Decent shortstops are hard to come by, but the Red Sox have now traded away two potential starters this offseason. After trading Jed Lowrie to the Astros for Mark Melancon, Ben Cherington and Company completed a deal this weekend to send Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for Clayton Mortensen and $6 million in salary relief. In each case the Red Sox dealt from depth to solidify perceived weaknesses. Melancon improves the Papelbon-less bullpen, and the $6 million previously due to Scutaro can now be reallocated to the starting rotation.
Given the issues the Red Sox faced with their rotation last year, the newly available money can go a long way towards signing Roy Oswalt or acquiring Wandy Rodriguez. Last season, the Red Sox offense and bullpen were statistical bests in the American League, but the overall rotation struggled in both the performance and health departments. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett pitched well, but Clay Buchholz couldn’t stay on the mound, and the rest of the rotation was a mess. All told, the Red Sox rotation posted the highest walk rate in the league and finished in the bottom third in ERA, FIP and SIERA.
Without much money available to improve the starting staff, the Sox turned to both Aaron Cook and Vicente Padilla on minor league deals, hoping to recreate the Bartolo Colon/Freddy Garcia magic the Yankees experienced. Now, the Red Sox have the capability of acquiring someone who can offer a greater level of assurance in improving the rotation. But it doesn’t come without a cost, as the Sox are now forced to use a platoon of Nick Punto and Mike Aviles at the most important position in the infield.
Over the last three seasons, Scutaro has been the best of the Red Sox four shortstop candidates. He posted an above average wOBA and rated average-ish in the field. Lowrie fielded similarly but his .317 wOBA trailed Scutaro’s .338 mark during the span. Aviles had a .305 wOBA and the worst fielding rating of the bunch. That leaves Punto, who has a +21 fielding rating since 2009, across multiple positions, and above average baserunning to boot. He can’t hit, but has proven himself a very good fielder. At that position, the no-hit/all-glove player has some value. However, combining that type of player with a below average bat that can’t field feels more like punting the position.
As a playoff hopeful, the Red Sox shouldn’t really forego the shortstop position just to sign an older Oswalt coming off an injury-shortened season. In the PuntoViles Platoon’s defense, the utility they provide to the Red Sox isn’t in what they have done, but rather in what they can do moving forward. In a platoon, it’s possible to mask the weaknesses and heighten the strengths. In this case, however, those generalities don’t necessarily apply.
In approximately 30 percent of his career plate appearances, Aviles has a very good .350 wOBA against lefties, compared to a .307 mark against same-handed righties. However, those career splits include his rookie 2008 campaign, when he hit .325/.354/.480, put up a .360 wOBA and posted a +11 fielding mark. Suffice to say, he hasn’t come close to those stats since, and his 2009-11 numbers are more indicative of his expected output.
Focusing strictly on the last three seasons, Aviles has still performed better against lefties, but the wOBA gap substantially shrinks to .320 vs. .314. That difference isn’t statistically significant, and his numbers against opposite-handed hurlers certainly aren’t gaudy for an advantageous platoon split.
Essentially, the Red Sox have two shortstops that can’t hit, and only one that can field. Plus, the good glove belongs to a 34-year old part-time player that hasn’t played over 100 games since 2009 and hasn’t spent more than 500 innings at the position since 2008. The Red Sox offense will still produce well, especially if Carl Crawford regresses, but it isn’t yet clear that the trade-off of the shortstop position for Oswalt is beneficial to the team. This isn’t a traditional platoon in any sense of the term, and it’s hard to envision how this tandem will pay dividends over the course of a long season.
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