When the Red Sox traded one of their all-time best players, Nomar Garciaparra, they entered a state of turmoil with regard to the shortstop position.
The Red Sox acquired Orlando Cabrera in 2004, followed quickly by Edgar Renteria and Julio Lugo. A combination of Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Alex Cora, Nick Green and Alex Gonzalez were used between 2007 and 2009.
Finally, the Red Sox signed Marco Scutaro, who started for the Red Sox in 2010. All in all, nine Red Sox started at least 50 games for the Red Sox since 2004.
Entering 2011, the Red Sox have two main options at shortstop. They can opt to continue starting Marco Scutaro, who was mediocre in 2010; or move on to Jed Lowrie, whose three stints on the disabled list since 2009 have limited his opportunities.
The Red Sox do have Jose Iglesias waiting in the minor leagues. Iglesias was ranked the 42nd best prospect in the league earlier this winter by Major League Baseball. However, he does not appear to be ready to move up to the majors, at least as a starter. It appears that 2012 is the most likely debut time for Iglesias.
Many have debated on whether to start Lowrie or Scutaro in 2011. Keep in mind that a combination of the two is certainly possible, due to Lowrie's extreme split statistics. To compare the two, I will compare the two in each aspect of the game: ability to score runs, ability to drive runs in, and fielding. Let us begin with each player's ability to score runs.
Ability to Score Runs:
Marco Scutaro: Scutaro is not a particularly great on-base hitter. He has a career on-base percentage of just .336. In 2009, his on-base percentage was very respectable, reaching .379, though that appears to be somewhat of a fluke when compared to his other seasons.
Scutaro also has a poor slugging percentage; in his career he has slugged just .385, and .388 in 2010. The reason this relates to his ability to score runs is because it shows his inability to get in scoring position. He has mediocre at best speed to make matters worse. The 2009 campaign was the only season Scutaro stole more than seven bases, and he reverted back to his norm in 2010 by stealing just five bases on nine attempts.
All in all, Scutaro is not strong in this category, which is not a good sign for his 2011 prospects as the Red Sox have a sufficient amount of power hitters, they simply need players to get on base and in scoring position.
Jed Lowrie: While Lowrie does not have phenomenal major league statistics, that is likely due to his injuries and lack of playing time. In 2010 though, Lowrie did post a .381 on-base percentage in 171 at-bats, which is very encouraging.
In the minors, Lowrie has demonstrated above average on-base potential. His last full season was 2007, during which his on-base percentage reached .393.
In 2008, his on-base percentage in the minors was .359, which is still respectable. Injuries limited Lowrie to just 114 minor league at-bats and 239 major league at-bats, so Lowrie is a bit of a wild card entering 2011. For that reason, he is a player to watch during spring training.
With regards to Lowrie's ability to reach scoring position, he does have an advantage over Scutaro. In his major league career (499 at-bats), Lowrie has a .425 slugging percentage. That number is not phenomenal, though it trumps Scutaro's .385 slugging percentage by a lot.
In his minor league career, Lowrie's slugging percentage has fluctuated between .374 and .503 in seasons with 200+ at-bats. Lowrie is not known for stealing bases; he is two for three in 499 career major league at-bats.
If Lowrie had continued his pace in 2010 for the same number of at-bats as Scutaro, he would have scored 114 runs to Scutaro's 92. In conclusion, Lowrie gets the edge in ability to get into scoring position and reach home plate.
Ability to Drive Runs In:
Marco Scutaro: Scutaro has never been known as a power hitter, mostly due to the fact that he has never been a power hitter. In 2009, he hit a career high 12 home runs, followed by a second best of his career 11 home runs in 2010. For a shortstop, these totals are very mediocre.
Scutaro's career ISO (Isolated Power) is .118. For comparison's sake, Derek Jeter has a career .139 ISO and Dustin Pedroia has a career .156 ISO. Clearly, Scutaro lacks in this category.
Scutaro, like most MLB players, is much better with runners in scoring position. He had a .297 batting average in these situations with 45 RBI in 128 at-bats. These stats are not head-turning by any standard, though they show Scutaro will not be a liability when he has opportunities to drive in runs.
If You Had to Choose One, Which Red Sox Shortstop Would You Prefer?
Again, Scutaro is nothing to be ecstatic about in this category.
Jed Lowrie: Despite hitting nine home runs in just 171 at-bats in 2010, Lowrie is not truly a power hitter. In the minors, he hit double digit home runs in just one season, though his at-bats were very limited just about every year. Lowrie has 13 to 18 home run potential, though it is likely that he will fall short of that range given 500 at-bats in 2011.
However, Lowrie's ISO has been much higher than that of Scutaro. In his 499 major league at-bats, his ISO has been .172, though that is heavily influenced by his surprising 2010 power which can not be expected in 2011.
In the minors, Lowrie's ISO has varied between the low .110s to the low .200s. He has the potential to be a relatively strong run producer among shortstops, though he is not a guarantee, especially coming off of an injury.
Scutaro is the safer choice, though Lowrie has the potential to be a bigger threat.
Marco Scutaro: Among qualified shortstops in 2010, Scutaro ranked 14th out of 21 in UZR with a -2.9 showing. He fared no better in terms of fielding percentage, as he ranked 17th among qualified shortstops with a poor .965 fielding percentage. Scutaro has never been an elite defender, and if his age gives him problems in 2011, he may become a liability for the Red Sox.
Jed Lowrie: Lowrie does not have a sufficient amount of major league statistics to have a sense of where he stands as a fielder relative to other major leagues. However, he has been touted in this regard.
In 2008, when Lowrie was just 24, Francona said about Lowrie playing third and shortstop, "We're talking about a kid making his debut in the major leagues and he's going back and forth between third and short. And he's really handled it quite well. He's done it not only in different games, but in the middle of games."
Based on his little major league experience, it appears that Lowrie will develop into an above average fielder.
If I had to choose one of the two shortstops to start all 162 games in 2011, I would likely choose Scutaro due to his consistency. However, I am not restricted to this, and truthfully the best option is a platoon based on the opposing pitchers.
In his career, Lowrie has been dominant against right-handed pitching and miserable against lefties. Here are his career splits:
Versus lefties (170 at-bats): .324 batting average/30 runs/7 home runs/36 RBI/1 stolen base
Versus righties (324 at-bats): .216 batting average/40 runs/6 home runs/45 RBI/1 stolen base
Clearly, he should be the starter against opposing left-handed pitchers. On the other hand, he should sit every game against righties.
Entering the 2011 season, the best plan for the Red Sox is for Scutaro to be the main starter, with Lowrie playing the majority of the games against left-handed pitchers, and also pinch-hitting versus lefties. This way, the two will complement each other's skill sets and lower their injury risk by reducing their number of games played.