A Decade of Awfulness: Red Sox Shortstops

by Marc on October 12, 2010

in MLB Beyond the Sox,Red Sox

Photo courtesy of Boston.com

While watching the Braves attempt to keep their season alive against the Giants on Monday, there was a play that involved two former Red Sox shortstops–Alex Gonzalez and Edgar Renteria. Renteria, in the form anyone who watched the 2005 team remembers, did not field a ball cleanly, but was able to get the runner (Gonzalez) out because he failed to run hard down the line. Just a few days prior, Dusty Baker was penciling Orlando Cabrera, another former Sox shortstop, into the #2 spot in the Reds’ lineup despite owning the on-base percentage equivalent of the Mendoza line. Nomar Garciaparra, who needs no introduction, is still in our lives as an analyst at ESPN. As for Julio Lugo, well, he’s at home watching the playoffs, because he played for the Orioles.

It is–and should be–shocking that three of the eight playoff teams this year have former Red Sox shortstops in their employ, because, with the exception of early-decade Nomar, they were all terrible. Orlando Cabrera has been the most productive of the bunch since leaving, but that was six years ago, and he has not been much better than replacement level the past two seasons. Edgar Renteria was dealt one year into his long-term deal with the Red Sox thanks to showing up to spring training looking like a doughy baked good and wielding a bat and glove about as well as you can imagine one to as well. Julio Lugo was meant to plug the hole at shortstop, but thanks to a broken finger he sustained the summer before coming to town, had his offense derailed and his defensive ability, which had been a plus for him in the past, seemed a distant dream the further into his contract he went. Boston seems to have a serious love affair with Alex Gonzalez, but it is not requited love, as his on-base percentage and lack of power production was not enough to make him a viable, useful option at the position despite his glove work.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Red Sox starting shortstops combined for 25.4 Wins Above Replacement from 2000-2009. Nomar was responsible for 21.7 of that WARP on his own, despite missing all but 21 games in 2001 and being dealt at the deadline in 2004. Cabrera (0.8), Renteria (1.8), Gonzalez (0.7) and, the worst offender, Lugo (0.4 over parts of three seasons) made up the rest of that. Think about that for a moment–the most productive campaign Boston has had from a shortstop since 2004 was thanks to Edgar Renteria. “Rent-a-Wreck”, who was more disappointing than he was awful, was worth four-and-a-half times more in terms of wins than Julio Lugo was able to amass over the course of over 1,000 plate appearances with the Sox in his lone season with the club.

The torture was set aside in 2010, with Marco Scutaro coming in just shy of 3.0 WARP despite playing through injuries for much of the second half. He was about half-a-win behind the total output of Sox shortstops from 2005-2009, while injured, in 1,645 fewer plate appearances.

I said it’s “shocking” that three playoff teams would have shortstops of this caliber, but when you think of how the league is at present, it’s not that surprising, even if it is somewhat depressing. The Red Sox won a World Series with Lugo as their shortstop in 2007, for one, because if you are going to punt at any position, at least on offense, shortstop is the one to do it. They had the lowest average True Average of any position this year, and hit a collective .260/.319/.372. Of course you want to have a quality shortstop if you can, but if it comes down to paying Orlando Cabrera the baseball equivalent of pennies in order to afford help elsewhere, at more talent-infused positions, then the decision you make is a no-brainer. There just are not enough quality shortstops around the league, and using the average TAv is even somewhat deceiving, as most of the offensive value is wrapped up in four or five shortstops (Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, etc.) while the rest are league average hitters or far worse.

It has been nightmarish the past few seasons trying to find a shortstop who can help Boston, but as many of the playoff teams are showing, it’s not a position you need to fill if you have other holes. It’s not just former Sox shortstops, either–Derek Jeter was good but not great this year, Jason Bartlett of the Rays has more vitriol spewed at him from the intelligentsia than anyone else on the roster, Elvis Andrus had a slugging percentage hovering around the .300 mark this year despite playing in a hitter’s park, and the Padres, who just missed the playoffs, employed Miguel Tejada there for most of the second half because they knew they could get away with it.

If you see Marco Scutaro fail to make a play, or fail to drive in a runner in 2011, just remember that, in one season, he almost matched half-a-decade’s worth of value. As Boston fans, we are spoiled by the memory of Nomar, a memory that subsequent shortstops did their best to soil. You don’t need a star at the position in order to succeed–sure, you’re taking advantage of positional scarcity by having one, but there are just a handful of shortstops you can call elite, and almost the entire league is left with something closer to average or Gonzalezian in nature. Be thankful that Boston has a player of Scutaro’s caliber, and hope that when his contract runs out, they have someone to fill his shoes. If not though, it’s not a big deal, even if it does make you want to tear your hair out.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

mattymatty2000 October 12, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Marc, thanks for the great writing and for the site in general. I’m looking forward to you’re analysis of what will likely be a pretty interesting off season in Boston. To that end, what do you think of Jed Lowrie as a shortstop? Like you said above, he might not make all the plays but the guy can actually hit, which is about twenty rungs above the shortstops most teams employ. I really like Lowrie at short with Scutaro as a sort of super sub in the Alex Cora role.

My other question: do you think there is anyone in the Red Sox minor league system who could be an impact shortstop in the future?

Again, thanks for the site and the article, and please, keep up the great work.

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Marc October 13, 2010 at 7:41 am

Both of those questions are things I plan on tackling pretty soon, actually. I kind of want to see Lowrie in the super-sub role for 2011 though, so he can prove that he can last an entire season on a health basis.

Jose Iglesias is the potential impact shortstop in the future–he missed some time this year with injury, but has an AFL stint, so we’ll get an extended look at him anyways.

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Matt October 15, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Let’s remember that Lowrie had ONE injury in the MLB and he has showed that he stay healthy for a year in the minors.

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Mike October 13, 2010 at 6:01 am

Great look at a long decade on the shortstop-go-round. While Scutaro isn’t going to set the world on firer he’s at least dependable at th things he does.

It’s too bad Lowrie wasn’t a sure thing heading into 2010. His .268/.350/.458 AAA line is nothing to sneeze at. I’m sure Theo wants to get the SS Monkey off his back after solving 2B with Pedroia.

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Marc October 13, 2010 at 7:42 am

Now that his wrist is healthy and he has cut down on his strikeouts, Lowrie is much more intriguing. Boston thinks his bat will carry him at any position, and while I’m leaning more towards agreeing with that sentiment as time goes on, I’m still a little worried about his durability. He’s had a variety of injuries and ailments over the years, and a healthy season would make me feel a lot more comfortable with him.

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Paul-SF October 14, 2010 at 5:32 am

Lowrie did have an injury in the minors, but since he came to the majors he’s really had just the one injury and the one ailment. The wrist injury he tried to resolve with rest only, which was a mistake and has contributed to this idea that he’s the next J.D. Drew in terms of injuries because it turned out he needed surgery instead. Then there was the mono, which best I can tell is not an indication of future proneness to illness or injury.

Of course, “just” the one injury and one ailment have robbed him of most of three seasons in the majors, and he does have to prove he can last a full season. I think he will.

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Leonard Johnson October 15, 2010 at 9:25 am

I want Burleson back. Bring back the Rooster!

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donkeyball October 15, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Sure, as long as you send back Carney Lansford.

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