Last year, Marco Scutaro posted a line of .282/.379/.409, well above his production during any other year of his career to date. Given that this happened at age 34 with a slightly inflated BABIP and an unusually low GB:FB rate, it seems likely that Scutaro will fail to live up to those numbers this year. Bill James, for one, predicts he will regress to a .264/.347/.381 hitter.
And I'm here to tell everyone that that's absolutely fine.
When talking about the shortstop position on this team, one has to temper their expectations. While we would all like to have Hanley back, or be able to pencil Troy Tulowitzki into a lineup, that simply isn't a realistic scenario. What we are confronted with instead is a team which received a .656 OPS from the various men who manned the position last year. One which has had player after player make game-deciding errors.
And what were our options to fix this? J.J. Hardy got snatched up quickly by the Twins. The front office is unwilling to trust Jed Lowrie until he has convinced them he can still hit from the left side. Many seemed downright excited to settle for a defensive-replacement type shortstop and accept a big old hole in the 9-spot again, or to try kooky experimental options which involved sacrificing Dustin Pedroia's extraordinary defense at second by moving him to a position his arm isn't suited for.
If you ask me, that would be settling. Scutaro is not.
What Marco Scutaro brings to the table is average. Not batting average, but just being average. It doesn't sound nice—it's the antithesis of flashy—but it is average at a position where our play has been anything but for the last 5 years. This is a position where Nick Green's random hot streak actually gave us hope.
On offense, Scutaro is not going to kill the ball. If he manages to slug .400 he'll be overachieving. But he does avoid that black-hole designation. While many aspects that contributed to Scutaro's career year are subject to regression, I for one don't believe that his plate discipline is one of them. Scutaro has maintained an OBP over .330 for the last 4 years, and I wouldn't be surprised if it stayed north of .350 this year as he continues to make pitchers work and takes advantage of walks. .379 might be a bit high to maintain, but we don't need that from a #9 hitter. We just need him to be average.
Scutaro's defense should also be, at worst, average. While a cursory glance at his fielding RAR shows inconsistency in the past, Scutaro has spent the last 2500-or-so innings playing average-to-great defense. Going even further in depth, there's definitely a suggestion that Scutaro benefits from consistent playing time. His range at shortstop has never been impressive, only once (2008) breaking into positive numbers. What's made him into an average fielding shortstop of late is that he's not hurting himself via the error, going from .3 runs below average in 2006, to .6 above average in 2007, 1.9 above in 2008, and finally 4.6 above in 2009. What we're left with now is a guy who, while he may not get to every ball, will turn the ones he does get to into outs at a consistent rate. No more frusturation of Renteria or Lugo. No excitement, either. Just consistency.
And who knows, maybe we get lucky. It's worth noting that Marco Scutaro DID post a wOBA of .354 last year. That he was worth 11.2 fielding runs above average in 2008. The potential is there just like it was for, say, a J.J. Hardy. Scutaro can be great like he was last year. He can be worth $20 million where we're only paying him 5. But the important point to take away from it all is that we don't need him to be. Critics of this deal claim Theo is trying to capture lightning in a bottle the way he did with Lugo, but nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, Epstein is trying to put out a 5-year-old wildfire by getting someone we can depend on to be, if nothing else, average.