Baseball is a humbling game. We’ve heard the saying many times. Those that are able to accept failure and move on are typically those that enjoy longevity in the game. Talent aside, the daily challenge of performing is what separates baseball from any other professional sport.
In eight years of broadcasting minor league baseball, I quickly learned that talent is just one sliver of the pie. I can’t remember how many times I laid eyes on a prospect and declared that he was major league bound. Yet, what I learned was that mental makeup is just as important as physical skill. The ability to file a bad performance in the trash bin and return the next day with a clean slate is often what separates the good from the great. The minor leaguer from the big leaguer. In other words, you have to get comfortable with failure.
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When Derek Jeter was in the minor leagues, he committed 56 errors in 126 games in his second season of pro ball. Yes, 56, that’s not a misprint. When he arrived in the big leagues he once endured a 0-32 slump. He turned out OK. Jeter’s ability to accept failure as a reality in the game is part of what separated him from his peers.
One Tiger that can relate is Jose Iglesias. It was a dreadful start to the 2018 campaign for Iglesias at the plate. In April he endured a stretch that produced only two hits in his first 37 at-bats. When the team rolled into Cleveland in mid-April, Iglesias joked, “I wonder if I’ll ever get another hit.” He delivered the line with a wry smile, fully understanding that slumps are a part of life in baseball. “You have to trust that eventually, you will break out of it,” he said. “If you are in the game long enough, you understand that these things happen and you have to keep moving forward.”
By mid-May though he began to show some life at the plate. Iglesias hit safely in 11 of 13 games to run his average up to .260 by mid-June.
He continues to move forward. With his average now in the .270 range, his patience has been rewarded. He was named the Tigers Player of the Month, hitting over .300 in June. Moreover, his defense has been nothing short of brilliant. Iglesias has always played with a flair on defense. This season he has made every routine play, adding a healthy dose of dazzling game-saving plays. His early struggles in the batter’s box had no effect on his glovework.
If we want to use statistical analysis to judge a player’s defensive value and performance, then Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is a good place to start. Fangraphs describes UZR in the following way:
UZR tells you how many runs better or worse that player has been relative to the average player at his position. A +5 UZR at third means the player is five runs better than the average third baseman.
So where does Iglesias stand in the major leagues in UZR? Only Angels defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons ranks ahead of Iglesias. Simmons leads all of baseball with an 8.7 UZR, but Iglesias is second at 7.2 ahead of the likes of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa.
Iglesias has turned a sour start into a sweet stretch. This may or may not be his final season as a Tiger. He is a free agent at the end of the year, and pending riches, or the potential of, can sometimes play tricks with a player’s psyche. Iglesias has perhaps learned to compartmentalize the business side of the game from the performance side.
He has heard his name mentioned in trade rumors since the last off-season. Players are very perceptive. They can sense when upheaval is on the horizon. I get the feeling that Iglesias wants to stay in Detroit. Yet, he is bright enough to understand that there is a myriad of other factors that go into decisions regarding players.
The Tigers are in the midst of a rebuild and whether or not Iglesias is part of it remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, his improved performance has made the likelihood of remaining a Tiger for the rest of this season much stronger.