A brief glance at the numbers might make it seem like this is just more of the same from Jose Iglesias. In that first week of the season when it seemed he could do no wrong, Iglesias hit .450/.476/.550. Now, with 33 more at bats under his belt, that OPS has ticked up, but only ever-so-slightly to .434/.456/.585.
If Iglesias' earlier performance wasn't enough to earn him a job, then, why is it that John Farrell is looking to hold onto Iglesias--be it as a starter or as a utility player--when Will Middlebrooks makes his return?
For starters, it's because numbers lie. Or, rather, numbers lie when they're allowed to. If you just look at that April performance as a triple slash, it looks amazing. If you look at all deeper, whether that be through splits or through having just watched the games, you'll know that Iglesias' hits were the cheapest of the cheap. Nearly three-quarters of his batted balls were hit on the ground, and through a combination of some speed and a lot of luck, a lot of them became hits.
Those watching these last couple of weeks will know that things look rather different this time around. Iglesias is still hitting some ground balls and, yes, he's still getting insanely lucky on having weak hits find holes. But he's not just hitting those ground balls--he's also spraying line drives, and even hitting some hard fly balls for extra bases, including his first homer of the season in last night's game against the Yankees. These results may not be sustainable, but they certainly provide more promise than twenty seeing-eye singles and little else.
A necessary disclaimer: any look at samples of these sizes can be incredibly misleading. We have seen Nick Green look like a world beater for a month, and David Ortiz spent the better part of a year appearing for all the world to be completely finished (in fact, he entered June 29, 2009 with a .566 OPS--the rock bottom depth from which it would finally emerge as the month went on). When it comes to really locking down what a player can do, a month's worth of games can't tell the story.
But for Iglesias to earn himself a spot, he just has to prove himself to two men in two different ways.
To John Farrell, he has to prove he's better than Pedro Ciriaco. This is the easiest thing in the world given that if Ciriaco played a full season at the level he has, he would (by Fangraphs' calculations) cost the Red Sox nearly four wins compared to what a random replacement player from Triple-A (lets say Drew Sutton) would provide. Even if Iglesias' bat vanishes tomorrow, his glove alone will make him far superior to Ciriaco in any role.
What would seem the more tricky task is convincing Ben Cherington that it's better to keep him up than send him down to Triple-A to get more consistent at bats. This is where some of Iglesias' less admirable performances may come into play. 2013 is Iglesias' third year at Triple-A, and so far we've seen almost nothing in the way of progression with the bat. In fact, this season has so far been a regression from 2012, with Iglesias getting himself benched for several games, apparently due to his discontent with being dropped back down to Pawtucket.
While it may not be the best policy to reward behavior that gets a player benched, in individual cases concessions should be made to pragmatism. Jose Iglesias has not performed in Triple-A, seems very much opposed to returning there, and is a clear upgrade over Pedro Ciriaco at the major league level. Given the fact that this is the last year the Sox can store him down there, the majors is really where they need to see him play, anyways.
Is Jose Iglesias the elusive shortstop with a big bat? Is he going to keep playing like an All-Star? Sadly, I can almost guarantee that he won't, because players with BABIPs north of .500 don't keep their BABIPs north of .500. Barring a miraculous transformation, Iglesias is going to be at best a player who doesn't strike out much, walks far less, and provides enough offensive production that, especially with his incredible glove, the team doesn't mind having him in the bottom of the order.
But that Jose Iglesias would be very valuable given the state of the shortstop position in the game these days. And for now, whether it's as a starter, a backup, or as part of a weird three-man rotation with Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks, there's a place on this team for him.