Last Thursday, we had the most notable baseball news since December - the league and player’s union had reached an agreement and the lockout was over. Immediately following that news was a flurry of additional notable news - Kershaw back to the Dodgers, Gray to the Twins, Cruz to the Nats - that show no sign of letting up until all the remaining dust has settled. The Rockies, attempting to keep pace with the competition, made some moves of their own, signing outfielder Scott Schebler, reliever Alex Colomé, and infielder José Iglesias.
Iglesias fills the hole of the soon-to-be officially departed shortstop Trevor Story. In the media coverage of the signing, Iglesias has been described as a “veteran glove”, “glove-first shortstop”, and “slick fielding”. All of which are merited for a player who makes plays like this.
But, as noted in Evan Lang’s coverage of the signing for Purple Row, as well as coverage by other outlets, the defensive numbers from Iglesias in 2021 did not line up with his sterling reputation nor career numbers, to put it mildly. He was worth -1.4 WAR via defense alone in 2021, finishing last in the league in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating for qualified, while putting up a career-worst 16 errors. This all from the same player who led American League shortstops in fielding percentage in 2016 and 2017, as well as being a top-10 shortstop all time in the same category (please note a friendly face surprisingly slotting into the runner-up position on that list), as well as second for active shortstops.
So what went wrong for Iglesias in 2021? Of his 16 errors, ten were of the throwing variety - also a career worst total. Upon video review of these ten gives Rockies fans good news, however. Many of his throwing errors look to be the result of having a first baseman who has trouble with a short hop on the receiving end, rather than Iglesias developing the yips or consistently airmailing throws.
On the other side of the ball, Iglesias finished his 2021 on an absolute tear after signing with the Red Sox following his release by the Angels. Down the stretch, Iglesias batted .356/.406/.508, while striking out just nine times in 23 games. His hit tool has been viewed as mostly forgettable throughout his career, especially when compared to his traditionally stout defense, but he has consistently shown an ability to make contact - landing in the league-wide top-ten for at bats per strikeout three times since he finished runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2013.
That contact ability should serve him well in Coors Field, the land of cheap base hits. Additionally, after being a ground ball heavy hitter for the majority of his career, he has follows the league-wide trend and seems to have made an effort to put the ball in the air more recently, putting up sub-1.00 GB/FB ratios in three of the last four years. While his hitting profile definitely does not project like someone who will reinvent themselves à la Justin Morneau, the contact ability and propensity to put the ball in the air should provide a boost.
Similar to Iglesias’s career thus far, reactions to the signing were mixed. Some felt that the $5 million price tag could have been better spent elsewhere, especially considering similar options like Andrelton Simmons settled for less money elsewhere (see below) and that Iglesias now represents another veteran in the way of cheaper, promising prospects getting playing time.
However, $5 million isn’t what it used to be, and barring last year’s defensive atrocity recurring, Iglesias is a reliable glove up the middle with potential to get hot and contribute occasionally at the dish. And with the low price tag hopefully the leash will be short, should Iglesias falter and someone from the farm be ready to take over.
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Similar to Iglesias, Andrelton Simmons has been viewed as a glove first shortstop his entire career. Ben Clemens draws multiple comparisons between the Rockies latest signing and the Cubs inking of Simmons, calling both good deals and pragmatic. Clemens also notes the defensive downturn Iglesias experienced last year - “between acceptable and quite bad”, depending which stat you looked at, but overall views his defensive outlook as relatively rosy.
For those of you like me who have greatly missed everything that makes Charlie Blackmon Charlie Blackmon, we’re in luck. Showing up at camp over the weekend sporting a fishing polo and his typical beard, Chuck Nazty is making an effort to, well, make less of an effort going into 2021 - for certain things. Always a student of the game, Blackmon admits he has studied and adjusted too much in the past, and plans to not “overcomplicate” things in 2022, rather relying on the skills that made the four-time All-Star what he is today.
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