Saturday, February 26, 2011

Red Sox Player Preview: Marco Scutaro

Marco Scutaro heads into the 2011 season in a complicated situation. He's the only player on the roster in the midst of a position battle.

Sox manager Terry Francona already told the media at the Boston Baseball Writers' dinner months ago that Scutaro would be their man between second and third, but also acknowledged Jed Lowrie was breathing down Scutaro's neck.

“But this guy (Lowrie) gives us something that I don’t know a lot of teams can say they have," Francona said back in January. "A switch-hitter that can play first base, second, third or short, and play it a lot...We have a guy, and he’s a switch-hitter to boot, so there’s a lot to really like. I think Jed is certainly an everyday player. In our opinion, it may not happen in April, and that’s not really a bad thing.”

So if you're Marco Scutaro, you're not exactly feeling confident about your spot as the Sox shortstop, a position that Boston seems to be cursed at since trading away Hanley Ramirez in 2005. Scutaro will be entering the final year of his contract, with a team option for next year. Will Scutaro be able to perform well enough this year to keep his job and stay with Boston in the future?

We will look at his 2010 statistics, his career highs in parenthesis, and his 2011 outlook.

Games: 150 (150, 2010)
Average: .275 (.282, 2009)
On-Base Percentage: .333 (.379, 2009)
Slugging Percentage: .388 (.409, 2009)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .721 (.789, 2009)
Home Runs: 11 (12, 2009)
Runs Batted In: 56 (60, 2009, 2008)
Runs: 92 (100, 2009)
Doubles: 38 (38, 2010)
Walks: 53 (90, 2009)
-3.3 (+17.8, 2008)

*UZR/150 is a sabermetric number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games. Zero is an average fielder.

2011 Outlook:

Despite battling injuries to his shoulder/neck area, Scutaro set some career highs last year and came pretty close to tying some others. Scutaro led the 2010 Sox in runs and at-bats and was second place in hits and doubles. Quietly, Scutaro had a very good 2010 season, offensively at least. The shortstop did however struggle defensively. It's a fact that has been well documented and duly noted by fans around New England, however one has to figure that the shoulder issues figured into those struggles.

"Scutaro said that some days last season he would rise late in the morning and feel daunted with how much he had to do just to get loose for a game that night," writes's Tony Lee. "The fact that he trudged through and remained productive (all while hitting leadoff in place of the ailing Jacoby Ellsbury) gained him a large measure of respect in the clubhouse."

What many Sox fans remember -- and what likely has them calling for Lowrie to replace him -- is that Scutaro had a lowly September last year. Scutaro revealed to Lee that he had tests that revealed "pretty bad inflammation" in his right shoulder, while adding that he had struggled to even throw the ball 10-feet. The injury forced the Sox to move Scutaro to second base in September, where his UZR/150 dipped to -12.5 in 16 games. Scutaro was then shut down for the season.

Health will be the key for Scutaro this season if he wants to keep his starting job. He posted some career best numbers offensively while injured, and if able-bodied this year you have to assume that both those and his defense will improve. In a lineup that's lethal enough without Scutaro, a big year from him would only make Boston even scarier to teams.

The famed statistician, Bill James, has predicted Scutaro to have a .713 OPS with 10 homers. Based on his performances in recent years, you'd have to expect Scutaro to outperform that prediction if physically fit.

For 2011, Scutaro told that he expects to be batting ninth in the lineup, the spot he started at last season before taking over for the injured Ellsbury at the top of the order. It's a good spot for Scutaro, who can definitely get on base for a deadly top six.

So, the big question looming over Scutaro is whether or not he can stave off the developing Jed Lowrie. The most likely scenario is that the two players split the position at short stop for most of the year. However, if Scutaro can continue to put up numbers like he has in recent years, Sox fans could expect to see him night in night out at shortstop.

Previous Players Previewed:

Kevin Youkilis

Adrian Gonzalez

Dustin Pedroia

Carl Crawford

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Jacoby Ellsbury

J.D. Drew

Want to know more about Marco Scutaro's outlook in 2011?  Please comment and ask questions in the comments section.  Also, find me on Twitter @SaverSports.

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