Sunday Notes: José Iglesias is an Oriole, and the Six-Hole Fits Him Like a Glove

The Baltimore Orioles didn’t sign José Iglesias for his bat. The 30-year-old shortstop was brought on board this past winter for his glove, which is Wizard-like in quality. Iglesias routinely makes plays that produce hosannas from his hurlers, and harrumphs from the hitters he robbed.

Offensively, he’s humdrum. Iglesias has batted a solid .273 over 2,915 plate appearances, but a stubbornly-low walk rate and sporadic power are flies in the ointment. His 83 wRC+ isn’t bottom of the barrel — not for a middle infielder — but it’s also not indicative of a threat. Nary a pitcher shudders in fear when Iglesias stands in the box.

Is he capable of more? Could a change to his approach and/or swing mechanics result in a mid-to-late career resurgence? I asked that question to Orioles hitting coach Don Long, pointing out that Iglesias went yard a personal-best 11 times last season despite having one of the highest ground ball rates in either league.

“I don’t think it’s so much of a swing change as it is being a little bit more disciplined in what he swings at,” responded Long. “He swings a lot. He’s very similar to [Hanser] Alberto in that sense. They both have a great ability to make contact and put the ball in play. I would like to see Jose really concentrate on… being a line drive type of hitter, and if he misses a little bit toward the bottom of the ball, and it is in the air, it’s got a chance to get in the gap or out of the park.”

Long went on to say that he’s been impressed — both in the original version of spring training, and now in ‘summer camp’ — with how Iglesias is striving to improve his plate discipline.

“He doesn’t want to chase and get out around the ball, and hit the ball into the ground,” explained Long. “He knows there’s nothing there for him. He’s very mindful of having an approach, and a discipline, with what he swings at to get the ball on a line, and not just be content with putting the ball in play. He really wants to hunt pitches that you can hit hard.”

But can he? Teaching old dogs new tricks can be easier said than done, and Iglesias’s 46.7% O-Swing% was third-highest among qualified hitters last year. His 38.4% career mark isn’t nearly as bad, but his proclivity is nonetheless more Kung Fu Panda than Eddie Yost.

Prior to querying Long, I asked Iglesias how much he’s endeavored to change as a hitter since we first spoke in 2010. Moreover, was last year’s home-run bump an indication that he’s looking to drive the ball more?

“I don’t do any mechanical changes, drastically,” answered Iglesias. “Obviously [there are] little changes here and there, but nothing dramatically. But I think understanding myself as a player, as a hitter, maturing at the plate — I think that’s the main key. I have a routine that I know it works for me, and I stick with it.”

Once again, is Iglesias capable of becoming a more valuable offensive contributor? And whether he is or not, just where does he fit into Baltimore’s lineup? An old-fashioned mentality would have him hitting in the two-hole, but this is an Orioles organization led by Mike Elias with Sig Mejdal as his right-hand man. That’s not to suggest the batting-order strings will be pulled in a board room, but Punch and Judy do predate Moneyball by a great many years.

What do you think, Brandon Hyde?

“Obviously you want your high-on-base guys at the top of the order,” said the Baltimore manager. “Iggy has had a really nice career from a batting average standpoint… he makes contact and I love the way he uses the whole field. We’re really unclear on who’s in the lineup at this point, but I’m comfortable with Iggy hitting in all spots in the batting order. Ideally, I think the six-hole is a really nice spot for him. He’s a contact guy with runners in scoring position, and he’ll drive the ball occasionally. So we’ll see.”

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Left on the cutting-room floor from my recent conversation with Darren O’Day were his thoughts on Zack Britton. The two had played together in Baltimore, and the submariner’s former teammate came up during a discussion of defensive positioning.

“He’s such a freak,” O’Day said of Britton. “When we were with the Orioles, those spray charts didn’t really apply to him. I guess you can say the hitters do what the hitters do, but none of them had ever seen a mid- to high-90s split-finger before. So why not just deploy your fielders where they can cover the most space?”

I shared that I’d never heard anyone describe Britton’s sinker quite that way.

“Oh, yeah; it was the best pitch I’ve ever seen in person,” said O’Day. “I would constantly get questions from guys on other teams that I’d played with before. It would be, ‘Hey, he’s cheating, right? Like, you can’t make a baseball do that.’”

O’Day’s explanation for just how Britton did it?

“He’s got these little T-Rex arms where he can’t reach the bottom of his pockets,” said O’Day. “That allowed him to kind of get on inside of the ball. I say that because he’s a good friend of mine, but yeah, I remember a hitter saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before, so I don’t know how you expect me to hit it.’ He called it a mid-90s splitter, which was a good way to describe it.”

I neglected to ask O’Day if he recalls in which year that description was offered, but there’s a pretty good chance it was 2016. That season, Britton allowed just 38 hits in 67 innings while logging an 80 GB% and a 9.94 K/9. His ERA was 0.54.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Win Ballou went 0 for 5 against Garland Buckeye.

Geronimo Berroa went 0 for 5 against Doug Brocail.

Bobby Bolin went 0 for 5 against John Buzhardt.

Steve Bowling went 0 for 5 against Vida Blue.

Nelson Burbrink went 0 for 5 against Lew Burdette.

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Earlier this week I broached the subject of sports psychology with Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell. With the pandemic in mind, how is his club prepared to handle the unique stresses that players will face this season?

“We continue to add to our mental health and mental skills department,” Bell responded . “This year we’ve added a coordinator to the people we already had serving in that capacity. To your point, it’s… I mean, it’s more important than anything. It’s always been underserved. As players, it’s always about your physical health and physical preparedness, but… I don’t know that we’ve ever done enough about [mental health].

“I would venture to say that a lack of mental health, and a lack of mental skills, has ended more careers prematurely than [a lack of] physical health. And I think it sometimes manifests into physical injuries. It’s really important, and it’s more important now than ever. The pressures of competing at this level truly takes everything you have; it takes a toll — or it can — if you’re not staying on top of it. So, I’m really happy that as an organization, and as a team, we have great people in place to take on that challenge and help our players cope.”

Following up, I asked Bell how this year’s clubhouse-access rules will impact the applicable communication. For instance, will players and mental-skills personnel need to interact via Zoom calls?

“That will be part of the strategy,” said Bell. “But we prioritized mental health… and health in general for our players during this time. We prioritize that when we were putting the tier list together. There were some tough choices there, but anything that we can do to keep people healthy was our No. 1 priority.”

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A quiz:

Of the seven players who have been awarded 12 or more Gold Gloves, only one isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Who is he?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Peter Mancuso is the newest recipient of SABR’s highest honor, the Bob Davids Award. Mancuso has chaired SABR’s Nineteenth Century Committee since 2007.

Mike Ryan, who caught for the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies from 1964-1974, died on Tuesday at age 78. A member of the Boston’s 1967 “Impossible Dream” pennant winners, Ryan was a coach for the 1980 World Series champion Phillies.

Devin Mesoraco will reportedly be joining the University of Pittsburgh as a volunteer assistant coach. A former first-round pick out of Punxsutawney (PA) High School, Mesoraco played for the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets from 2011-2018.

NPB teams began allowing fans — a maximum of 5,000 per game — on Friday. A reported 4,891 were in attendance when the Chiba Lotte Marines hosted the Seibu Lions. The league is hoping to allow stadiums to be filled to half capacity beginning next month.

Tatsushi Masuda has been NPB’s top closer so far this season. The 32-year-old Seibu Lions right-hander is 1-0 with six saves, and has allowed just one baserunner in eight innings. Erstwhile big-leaguer Rubby De La Rosa has four saves and a 1.80 ERA for the Yomiuri Giants.

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The answer to the quiz is Jim Kaat. The left-hander won 16 Gold Gloves.

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Kyle Farmer is expected to be the backup shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds this season. It’s a position he knows well. Prior to being converted to a catcher by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Farmer played short for four years at the University of Georgia. That he did so was a result of being shunned by his target school.

He’d been hoping to play at the University of Mississippi. Farmer’s father had done so, and other members of his family had attended Ole Miss, as well. The interest wasn’t reciprocal. Receiving but a modicum of recruiting attention from the Rebels, Farmer cast his lot with the Bulldogs.

Just deserts soon followed. Not only did Farmer win the shortstop job at Georgia — and go on to earn freshman All-American honors — he “tore up Ole Miss.” It was after an especially-impressive performance that Farmer’s father was the recipient of a slice of humble pie.

“The parents at Georgia would stand behind the left field fence, listening to the postgame and drinking beer,” explained Farmer. “That’s where the opposing team’s bus was. I’d gone 3 for 4 off of Drew Pomeranz, and the radio announcer for Ole Miss, who’d been there when my dad played, was kind of getting on [Rebels coach] Mike Bianco for not getting me to Ole Miss. Bianco saw my dad, and went over to apologize. He told my dad that he was sorry for not getting me to come to Ole Miss.”

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Jameis Winston first overall in the 2015 NFL draft out of Florida State University. It wasn’t the controversial quarterback’s initial opportunity to turn pro. In 2012, the Texas Rangers had taken him in the 15th round of the MLB draft out of an Alabama high school. Rather than sign, Winston went on to play both sports with the Seminoles.

In April 2012, Kiley McDaniel got a glimpse not only of Winston’s baseball abilities, but also the character issues that manifested themselves in both college and professional football.

The following except is from McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen’s Future Value: The Battle for Baseball’s Soul and How Teams Will Find the Next Superstar.

The next inning, Kiley watched Winston intently on the mound, trying to figure out what was going on in Winston’s head. After shaking off the catcher a few times, the catcher called time and came out to the mound to talk it over. Once he got within arm’s distance of Winston, Winston shoved the catcher, almost knocking him down.”

Notably, the same chapter (which focuses on how scouts go about assessing character) of the book includes the line: “People confuse immaturity for bad makeup.” The extent to which this applies to Winston is a matter of opinion. Ditto the question of whether he could have forged a successful baseball career.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The New York Daily News, Bradford William Davis wrote about how Tony Clark and MLB’s black players are trying to seize the moment (but they’ve been here before).

The Tennessean’s Gentry Estes wrote about how having Dave Dombrowski on board means it’s time to start taking MLB-to-Nashville seriously.

The Pawtucket Red Sox’ farewell season has been wiped out, so Boston’s Triple-A affiliate has converted their outfield to a diner. Gary Santaniello has the story at The New York Times.

Over at Front Office Sports, Marisa Ingemi delved into how the cancellation of minor-league baseball is leaving many players in visa limbo.

Lotte Marines reliever Jay Jackson has been arrested on suspicion of possessing marijuana. According to Tokyo-based reporter Jim Allen, Jackson may have been set up.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Cleveland Indians pitchers have thrown 34 complete games over the past five seasons, the most in the majors. Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays pitchers have thrown two complete games over the past five seasons, the fewest in the majors.

Robin Roberts averaged 26 complete games per season from 1950-1956. The Philadelphia Phillies right-hander had one stretch where he threw a complete game in 20 consecutive starts.

The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates franchises date back to 1882. The Reds have won 10,599 games and scored 94,840 runs. The Pirates have won 10,545 games and scored 94,244 runs.

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Reb Russell hit .368 in 1922. Per stat fanatic Bill Chuck, that’s the highest-ever batting average for anyone playing exactly 60 games.

Nick Markakis has 3,462 total bases, a .358 OBP, and a .288 batting average. Adrián González had 3,462 total bases, a .358 OBP, and a .287 batting average.

Adrián González had 2,050 hits, 317 home runs, and 1,202 RBIs.
Matt Holliday had 2,096 hits, 316 home runs, and 1,220 RBIs.

On this date in 1962, Hank Aaron hit a walk-off grand slam to cap a five-run ninth inning and give the Milwaukee Braves an 8-6 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Tommie Aaron had gone deep earlier in the frame.

On this date in 1997, Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon combined for a no-hitter as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Houston Astros 3-0 in 10 innings. Mark Smith스미스 walked off the game with a pinch-hit three-run homer.

Players born on this date include Dave Ricketts, who caught for the St. Louis Cardinals (and briefly the Pittsburgh Pirates) from 1963-1970. His older brother, Dick Ricketts, pitched for the Cardinals in 1959 and also played three seasons in the NBA.

Tom Brown, who played first base and the outfield for the Washington Senators in 1963, was a starting safety for the Green Bay Packers in the first two Super Bowls.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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