Lugo: The Question, Not the Answer

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Lugo on Second, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

In that other blog I write, disclosure usually revolves around commercial relationships we have with various commercial entities. Here on wicked clevah, they’ll most often reveal personal biases I have either for or against players.

Yes, I do have biases against certain players, even Red Sox. I don’t believe in booing our own players under any circumstances – what happened to Mark Bellhorn was, in my view, just plain wrong – but I don’t have quite the same affection for each and every one of them that I do for, say, my Navajo brother.

Naturally.

So, full disclosure: on the current edition of the Boston Red Sox, the player I’m least fond of is one Julio Lugo. Besides his play in the field, I haven’t been terribly impressed by his attitude, either in interviews or when asked to fill in in left.

I’m hardly the only one guilty of being less than fond of our current starting shortstop, of course, but I was under the impression that I was leading that campaign until I read Sarah Green’s post over on UmpBump. Sweet lord.

I’m not quite that bad.

But I am not a fan, and the front office’s obsession with Lugo absolutely mystified me. Theo and the gang first tried to pry him away from the Rays prior to his trade to the Dodgers, next he was a rumored piece coming back in return for Andy Marte at one point, and once he hit the free agent market they couldn’t throw $36 million at him fast enough.

Which I never understood. He was a nice player, certainly. And we did have an opening at shortstop at the time. But $9 million? After the 2006 season, when we signed him, he was a lifetime .269/.335/.386 player. And offense, you’ll remember, was his strength.

Was he an upgrade, offensively, over Alex Gonzalez? You’d think so. And if your metric is OBP, the answer is yes. Barely, even though Gonzo was positively allergic to walks. Lugo was not, however, an upgrade in the power department. Gonzalez’ line in his single season with us?
.255/.299/.397/.696
And what has Lugo done is his season plus?
.259/.323/.341/.664
Not, I’d argue, an upgrade worth $4,625,000 (the delta between Gonzalez’ and Lugo’s ’08 salaries: I’m not even factoring in the rest of the deal).

And if offense was why he was brought in, what of his defense? Well, actually, until this year, it was better than advertised. As a shortstop, his Fielding Percentage was a tie for the fourth best of his career and he only made 19 errors, though his Range Factor was the third worst and his Zone Rating was the fourth worst.

But this year? Though it’s early, it’s the worst year of his career in a couple of categories: Fielding Percentage (excluding 2006′s 8 games at SS) and Range Factor. It’s his third worst in terms of Zone Rating, and he’s on a 46 error pace.

Things are bad enough, in fact, that Tito has taken to replacing Lugo in the late innings with Alex Cora. The same Alex Cora that several of the SOSH folks believe to be the inferior fielder. As an aside on that subject, Cora’s career numbers at SS are superior to Lugo’s in both Fielding Percentage (.971 to .964) and Zone Rating (.858 to .844), and Lugo’s edge in range factor is slight (4.57 to 4.52).

The question now is what comes next. 40 error shortstops putting up a .664 OPS for $9M+ are not the most marketable of commodities. As has been noted elsewhere, the Red Sox are unusually willing – a benefit of enlightened ownership, no doubt – to recognize a sunk cost when they see one and correct the situation, but I think a solution this season is unlikely.

To me, much depends on whether or not the club feels Jed Lowrie can handle shortstop on an everyday basis (no, I’m not a believer in Omar Vizquel, even if the rumor did originate with the great Gammons). Chad Finn, for one, is convinced that he can’t, while a scout that Baseball America spoke to was more positive (though the Eckstein comp is damning):

“Lowrie definitely profiles at the position,” the scout said. “He’s one of those guys that moves up a level and makes the big wigs go, ‘God, this guy just does everything so easy–he just does it and does it.’

“He’s kind of like David Eckstein with a lot better tools. You sit there and say to yourself, ‘That guy’s an everyday shortstop.’ He makes the plays–nothing necessarily real flashy, but he’s going to get it done. He’s made some flashy plays so far this year, but I think he was kind of playing out of his butt a little bit. I know going to the hole to get balls has been something where people have killed him in the past, but I saw him get three or four average runners to above in the first two series. He can go get it.”

Whatever the answer is on Lowrie, however, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Lugo is not the answer he felt he would be.

Which I probably could have told Theo, had he but asked.

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