The position of shortstop hasn’t really changed in recent years. It has, in terms of perception more than reality, returned to its roots as home to slap-hitting glove-first guys. After a “golden generation” of power hitting shortstops like Alex Rodriguez, early-career Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra; the position is once again home to many baseball players who wouldn’t be in the big leagues were it not for their ability to play a mean short. The ability to hit is an added bonus for shortstops, not a requirement.
Jeff Sullivan showed the start difference between the elite offensive shortstop(s) like Troy Tulowitzki and…nobody else in his Fangraphs positional power ranking at the beginning of the year. There is Tulo and then there is everyone else.
When a player is as strong defensively as Jose Iglesias, the Red Sox shortstop by way of Cuba, any thing this player offers in terms of offense is a bonus. Free money. A gift. Yet offense is just what Jose Iglesias has provided the “surprising” Red Sox, according to his early numbers. Iglesias owns a .441 wOBA in the early stages of 2013, good for fourth among big league SSers with 20 plate appearances. That’s terrific, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no. Fun? Yes! Meaningful. Not in the least.
Nobody wants to hear the Sample Size lecture again but bear with me for a second. Jose Iglesias isn’t just an early season fluke, he’s an incredible anomaly worth of our time and attention. His slash line of .450/.476/.550 is astounding. .550 slugging for Jose Iglesias? That just doesn’t make sense.
It should be noted that of the 17 balls Iglesias put in play, nine have gone for hits. That is a .529 BABIP for those scoring at home. In such a tiny sample, anything can happen as we well know. But for Iglesias to bang out nine hits is extra weird because few of the balls have actually been “banged.”
This is Jose Iglesias’ spray chart. It shows the rough location of every hit Iglesias has recorded this season. He has nine hits, two for extra bases. Not one of those balls in play even threatened the warning track. One hard hit ball but one infield hit and two bunt singles.
More power to Iglesias if he can become a viable big league hitter without much in the way of hitting ability. This hilarious hot start, of course, will not last. Among the 200-odd hitters with 20 PAs, only five have a lower average distance on their fly balls.
It is plays like this one, from last season, that will keep Jose Iglesias in the big leagues. His defense is special, his bat doesn’t even need to be ordinary. Infield hits, dribblers, squibs, duck snorts, dying quails, whatever. Give him 120 of them (no walks needed) and he can play every day. For any team, let alone one as offensively loaded as the Red Sox.