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Lowrie, Lugo, and the future at SS.



So, I'm not sure how to say this, but we might be saying a tough goodbye to Julio Lugo this winter. Some people might not think it'll be that tough. In a sense, it would be, because we would no doubt have to pick up some of the tab on the rest of the $18M he is owed over the next two seasons. And I cannot imagine a team wanting Lugo enough to send us something of value for him. What teams will be in need of a SS for 2009?

Tigers: Want to lower payroll, so they might decide to go the band-aid route a la 2008 Orioles. And Renteria was a disappointment in Detroit, and I'm not sure they would want to get everyone's hopes up again only to be dashed. Despite all this, there might be pressure to get more than a band-aid option at a cheaper price than what the Pirates might want for Jack Wilson, and what a player like Orlando Cabrera might want as a free agent.

White Sox: With the less-than-ideal relationship between manager Ozzie Guillen and Orlando Cabrera, it is not difficult to forsee a situation in which Cabrera is not resigned. The White Sox look poised to win the division and seem strong enough to have a decent shot at getting to the Series. I doubt there'll be any edict handed down to slash payroll.

Reds: Bit of a longshot here, I suppose, but the position will be open I believe, and the Reds don't operate on a small-market budget for the most part. 

Dodgers: A big-market team that tries to operate on a small-market budget, despite it's GM's preference for veterans to block his capable prospects. Lugo could prove to be cheaper in the short and long run than Furcal if that's the route the Dodgers are thinking of going in, despite the presence of Chin-Lung Hu

Giants: Is the organization dumb enough? Vizquel is going to be a FA, and the smart route is to pick up someone out of chances with another organization, or see if one of their internal options could potentially stick. Like the Dodgers, cannot rule them out of acquiring a veteran with more in the rear-view than ahead.

Yeah, not a lot of options, and cannot guarantee that all of them are. We also really couldn't expect anything of value in return. The only thing we would "get" is to free up the spot for the talented Jed Lowrie to hit 2nd, 6th, or 7th for many years to come in this lineup. 

We have to be a little careful here. Lowrie's OPS+ of 116 has been compiled in only 50 ML games. Despite the miniscule difference between his ML OPS (.838) and his MiL OPS (.827) it's still a small sample. The good news is, there's several more games with which to watch and evaluate Lowrie. I personally think that this is the hitter he is. I think, eventually, he'll be a double-digit HR guy in addition to the doubles and clutch hitting. However, it would be prudent to reserve full judgement.

The main question with Lowrie, in view of both scouts and statisticians was his defense. Not many doubted that he could hit with this proficiency at this level. Many doubted that he'd be able to just keep the curtain up on defense at the SS position. They felt he'd have to be moved to 3B or 2B to make up for a projected lack of range. With SSS caveats still applying, let's take a look at how he's done.

RZR (revised zone rating, The Hardball Times): Lowrie's in 238 innings at the position is .833. He'd be right between/among Khalil Greene (considered a good defender) and J.J. Hardy (not considered good, IIRC) if he had enough innings to qualify. Perhaps more importantly, this puts him middle of the pack in RZR, so to say he'd be a butcher could definitely be wrong. He also has gotten to 11 balls out of zone, which would (beware fuzzy math) give him 50-51 in the same number of innings as RZR leader Miguel Tejada. Some of the order of SS in RZR makes it seem questionable, (Jason Bartlett too low, Jeter, Tejada, Michael Young too high) but it's worth considering in this exercise.

Rate(2) (100 as the baseline, Baseball Prospectus): We'll have to go a lot simpler on this one. Lowrie's Rate2 at SS is 99, where 100 is an average fielder. So he is below average in that sense. However, Lugo with an 86 is even more below-average. Lugo is also a -1 in Fielding Runs Above Replacement and -12 in Fielding Runs Above Average, versus 6 and 1 for Lowrie, respectively. 

These are just two statistical sets. Chris Dial has a system as well, which has Jed Lowrie in 6th among ALL AL players to have played at SS this season, which is quite a few if you click through the link on the link I provided to Dial's spreadsheet (notice also: Pedroia a distant 2nd behind Mark Ellis at 2B, and Coco Crisp at the very bottom of AL CFs). 

As I've already mentioned, these are all small samples. We can't count on them to be valid measures of Lowrie's defense, but if he can keep these performances up, the questions about his defense would seem to be answered. 

Everything to this point says that Lowrie will be a more than capable ML SS at the plate and in the field. Is giving him 150 games there next season worth either A) Eating some of Lugo's contract or B) Risking the ire of Lugo by asking/telling him he will be serving as a supersub next season? Honestly, it is. And if the Sox can't make that decision, then I'm not sure how much faith we can have in the FO.