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The post-Nomar Garciaparra Boston Red Sox have been notorious for their revolving door at shortstop. Since the 2004 trading deadline, the Sox have employed Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez (again), and Marco Scutaro. That’s eight different starting shortstops in only seven-and-a-half years, and Scutaro was traded away this past offseason for pitcher Clay Mortensen, owner of a 5.12 big-league ERA. (Yippee! He’ll fit right in with Matt Albers and Bobby Jenks!)
Entering Spring Training 2012, new manager Bobby Valentine had three options at SS: trade deadline acquisition Mike Aviles, utility infielder Nick Punto, and hot prospect Jose Iglesias. The Red Sox brass, led by GM Ben Cherington and President Larry Lucchino, insisted that Iglesias needed more time in Pawtucket to hone his skills at the plate, while Valentine seemed to become more and more interested in having Iglesias break camp with the big club as Spring Training progressed. On Tuesday, Sox management got their way as Iglesias was sent down to Pawtucket, paving the way for Aviles, owner of a .313 Spring Training batting average, to begin the season as the Sox’ starting shortstop.
Some have argued that the Red Sox should simply trade away Aviles, and hand the starting job to Iglesias while getting a key piece in return. (Like maybe the right fielder that the Red Sox front office apparently forgot to acquire. Yes, I know about Cody Ross. He hit .240 last year.) In my opinion, this would only hurt the Sox and would not be a wise decision.
The reason is twofold: Iglesias is not significantly better than Aviles defensively, and Iglesias hits like 1979 Mario Mendoza.
It is a common claim that shortstop is such an important defensive position that it’s worth sacrificing offense (in this case, about 80 points of batting average) for the runs saved by a Gold-Glover. While I am not well versed enough in the world of statistics to verify or deny this claim, the numbers show that Iglesias is only slightly better defensively than Aviles.
In four big-league seasons, Aviles carries a .973 fielding percentage and a range factor per game of 3.99 while playing shortstop. In AAA last year, Iglesias owned a .973 fielding percentage and a 4.42 RF/G. While that RF/G margin might look large, it only represents a difference of 1/2 of an assist or putout per game. (As a side point, you have to wonder how much of a difference playing alongside the vacuum that is Dustin Pedroia is when it comes to defensive chances.) While Iglesias is great defensively, is it really worth it to sacrifice the 9th spot in the order to gain half of a defensive chance per game?
Which leads me to the other reason to keep Aviles – offense. Aviles is a pretty good singles hitter, just what you want from your 9th spot – just keep the lineup moving. He is a .288 career hitter and seemed to really enjoy peppering the monster after being traded to Boston, batting .317 in 38 games post-trade.
Iglesias, on the other hand, is an absolute disaster at the dish. After hitting .350 in Lowell, his batting average plummeted to .285 in Portland and then to .235 in Pawtucket. All this with no power, hitting only one home run over 618 minor-league at bats. In the International League, the hardest throwers occasionally touch 92 or 93 MPH. But in the bigs, where every team has several guys who can surpass 95 MPH, not to mention own great off-speed pitches, wouldn’t we need to expect another huge drop in batting average? A .200 batting average would place him below the career marks of pitchers Carlos Zambrano, Daniel Hudson, and Yovani Gallardo. Having Iglesias in the lineup would simply defeat the purpose of having a DH. (Actually, in high-school baseball leagues, one is allowed to replace any of the nine starters with a DH, not just the pitcher. Bobby V should look into that.)
For these reasons I think that keeping Aviles as starting shortstop is the correct move. Disagree? Post a comment stating why!