Appreciating Marco Scutaro

For seven years, the Red Sox have had a shortstop problem.

Or at least that's the popular thinking these days. Ever since the departure of Nomar and his replacement Orlando Cabrera following the historic 2004 campaign, it's been a revolving door of mediocrities and stopgaps that have left Sox fans desperate for an answer. 

First there was Edgar Renteria, who earned the nickname Rent-A-Wreck for his horrid defensive displays.

Then there was Alex Gonzalez, whose defense looked so much better than Renteria's that it actually allowed some Sox fans to overlook his sub-.300 OBP in the midst of a steroid-era lineup, romanticizing his year with the team so much so that they count his departure as a major error of Theo's.

Actually, that probably more reflects on his replacement: Julio Lugo and his 4-year, $36 million contract. Lugo entered Boston as the answer, and left as one of the most vilified Sox in recent history. He played Renteria-level defense, had worse offensive numbers than Alex Gonzalez, and arguably made his greatest contributions to the team when he managed to injure himself. To this day, he is anathema; a name only to be uttered as a ridiculous scapegoat in terrible times.

Which leads us--after a few stops at the law offices of Lowrie, Green, and (again) Gonzalez--to Marco Scutaro: a man who doesn't receive half the credit he deserves.

Consider this: from 2005 to 2009, the Red Sox received a .303 wOBA and a slightly negative fielding effort on the whole, largely thanks to the efforts of Lowrie and Gonzalez who dragged them from the defensive depths. A team typically in the top-5 of baseball received a bottom-5 effort from their shortstops for five long years. 

Now, Marco Scutaro is not a top-5 shortstop in baseball. But that's not what the Sox desperately needed at the position. They just needed someone who didn't earn screams of frustration.

Perhaps it's because Marco Scutaro joined the team with higher expectations. He was coming off of a career-best season with a .379 OBP.

Perhaps it's because fans still don't have a really good idea of what the Sox were paying for in Marco Scutaro. They did not, as they did with Lugo, bite on a career year (much less one year after the fact). I constantly see comments and even receive emails that peg Marco Scutaro's salary at around $8 million. And really, that's what people were expecting some team would shell out after Scutaro's big season. Instead, he's in at $5.5 million a year (with his signing bonus, before considering his options). 

Or maybe it's just the way a typical Marco Scutaro season goes. He's not going to light the world on fire, and his more frustrating periods seem to happen all at once, like he just forgets how to play the game. A certain John Lackey start against the Rays comes to mind, as does his April. It probably doesn't help that, as one of the more patient players in the system, he has watched a lot of hittable pitches fly past.

But regardless of the impression Marco Scutaro leaves, he's been a good baseball player for the Red Sox at a good price for these last two years.

Offensively, he's not the sort of guy who needs to be held to Kevin Cash rules. While his .279/.338/.392 line with the Sox won't make anyone forget about Nomar, the .323 wOBA it results in has to be taken in context. Amongst qualifying shortstops, only one even breaches a .351 mark--that would be Troy Tulowitzki and his ridiculous .401 mark--and after you get past Hanely and Reyes at that .351 spot, there's another steep drop off which quickly reaches Scutaro's neighborhood. Scutaro actually comes in above the median.

Defensively he's not been amazing either, but again, he's avoided the territory of Rent-A-Wreck and Lugo, coming in just below average by both UZR and DRS--numbers that generally match with his career totals and the eye test.

All-in-all, the package results in a player who has put up 4.8 WAR in about two years of work despite playing through what sounded like a nasty muscular condition last year. On the bottom of the pile of two-year regulars, yes, but still, a solid figure. When the Sox signed Adrian Beltre for $10 million it was seen as a smart move even before the third baseman had an MVP-caliber year, when all we were expecting was a decent bat to come with his glove. Why is it that Scutaro is given such a bum rap for that sort of production at that sort of price?

You can say it's because it comes over two years, but we've seen the alternatives that the Sox have used to fill in the position. Sadly Jed Lowrie has not proved the answer despite his flashes of brilliance, and Jose Iglesias hasn't shown that he can handle a bat at all. What Marco Scutaro has done is to spare us from the likes of Lugo, stabilize the position, and do so at an entirely reasonable price.

So thank you, Marco Scutaro. You've been worth the money (twice as much by Fangraphs' valuations), and that's all the Sox and us fans can reasonably ask.

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