Just a preface to the article. Although it may appear otherwise, I have not fallen off the face of the earth. Senior year of college, and all that it entails has been taking its toll on me, so my posting has been virtually non-existent over the past few months. I’m trying to remedy the situation, and while I almost certainly won’t be writing on a daily basis, I am going to try to increase the frequency of my contributions, both on the minors and other topics. Thanks for your understanding, and to the other writers for keeping up the great work. And now, back to baseball.
We Yankee fans have been spoiled for the last 13 years to have Derek Jeter as our starting shortstop. Despite his defensive struggles (which he improved on this season), Jeter’s exceptional production at a position high on the defensive spectrum (in terms of value and difficulty to play) has made him an extraordinary asset to the Yankees, especially in comparison to their New England rivals. For the last five or so years, since Nomar Garciaparra’s departure, the Boston Red Sox have struggled to fill the shortstop position. Because they traded away a future all-star in Hanley Ramirez (in the Josh Beckett deal), the Sox have instead employed a revolving door of mediocrity that has included the likes of the erratic Julio Lugo, familiar utilityman Nick Green, the disappointing Edgar Renteria, and (to this point) unimpressive youngster Jed Lowrie.
Boston GM Theo Epstein, normally the recipient of significant praise, has been criticized by the Fenway Faithful and even the normally adoring media for his inability to find at least an average shortstop, much less an all-star caliber one to compete with Jeter in the Bronx. Dustin Pedroia reportedly offered to switch to shortstop (the position he played in college), but the Red Sox decided to leave the Gold Glove winner at 2nd. By signing Marco Scutaro, probably the top shortstop on the market this offseason (excluding Chone Figgins, who can play the position, but likely won’t) to a 2-year deal worth 12.5 million with an option for a 3rd year, Epstein and the Sox hope they have solved their shortstop problem. While this is only a short term fix, the 2 (possibly 3) year deal gives 19 year-old Cuban shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias the time he needs to develop his hitting (his defense is already major league ready, allegedly).
To Yankee fans, Scutaro is a familiar nemesis, having played on division rival Toronto for the last 2 seasons, and probably most notable for hitting a game-winning homer off Mariano Rivera while a member of the Oakland Athletics. He had a career year for Toronto last season, going .282/.379/.409 with 12 homers, 100 runs and 60 RBI, as well as 90 walks against 75 strikeouts. His defense at short was 1.3 runs above replacement, so he was basically an average defender. From Fangraphs, we can see that he was a 4.5 WAR player, worth 20.2 million according to their valuation. If 2009 Scutaro is the Scutaro that Boston signed, then Boston likely got a bargain, since his production in 2009 was worth more than 6.25 million.
However, 2009 for Scutaro was likely a career year, and given his career to date, it is likely to expect some regression. His batting average of .282 represented a career high, .15 points higher than his previous high. His BABIP was a little higher (.308) in ’09 than his career average (.292), but not enough to raise concern about luck. When looking at Scutaro’s stats in 2009, the number that jumps out at you is the number of walks. Scutaro walked 90 times in 2009, a 58% jump from his previous high of 57, in 2008. The walk total might be expected to return to career norms, since he had never come close to 90 walks prior. His strikeout numbers have been relatively low throughout his career, 2009 didn’t really change anything in that regard.
Scutaro might have made improvements in patience and pitch selection that contributed to his offensive success in 2009, but at 34, it is more likely that Scutaro is on the decline. Bill James projects Scutaro to put together a season similar to that of 2008, which would mean some decline in average (to .264) and patience (68 walks), which combined with his average (and possibly declining) defense, would make Scutaro a 2.5-3 WAR player for Boston. Since Scutaro is not making much money, he could be worth the contract (he’d be worth 12 million as a 2.7 WAR player). The combination of Nick Green and Jed Lowrie in 2009 yielded about 0.5 WAR, so assuming Scutaro doesn’t regress significantly, his addition will add 2 wins worth of production.
From the perspective of possibly adding 2 wins, the Scutaro deal is a definite upgrade for the Sox. However, the likely upgrade over a full season of Jed Lowrie (according to his 2008 value) is not significant (Lowrie put up 1.9 WAR in 81 games in 2008). Lowrie is superior defensively (8 runs above replacement in 2008, 3.3 in 2009), and could be a similar offensive player (less patience but possibly more power). I understand Theo wanting to get an established veteran shortstop who will likely be average to above-average production wise, but Scutaro’s career season in a contract year at age 33 would make me very skeptical that he could continue to perform at that level. Losing a 1st-round pick for signing the Type A free agent Scutaro is something that would concern a draft-follower like me, but considering that the Sox already have the #20 pick (courtesy of the Braves signing Billy Wagner), giving up #28 to shore up a longtime hole is not a big loss. In conclusion, while Scutaro will likely outperform Boston’s 2009 shortstop production, the upgrade is by no means a game-changer, even if Scutaro doesn’t experience significant decline. If he does decline, we could be looking at Julio Lugo 2.0. And if the money given to Scutaro prevents Boston from signing Holliday, Bay, or John Lackey, Yankee fans should breathe a sigh of relief.