The Colorado Rockies have produced 11 batting title winners in their 29 seasons thanks in part to the largest outfield in the National League that readily permits bloop singles (and doubles) and fortunately placed baseballs between defenders spaced by larger than normal gaps.
On the road, the Coors Field Hangover presents hitters with breaking balls possessing exaggerated movement compared to what’s seen at home, not to mention smaller expanses of green grass leading to markedly lower batting averages.
While José Iglesias is hitting .306 on the season following a 1-for-3 night at the plate during Friday’s 9-0 loss in San Diego, the man with the sixth-highest batting average in the NL is not doing it the normal way.
“The road is normal for me. Denver is not,” Iglesias explained when presented with his .231 batting average at 2001 Blake Street and the .370 figure away from it.
The 32-year-old has spent a large majority of his career in the American League since debuting with the Boston Red Sox in 2011. One year with the Cincinnati Reds helped produce half of his six games at Coors Field entering 2022. Only Dodger Stadium was a less familiar ballpark in a less familiar city than Denver’s confines.
Considering the Cuban-born shortstop had to defect his native land at 18-years-old in order to seek freedom and opportunities, the one place he should be able to call home has been off limits to him for quite some time.
“I feel like I’m getting better, obviously,” Iglesias shared of the transition. “I’m still collecting information from Charlie (Blackmon) and the guys who have been here for longer. It’s just a process. I’m fine with it. And I feel much better from the beginning to today.”
Sleeping regularly has been a challenge at altitude, as it is often for those not acclimated to living a mile above sea level.
One adjustment that has been positive for Iglesias has been successfully hitting in different spots throughout the batting order.
Earlier this season, he became the first in franchise history with four or more hits in a game in both the eighth and ninth spot in the order. That was followed up with three games behind leadoff hitter Connor Joe before a recent stint batting fifth, thanks to a .472 average with runners in scoring position, good for third-highest in MLB entering Friday.
“Not a big fan of the moving around thing, but as long as I’m in the lineup and I can help the team, then I’ll be okay with it,” Iglesias admitted.
Putting the ball in play has been a skill valued by manager Bud Black, who has taken advantage of Yonathan Daza’s ability to avoid the strikeout along with Iglesias’ talent. His 15 punchouts in 182 plate appearances (8.2% strikeout rate) is the lowest in the NL and fourth-lowest in the Majors.
Defensively, Iglesias has been adequate as a part of an infield that has helped turn 54 double play, most in the Senior Circuit. His six fielding errors is second-most behind San Francisco’s Brendan Crawford, and various defensive metrics don’t correct the idea that Iglesias is several years removed from being named a finalist for the Rawlings’ Gold Glove Award in 2016.
Regardless, Iglesias has done well for an organization in search of a bridge from superstar Trevor Story, who left in free agency this past offseason, to prospect Ezequiel Tovar, who continues to make noise with the Hartford Yard Goats.
Colorado’s 9-22 record since May 8 have pushed them 6.5 games behind the final Wild Card spot and, should a course correction not come organically, Iglesias and others on expiring contracts could be made available before the August 2 trade deadline.
If there’s worry about turning over the keys to shortstop to the 20-year-old prodigy, who is still two levels away in Double-A, Garrett Hampson could check off enough boxes until the Tovar is ready.
Hampson is currently the only Rockie with any Outs Above Average this season, according to Baseball Savant, and one of his two OAAs has come at shortstop.
Until then, the intrigue of Iglesias finding success at the plate away from Coors Field will have to be enough to stave off the desires of Tovar Time.