Iglesias adding 'meat & potatoes' to D menu

Ausmus: Spectacular plays still there, SS now flashing better fundamentals

Iglesias adding 'meat & potatoes' to D menu

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A flick of Jose Iglesias' right wrist can produce a throw across the infield that rivals many a strong arm. A flip behind his back can deposit a double-play ball into Ian Kinsler's glove at second without so much as the bat of an eye.

As Iglesias prepares for his second Opening Day as the Tigers' shortstop, Tuesday in Miami against the Marlins, the next step in his development is to produce plays that will never pop up on a highlight reel, manager Brad Ausmus says.

"I think Jose Iglesias has put a little more meat and potatoes into his defense," Ausmus said. "He's always had great capability, but now he's very aware of getting his feet under him and making good solid throws to go along with the great talent, great hands and great feet that he has."

The improvement could help close the gap between the defensive wizardry that puts Iglesias in an elite category at shortstop by the eye test, with the defensive metrics that seemingly underrate him.

Iglesias' leaping catch at short

Inside Edge, a scouting service that provides information to subscribing teams, categorizes fielding plays by difficulty, based on the percentage of the time similar plays are pulled off. Iglesias ranks well in every category, but where he starred last season was the even-chance plays, recording outs nine out of 13 times (69.2 percent) according to Fangraphs. Among likely plays, he was 21-for-28 (75%). On routine plays, he was 296-for-301 (98.3%).

Andrelton Simmons, far and away the MLB leader in defensive metrics, didn't fare nearly as well on even-chance or unlikely plays, but converted 99.3 percent of the 456 routine plays he had with the Braves last year. AL Gold Glove winner Alcides Escobar converted just 97.7 percent of his 436 routine plays, but 81.6 percent of likely plays.

Those categories can be difficult to translate in an era of top plays and Web gems.

"Everybody likes highlight plays," Ausmus said, "but the really great defenders make the highlight plays look easy. That's the truth of it. They make difficult plays look routine."

As an example, Ausmus thought of a former teammate, and a former Tiger. Detroit fans didn't see Adam Everett until the tail end of his career, but Ausmus played with him during his prime.

"He had tremendous range," Ausmus said. "He would get to balls on his feet, plant and throw that other shortstops would have to dive and throw. It would be a highlight-reel play for them, but for him it would look routine."

Everett posted at least 20 Defensive Runs Saved each season from 2004 to 2006, including 34 in 2005. He had a 25.1 Ultimate Zone Rating that season. He rated at nine DRS and a 5.6 UZR in 2009, his lone full season as the Tigers shortstop, then at age 32.

Iglesias had a 2.3 UZR and a minus-3 rating in Defensive Runs Saved last year, metrics that put him in the middle of the pack and seemingly don't mesh with the ability he displayed on the field. When teammate Anthony Gose called analytics a "scam" in Spring Training, he mentioned Iglesias' ratings.

Eventually, the plays and metrics should catch up. Beyond the footwork, the Tigers adjusted his positioning this spring to have him play deeper at short, since he has a habit of stepping in when he sets his feet.

"He's getting to that point now where he's making the routine plays look routine," Ausmus said, "but he's still got the ability to make the highlight-reel play."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.