Earlier this season, you couldn’t have traded Jose Iglesias for a box of used batting gloves. The Tigers’ shortstop couldn’t hit, and it was debatable whether his form always lived up to his flash.
He’s in his last year before free agency, so that was probably about the worst possible scenario for a rebuilding team, unless you’re the type who loves Iglesias and hopes he’ll spend a long time in Detroit.
It’s hard to say exactly when Iglesias bottomed out. Ten games into the season he had a batting average of .057 and an OPS of .261. But though he improved on that, by the end of April he had just a .223 average and almost as many strikeouts (17) as hits (21) in 100 plate appearances.
As they say, that was then. This is now.
Since May 1, Iglesias has posted a .288 average, .346 on-base percentage and .440 slugging. He has struck out just eight times in his past 138 plate appearances, and collected 14 extra-base hits.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised to see Iglesias heating up as the weather does. A glance at his splits makes one wonder what his numbers would look like if he spent the entire season playing in warm or hot weather.
Iglesias tends to peak in summer. Although he got off to a hot start in April 2015, after missing all of 2014 with stress fractures in his seasons, his second-best month came in July (.782 OPS). A year later he posted an .893 OPS in June of 2016. In 2017, July was again his best month, with a .754 OPS.
A big thing this season has been Iglesias hitting the ball a little harder than in the past. Using StatCast data, Baseball Savant shows Iglesias hard-hit percentage this year at 23.4 percent. In both 2016 and 2017, Iglesias had hard hits 21.1 percent of the time.
Iglesias’ overall exit velocity has increased from 82.5 mph in the prior two years to 84.5 mph this year, as well.
His defense also has been stellar. Since arriving in Detroit, he’s often been above average. By Baseball Information Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved stat, Iglesias has moved from 3 runs saved below average in 2015 up to seasons of 3 and 4 runs saved above average in each of the past two years.
He’s at 3 DRS already this year.
In fact, Iglesias ranks among the best shortstops in baseball right now by Fangraphs’ defense stat, which is based on Ultimate Zone Rating, another advanced fielding metric, behind Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor and Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons.
Suddenly Iglesias has value again.
With this his last season under contract, it makes some sense to trade him this summer if the opportunity arises. Whether the opportunity will arise is another matter entirely. It might make sense for a contending team to add him, if for no other reason than adding some defensive depth. Or maybe a team whose shortstop suffers an injury during the next seven weeks or so will try to get a deal done. No matter what, there should be no expectation of a great return.
True, the Tigers don’t exactly have a middle-infield prospect knocking down the door to get to the big leagues. But the idea of re-signing Iglesias doesn’t make a lot of sense, either, beyond a year to year contract. It seems unlikely that Iglesias is going to be the shortstop the Tigers need when they’re ready to truly compete again in 2021.
The rebirth of his value couldn’t have come at a better time. Now we’ll just wait to see if there’s enough of it.
Kurt Mensching can be reached at email@example.com.