Listening to Sox fans here and elsewhere you would think Boston would be undefeated if they had a different shortstop. Every Lugo gaffe is magnified to the point where you’d think a minimum of ten unearned runs resulted from each of his (many) errors. Sure, Lugo has had an awful start defensively. But, over his career, he has been an average to above-average defender—certainly nothing special, but not too bad. What the Lugo detractors miss is how good he has been at the plate this year. In fact, as of right now, Julio Lugo is the top offensive shortstop in the AL. I would rather have Lugo than the shortstop most Sox fans pine away for: Orlando Cabrera.
Cabrera v. Lugo career:
There is no question that OC is better defensively, but not by as much as most people think. Cabrera has a career .979 FPCT at short, with a RF of .458 and ZR of .848. Lugo’s career fielding numbers as a shortstop aren’t that much worse: .964 FPCT .457 RF .842 ZR. Offensively, they are virtually the same player over their careers:
Lugo .272 AVG/.334 OBP/.393 SLG
OC .271 AVG/.320 OBP/.399 SLG
Cabrera v. Lugo so far this year:
OC has been much better defensively. He has only made 1 error and Lugo has made about 10,000. However, Lugo has been significantly better at the plate. Cabrera has the second-worst OPS of any AL shortstop. Here’s how they stack up so far:
Lugo .295 AVG/.364 OBP/.342 SLG
OC .228 AVG/.287 OBP/.305 SLG
Sox fans have not given Lugo credit for what he has done offensively so far this year. He has the highest AVG and OBP of any AL shortstop (including Cap’n Intangibles). He has a higher OBP than Ortiz, Tek, Pedroia, or Lowell. I haven’t heard any criticism of Dusty, who hits second in the order and is sporting an OBP of .331.
Another thing Sox fans forget: if the Sox kept OC they might not have Jacoby Ellsbury or Jed Lowrie, players drafted with the picks the Sox received for letting Cabrera walk. Would you trade Lugo, Ellsbury, and Lowrie for OC? No rational Sox fan would make that trade.
Lugo may not be the ideal choice at short. But I would rather have him than the other three choices: OC, Edgar Renteria, or Alex Gonzalez. I haven’t heard many Sox fans asking for Edgar’s return, so I’ll skip him. As for Gonzalez, he isn’t durable. He played only 103 games in 2007 and has yet to play this year. While Gonzo is sure-handed, he lacks range. In 2007, he sported an RF or 4.24 and a ZR of .838. Those numbers would have placed him near the bottom (just ahead of Renteria) in RF and in the middle of the pack in ZR had he played enough games. Gonzalez is also awful at the plate: .295 career OBP.
How about the argument that the Sox can’t win with Lugo at shortstop? That’s silly. They won the World Series last year with him. In the 2007 postseason, Lugo hit .271 AVG/.340 OBP/.333 SLG, much better than he hit in the regular season. Those numbers are close to his career regular season hitting stats. If they won with him last year, they can win it again with Lugo at shortstop.
Lugo isn’t the biggest problem on the team right now, the bullpen is. Right now, the Sox really have only one truly reliable arm out of the pen: Papelbon. This doesn’t mean that they won’t turn it around (it’s a long season). Bullpens are tricky to predict. On paper, the Angels have one of the better pens—and they’ve been worse than Boston so far.
The Sox have a deep team and lots of players in the minors. As things stand now, I’d be shocked if they missed the playoffs this year. I think it would take an injury epidemic for them to fail. They’ve lost some frustrating games (and probably won some they didn’t deserve to). It’s a long season. I’m not really worried about the team overall, although I do have some relief pitching concerns. Lugo isn’t perfect. But he isn’t the problem with this team, and there really isn’t any player out there who would be better right now.