Tigers Daily-ish: Jose Iglesias Brings The Motown Funk

by Jon Erkkila | Posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
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Jose Iglesias

Is there any doubt that if players had a soundtrack associated to their season much like a movie, the Marc Ronson/Bruno Mars smash “Uptown Funk” would be somewhere on the Jose Iglesias album? There isn’t a player on the club that better exhibits the upbeat craziness on the field that the hit tune evokes on the radio airwaves every day during its long run at number one. Can’t just about anyone envision Iglesias singing the lyric “gotta kiss myself I’m so pretty” after turning in one of his unbelievable dazzlers at shortstop?

Iglesias has been a sparkplug for the Detroit Tigers on his return to the lineup in 2015 after missing the previous season with a rare double-shin stress fracture issue. It was a long season without him for a once again moribund Tigers defense. There was extreme disappointment among Tigers fans who were waiting to watch his defensive brilliance. They had seen their appetites whetted during “Iggy’s” two months in Detroit at the end of 2013 and wanted more.

Tiger fans had seen lumbering clods roaming Comerica Park for years like Delmon Young, Marcus Thames, and many others. The Iggy Phenomenon in the field was new stuff. It was like salsa music taking over from elevator music.

Strike up the band. He’s back.

“Straight masterpieces

Stylin’, while in Livin’ it up in the city

Got Chucks on with Saint Laurent

Gotta kiss myself I’m so pretty”

Iglesias has lit up the highlight reels all season since his return. He’s been playing with the panache not seen by a Tigers defender since…since…well, nobody. Acrobatic plays are expected and they happen from deep in the hole or ranging up the middle. He roams into left-field almost as an extra outfielder on shallow duck snorts looking to make over the shoulder crowd pleasing catches.

Has there been the occasional play where a more conventional plant and throw may have resulted in a good play instead of an Iglesias flip from a crazy angle? Sure. As Tigers radio co-host Jim Price might say, “Iggy likes to get a little extra mustard on his hot dog from time to time”.

But it’s something the Tigers will live with all day, every day. The good outweighs the bad here multiple times over. Iglesias plays the field with a joy that’s palpable to anyone watching. The supreme confidence is obviously there. No play is impossible in his mind. It just seems to really enjoy being “Jose Iglesias-Artist in Residence”.

The Tigers have suddenly become a club capable of turning rock-star level double plays of great difficulty bailing out pitchers with plays rarely seen in previous season. Iglesias has been the been the driving force here teaming with middle infield mate Ian Kinsler.

The defensive improvement up the middle provided by Iglesias has been a key factor for the Tigers given their rotation is no longer the massive strikeout monster it was in previous seasons. As a group they’ve fallen to 27th in strikeout percentage. There are a lot more balls in play than at any point in the Tigers run of AL Central dominance. It was important to upgrade the defensive unit. Iglesias is carrying that load in the infield along with speedy Anthony Gose in the Tigers outfield.

“I’m too hot (hot damn)

Called a police and a fireman I’m too hot (hot damn)

Make a dragon wanna retire, man I’m too hot (hot damn)

Girl, say my name you know who I am

I’m too hot (hot damn)”

The bonus for the Tigers is that Iglesias has broken out a consistent offensive game upon his return as well. He’s cruising along with a slash-line of .341/.392/.413 after Monday night’s victory over the Reds.

Iglesias has shown great hand-eye coordination to be able to whip pitches even out of the zone for sharp liners to all points in the park, especially into the opposite field. It’s been an impressive display for the first two and half months. He’s cut his K% nearly in half from his rookie year and had a small uptick in his walk-rate as well. He’s putting plenty of balls in play and a BABIP of .367 is carrying him nicely. It’s not a crazy BABIP for him to carry either as his .356 mark in 2013 would attest.

The power, as expected, isn’t there. Iglesias has a paltry ISO of .074 with only nine extra-base hits to this point. Iglesias is a small fellow that’s not going to drive gaps or clear fences very often. He’s a high-contact spray hitter looking to slap and dash in age old pesky fashion.

The question is what to do with his hot bat? Should he continue to inhabit the 8th or 9th spot in the Tigers order? One could make the argument that his .341 batting average is a touch empty. With no power to speak of he’s only driven in 9 runs and he’s only scored 13 to this point.

There are plenty of observers who wonder openly if Iglesias should move into the top two spots in the Tigers order to get his .392 OBP in front of Miguel Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, J.D. Martinez and eventually Victor Martinez. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus moved Iglesias to the 2-hole for a couple of days at one point, but abandoned the idea quickly before giving it a real chance. Given the Tigers offense is stirring of late, it seems Iglesias might remain parked where he is, for better or for ill.

“Before we leave

Let me tell y’all a lil’ something

Uptown Funk you up, Uptown Funk you up

Don’t Believe Me, Just watch”

The Tigers have shown plenty of warts during the down times in 2015. They’ve had some really quiet offensive stretches, ugly starts from their rotation with one pitcher demoted, several blow out losses, and they suffered some significant injuries.

However they seem to be staying afloat in their division and are perhaps starting to come out of the malaise that troubled them for weeks. They’ve broken out of the offensive doldrums and Justin Verlander has returned to join a rotation that’s 6-1 as a unit over their last 8 starts.

When it comes to Jose Iglesias however, none of that has mattered. He’s been a steady source of joy to watch. Defensive web gems and an offensive beacon from deep at the bottom of the batting order. He’s contributed mightily during the Tigers good streaks and been a ray of light as a reason to watch during the struggles.

Can he keep it going moving forward? It would seems that as long as he’s healthy, the glove work will be there all year. That should be his bedrock skill to prop up Detroit pitching with his defensive acumen.

It’s on offense where everyone will be keeping tabs. Iglesias had a rousing start to this rookie campaign in Boston in 2013 but wore down markedly after his arrival in Detroit after a deadline deal. Was he tired? Were the BABIP Gods sneering at him suddenly? Did opposing pitchers catch up to him? All three? Hard to say.

That doesn’t mean it will happen again in ’15 but it’s safe to say it’s difficult to hit .341 over the course of a season. How far will Iglesias decline at the plate, if at all? Can he maintain his low strikeout rate and rising walk rate to keep his OBP over .350 all year? If he does, he’ll have had a whopper of a return season to the Tigers.

One thing we can take to the bank…nothing he does will be boring. He brings energy and swagger to a club that needed a dose of it. His Motown Funk will be providing the beat for the Tigers all year in the field if nothing else and, just maybe, at the plate to an unexpected level.

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Jon Erkkila
About the Author

Jon Erkkila is a native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. Currently living in MLB Blackout Hell, otherwise known as Iowa. Follow him on twitter @yooper_ia

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