Batting Average on Balls in Play. He obviously did something to anger the baseball gods, because that is unbelievably unlucky. Since 1945, the lowest BABIP ever for a batting title eligible player was Aaron Hill in 2010, at .196. Suffice to say, a lot goes into this, not just luck. Line drive percentage being a big one, as players who hit liners naturally will get more hits on balls in play than players who hit the ball softly, or those that hit them over the fence for home runs. Speed goes into it as well, so it makes it almost more amazing that Iglesias could have a BABIP this low considering he is not slow. The league average for BABIP can be assumed to be right around .300.

In 2012, Jose Iglesias had 77 plate appearances – he had 8 hits, 4 walks, and was hit by 3 pitches. He made 64 outs. Just stop and read that again. It is amazingly, amazingly awful. It is, in fact, .118/.200/.191 awful.

Looking at his peripherals in 2012, yeah, he was bad – 9% line drive rate (league average 20%), 21% strikeout rate (would be fine if he hit 35 home runs), 5% walk rate (terrible). He didn’t help himself, but boy, was he unlucky.

Turning the calendar to 2013, we have the complete and insane opposite of last year. The dude must have really done his sacrificing of various animals/humans this offseason, because the baseball gods have decided that some regression to the mean was in order for Mr. Iglesias. His BABIP this year is north of .500 (currently it sits at .510). Looking at his peripheral stats, his line drive rate has increased a little bit to 15%, which is certainly encouraging even though it’s a tiny sample size, but in no way could it be the reason for his amazing success or increase in BABIP, as it’s still below league average. He still is not walking much, but his strikeout rate has improved a great deal – more on that later. He is driving the ball a bit better than he was, as shown in Line Drive % (he sits at 16% this year), but his XBH% is still just 24%, still well below league average.

But hold on. There’s a bit more here than meets the eye, as his approach has changed significantly between last year and this year vs. right handed pitchers.

Here is Iglesias’ swing heat map for 2012 (red zones are areas in which he has swung more often):

Jose Iglesias 2012 Swinging Heat Map

Jose Iglesias 2012 Swinging Heat Map vs. RHP

Now, moving onto 2013, we have this:

Jose Iglesias Swinging Heat Map 2013 vs. RHP

Jose Iglesias Swinging Heat Map 2013 vs. RHP

HOLD THE PHONE AND BAILAMOS!

That second one looks a lot better! Kind of like he stopped swinging at pitches outside the strike zone! His strikeout rate has obviously profited from this,  even though his walk rate is still not so good. As said before, this is a crazy low sample size we’re dealing with, so we have to have more data before we can say that what we’re seeing this year is the real deal, changed-for-good Iglesias. When he has one game in which he doesn’t strike out, his rate plummets – after yesterday it’s down to 13.2% (that’s great!). His walk rate is still just 7.2%, but it’s been moving up a little bit – we’ll see.

The main reason to be excited about Iglesias is that his approach has improved, and by leaps and bounds – he has a much bigger happy zone (it’s always been down and in, as we can see), and he’s swinging at strikes. Just ask Dominic Brown how that approach works out. Iglesias had two hits on Sunday vs. the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim; the first was an 0-2 fastball of the outside corner he managed to roll into the 3B/SS hole (thank you again, baseball gods), but the second was a first-pitch-swinging high inside fastball he tattooed off the green monster for a double. The first one was also off Joltin’ Joe Blanton, and I could get a hit off of Joe Blanton, so take that for what it’s worth. Just for the sake of backing up this point, and so we can watch a major league baseball player hit a home run, here’s Iggy’s first of the season, off Hiroki Kuroda:

This underlines how his approach has changed; he’s swinging and hitting pitches that he should swing at, and laying off pitches he shouldn’t. It’s maturation. He also seems to like the first pitch fastball.

Personally, given the fact that the baseball gods seem to have taken up Iggy as their personal conduit for baseball related activities on earth, the Sox would do well to stick with him until that BABIP starts plummeting.

However, what will probably happen is Ciriaco gets sent down when Middlebrooks comes off the DL, with Iggy splitting time with horrible Stephen Drew at SS. Personally, I hate the argument that a guy should play just because he gets paid a lot of money. Stephen Drew played for the A’s last year, so I know him well – he is not a good player, and he is every bit as boring and vanilla as his older brother. Seriously, name a few people in the major leagues who excite you less than Stephen Drew. You can do it, but you have to pause to think.

For Iggy, even when that stupidly ridiculous, fed by the sacrificial-blood-of-lambs BABIP comes down to earth, you still have one of the best defensive shortstops in the league – one who seems to be starting to make adjustments at the plate to succeed at the highest level. I’ll be rooting for you, Iggy, even if I don’t love your team anymore. Having another ridiculous defensive shortstop in the show is never a bad thing.

BAILAMOS!