Thursday, March 21, 2013

Just how badly would Jose Iglesias have to hit in order to be below average?

With Stephen Drew slow to return from a concussion and without a clear time table, as if often the case with concussions, just ask Justin Morneau, the Red Sox are considering Jose Iglesias at short to begin the season. It all depends on his contribution with the other aspects of his game, so let's see if we can get some rough estimates there. A quick reminder - I'll be discussing value in terms of runs here, but at the end we'll discuss it in terms of wins. The quick and dirty conversion from runs to wins, whether they're runs saved defensively or runs scored offensively, is one win equals 10 runs.

Everyone considers Iglesias the best defender in the minors, and the advanced metrics for his career put him at saving an astounding 41 runs over the course of a full season. Granted, these metrics take much longer than one month to stabilize and this would have put Iglesias as twice as good a defender as anyone else in baseball, but the advanced metrics support the assertion that Iglesias is an elite defender. Last year the best defenders saved just over 20 runs, and since 1950 40 different shortstops have had seasons where they saved 20 or more runs, led by Mark Belanger's 1975 when he saved 33 runs. Given Iglesias' defensive pedigree and universal defensive acclaim, I think 20 runs over the course of a full season is reasonable, and this could be a fairly conservative estimate.

Iglesias is fairly fast, but does not have blazing speed. He seems to have good base running instincts, but does not run very often (12 SB, 3 CS in 400 PA in AAA last year, 75% success rate for his career in the minors). As far as comparables, Rafael Furcal (the current version, not the 46 steal version from 2005) who stole 12 bases and was caught 4 times seems like a good fit. In 2012, Furcal was worth 2.5 runs on the bases. This value includes other aspects of base running, such as advancing on hits, but for simplicity's sake, we'll pick our comparable using stolen base numbers.

Finally, we get to the last numbers on the positive side of the ledger. First of all, Fangraphs defines "replacement level" as -20 runs per 600 plate appearances, so we get to add 20 runs to Iglesias' total. Also, shortstop is an extremely thin position. It has been said over and over again, but the golden age of shortstops is long past us. The average shortstop hit .256/.310/.375 in 2012, so the bar is rather low for Iglesias. That level of league wide production puts the positional adjustment at 7 runs. This means that just by playing shortstop, Iglesias get a bonus of 7 runs over a position like third base, where hitters were about league average, or even more for a position like first base or a corner outfield spot where hitters are penalized for their position, given the expectation that they hit above league average just to be average for their position. So, just for playing shortstop in the majors, Iglesias gets +27 runs to his overall numbers.

So up to this point, we have Jose Iglesias being a 50 run, or five win player, in 2012 if he can just manage to have no negative value as a hitter. For example, Alcides Escobar's 2012 batting line of .293/.331/.390 was worth exactly zero point zero runs. Unfortunately, Iglesias is extremely unlikely to match that kind of production, having hit only .266/.318/.306 in AAA last year. But, in order to have positive value for the Red Sox, he'd only need to be better than -50 runs. According to Fangraph's calculations, Drew Stubbs (-20) was the worst hitter in the league last year. Negative thirty runs is awfully hard to come by, but a nice comparable might be Cezar Izturis' 2010*. Given 500 plate appearances, Izturis hit an incredible .230/.277/.268. Those numbers actually match Igelsias' AAA numbers nicely, adjusting them to the better competition in the majors (.229/.272/.263). Iglesias does have youth on his side, though. He is only 23 and has plenty of room to grow, and this spring training he has six extra base hits in 46 at bats, compared to 11 in 353 at bats in AAA last year.

* The worst batting line of the last 20 years comes courtesy of the Royals, who rolled out Neifi Perez's .236/.260/.303 line for almost 600 plate appearances, good for a mind boggling -42 runs. Sadly, his fielding wasn't doing him any favors either, at -13 runs. This all led to Perez putting up the worst season in the last 20 years at 2.9 wins BELOW replacement and negative eight million dollars worth of performance , and after he was the centerpiece the Royals received after trading away Jermaine Dye to get him. Somehow the Royals managed to foist him and his $4 million salary off on the Giants, where he rebounded to a 1.1 win season, thanks in large part to a return to form defensively.

Overall, this analysis backs up the general assertions that if the Red Sox put Iglesias in the lineup right now, he'd be a two win player. Whether or not that will stunt his development as a hitter or if his failings on offense will affect his focus on defense is an entirely different set of questions. Concussions are tricky injuries and Drew's may linger over the course of the season; if that does happen, the Red Sox may be in the tricky position of balancing using the best shortstop they have on the roster at the expense allowing that player to continue to develop in the minor leagues.


  1. Interesting analysis. Makes me fee a little better about the prospect of Iglesias in the lineup on an everyday basis. Still, if we're rushing prospects anyway, how about Bogaerts?

  2. Here are Bogaerts equivalencies for his two stints in the minors:
    AA (92 AB): .277/.283/.485
    A+ (384 AB): .226/.276/.353
    Weighted mean: .236/.277/.379

    That line matches up extremely well with JJ Hardy's 2012 of .232/.282/.389, which was worth -16 runs over 700 PA.

    There are two massive differences though. Bogaerts has had less than 100 PA above A+ ball and won't turn 21 until October(!). There is a much, much bigger risk of screwing him up forever by calling him up and he still is in the part of the development process where you can expect big, big, gains. Iglesias, who is hardly old at 23, had had 783 PA at AAA and 1019 at AA or higher. His bat is probably much closer to where it will be. Hopefully there is still good growth there, but Iglesias' ceiling isn't all that high (league average for a SS, but maybe a touch more average and less power - .270/.320/.350?), and at 23 that ceiling is getting less likely.

    Second, there isn't really as much to gain by calling Bogaerts up now. His defense would be league average at best; folks are saying he could stick at shortstop, but that is hardly a sure thing. His bat wouldn't be that much better than Iglesias', at least according to the minor league equivalencies.

    With a -16 run bat, league average defense (which may be generous), and league average base running (again, probably generous given his sub 50% SB success rate on limited attempts) that would put Bogaerts as about a one and a half win player. ZIPs and Oliver both put him in about that range (1.2 and 1.9, respectively) with about 500 PA. ZIPs has Iglesias projected slightly higher (1.3), while Oliver has him a good bit lower than Bogaerts (0.4), but neither adequately address his spectacular defense, in my opinion.

    Since there is no real short term gain, and much more long term cost, I can't imagine the Sox would pull the trigger on Bogaerts.

  3. One other issue with calling up Bogaerts is that he is not on the 40 man roster yet. Since he has only been in the system for three years, he does not yet need to be on the 40 man roster to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. In order to call up Bogaerts, they would need to remove a man from the 40 man, even if Drew were placed on the 15 day DL. Iglesias, on the other hand, could be added to the team if Drew were placed as he is already on the 40 man.

  4. I think Bill hit the nail on the head- the reason we won't see Bogaerts is the same reason it's unlikely that Jackie Bradley won't start the season in the majors- 40 man roster space.

  5. ..and it looks like this could be a moot point- Stephen Drew was just cleared for baseball activities, so he could be back to start the season.

  6. Cool. Almost makes me prefer to see Iglesias starting instead of Drew.

  7. Although Drew was cleared for baseball activities, he is still a bit "foggy" according to reports, and that means he's hardly a sure thing to be ready for opening day, or if he is, that he'll stay healthy.

    That said, if Drew is ready to go, you have to give him a shot. They spent $10 million on him this offseason, plus he is only two years removed from a 5 win season, which is leaps and bounds better than the best possible outcome we can hope from Iglesias. Drew was replacement level last year, but he was also still recovering from a horrific ankle injury.

    Finally, especially with Ortiz on the DL to open the season, the Red Sox are going to need to scrabble together as many runs as they can. It'll be interesting to see what the Sox do, though, and it'll be fun to see Iglesias, even if it is for just a few weeks.