Jose Iglesias is a shortstop capable of doing some pretty terrific things on a baseball field. I say that now because there’s going to be plenty of .gifs in this post that paint Iglesias in a not-so-positive light, and it can be a weird feeling to make a player look bad based solely upon which clips you’ve hand-chosen to show, so here, look at all the incredible things Jose Iglesias is capable of doing on defense. There. Those are the kinds of plays that earn you a reputation.
And Iglesias has certainly earned a reputation. He had earned the reputation before he ever stepped on a big league field. He was named the best defensive infielder in the Red Sox system by Baseball America from 2009 to 2012. In 2010, he was named the best defensive shortstop in the entire Eastern League, and received those same honors in the International League each of the next two seasons. From that same publication’s scouting report of him in 2010, as the No. 1 prospect in Boston’s farm system a year before his MLB debut:
Iglesias is an exceptional defender who could challenge for a Gold Glove in the big leagues right now. He plays low to the ground, using his quick feet, lightning-fast hands and strong arm to make all the plays. His instincts and body control also stand out, and he made just seven errors in 57 games at short last season. He’s fearless in the field, almost to the point of overconfidence, but he makes more web gems than mistakes.
The reputation was what it was, and it’s since carried over to the big-league level. And yet, in about two full season’s worth of major-league playing time at shortstop (1,991 innings), Iglesias has but three Defensive Runs Saved to his name. Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average actually has him below average, crediting him with -0.8 runs saved over the course of his still-short career. Ultimate Zone Rating is the only defensive metric with anything more than an average assessment of Iglesias’ defense, and even that pegs him as a +13 defender over two seasons, which is certainly good, but still comes up short of the perennial Gold Glove types around whom Iglesias’ name is mentioned.
Understandably, folks have been skeptical of these assessments. It’s something our very own Neil Weinberg addressed last fall. As a community, our understanding of how to properly evaluate defense has always lagged behind other facets of the game, but the good news is, it’s getting better every day! It’s still far from perfect, but between the arrival of Statcast and advancements made by Baseball Info Solutions and Inside Edge, we’ve got more pieces to the puzzle than ever before. And they’re already helping explain some of our outliers, guys whose performance by the metrics have never aligned with the scouting reports or eye tests. Like Dexter Fowler, who we discovered was playing more shallow than any center fielder in baseball, and that it was killing his defensive metrics. The Cubs realized this, and have repositioned him. Let’s see if we can’t use some of these same advancements to better figure out the Jose Iglesias mystery.