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Jose Iglesias and the mirage of progress

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 3, 2013 01:39 PM

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Wavering on Jose Iglesias's potential as a hitter? Not here.

Beginning to waver? Nope.

Beginning to think about wavering? Well ... OK, I guess I'll grant you that one.

After hitting his first home run of the season Sunday night in the Red Sox' 3-0 victory over the Yankees, Iglesias took some remarkable offensive numbers into Monday's day off.

In 57 plate appearances, the 23-year-old shortstop and current third-base temp has posted a .434 batting average and a 1.041 OPS. His start to the season looks like a couple of weeks plucked from the middle of Nomar Garciaparra's brilliant 1999 season, minus a few hundred points of slugging percentage.

He's been awesome, a blast to watch, and you know what else? It's a mirage, a small-sample size torrid streak that defies all logic and common sense.

While the big-league hot streak has survived longer than Iglesias's skeptics would have ever anticipated -- it's lasted through two stints with the Red Sox, sandwiched around an abysmal 133 plate-appearance stretch at Pawtucket -- logic and common sense will not be defied in the end.

mendozamariofinn61.jpgIglesias's batting average on balls in play is .512 and he's hitting line drives in just 14.3 percent of his at-bats, statistical confirmation of what your eyes should tell you -- he's had a enough gorks, ground balls, and dying quails fall in already this season to make Crash Davis jealous.

That simply does not last. You'd think the lessons of putting instant faith in a player who puts up big numbers in a puny sample would have been learned with Pedro Ciriaco last summer, or to a slightly different degree, Jackie Bradley Jr. this spring. I suspect the Venn Diagram of those who thought Ciriaco was the shortstop solution last spring and those who believe we're seeing the real Iglesias now looks like one giant circle.

When the regression arrives and Iglesias's batting average inevitably collapses, when the flares to right field begin finding gloves like they did last September (.118/.200/.191 in 77 plate appearances) and so often through more than 900 PAs in Triple A (.244/.296/.292, including .202/.262/.319 this year), he won't retain any offensive value since he lacks power and rarely works a walk (one this season, five in 140 big-league plate appearances).

I'm somewhat mystified why so many are quick to suggest he's solved his issues at the plate. Why would this sample-size -- a fat batting average wrapped in red flags -- suggest the real Iglesias, or that he's solved anything? His consistently dismal Triple A numbers -- including this year's -- and last season's brutal September shouldn't be so easily dismissed. But I think I get why they are: they don't offer the hope of fulfilled promise that this year's numbers do.

I appreciate the desire for Iglesias to be something special, the next Omar Vizquel rather than the next Rey Ordonez. He is an incredible defensive player, which hasn't been lost in the transition to third base. (He should be playing shortstop now, with Stephen Drew shuffling to third.) But the justifications for why this is real and why he should play are a bit foolish and well past tiresome, and that's without even considering the sense of entitlement that plagued him while he pouted his way south toward the Mendoza line in Pawtucket.

No, he doesn't deserve a chance because, by golly, it took Dustin Pedroia awhile to hit in the majors, too. Pedroia was an offensive force in the minor leagues. And let's stop suggesting Iglesias is one of those players who will hit better in the majors than the minors. I'm still waiting for a recent example that doesn't mention Hanley Ramirez, Don Mattingly, and one or two others who were premier hitting prospects. Vizquel eventually got it, but it took years -- he never had an OPS-plus above 67 until his fourth season.

I'm with you in marveling at his glove. I hope he can hit .250 with a .310 OBP and win a half-dozen Gold Gloves at shortstop. But I look at his numbers -- not just in the big leagues this season, but the entire big picture -- and I can't yet convince myself his bat will justify a daily spot in the lineup.

Iglesias's start has been fun, and it has all but assured that he'll have at least adequate numbers (if he goes 0-for-his-next-47, he'll still be hitting .230). It's almost enough to make me think about wavering. Almost.

But if you want me to be excited about the performance of a young Red Sox shortstop this season, I hope you'll understand when I turn the conversation to 20-year-old Xander Bogaerts and his .882 OPS in Double A. Now there's something to believe in.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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