The Shortstop Job Is Marco Scutaro's ... Unless Jed Lowrie Takes Over

Theo Epstein said recently that the shortstop job is Marco Scutaro's, but Jed Lowrie will "help this club win," too. Many think Lowrie should be the starter, but maybe we're discounting Scutaro too fast.

All it took was two great months and now Jed Lowrie has claimed the Red Sox' starting shortstop position.

 

Well, almost.

Theo Epstein said recently that while Marco Scutaro is the starting shortstop right now -- now, as in, Jan. 18, still a month until pitchers and catchers report -- Lowrie will see a lot of time at shortstop.

"I think we have two really talented shortstops on the roster at different phases of their careers and they'll both end up helping this club win,'' Epstein said. "How it shakes out in terms of playing time will be up to (manager Terry Francona), and ultimately the players will determine their own roles.''

And while Theo said Scutaro "signed here to be a shortstop and he should be healthy when he comes to camp and he's going to play a lot of shortstop," there's no doubt Lowrie will be given every chance to win the position.

But maybe we're jumping to this Lowrie-is-a-god-let's-retire-his-number conclusion too fast?

Since Lowrie was promoted to the big leagues in 2008, he has put up exactly two good months of offensive baseball -- both of which came at the end of 2010. Lowrie racked up a .971 OPS in 56 at-bats in August, while putting up a .902 OPS in 91 at-bats between September and October. He also had nine home runs in that stretch.

There's no denying what Lowrie did was fantastic. That's exactly what Theo and company has looked for in the 26 year old since they drafted him as the 45th pick in the 2005 draft. But at the same time, we've only seen two good months out of Lowrie. Just 39 games. Just 147 at-bats.

This is the sport of baseball where "small sample size" rules king. As ridiculous as it sounds, a year or even two years isn't a good enough for some samples. So thinking Lowrie at the end of 2010 is the Lowrie we'll see in 2011 may be a stretch.

As Lowrie's production is still up in the air as the new season approaches, the alternative -- Marco Scutaro -- has his holes, too.

While Scutaro didn't match his 2009 production (few thought he would considering it was his "breakout year" at the age of 33), he didn't have a terrible season. The biggest knock on Scutaro from last year may be his ability get on base: Scutaro racked up a .333 OBP -- well below his .379 mark from a year prior.

He didn't get on base at the greatest clip, but he wasn't an easy out, either. Scutaro struck out just 11.2 percent of the time, second best on the Red Sox behind Victor Martinez (10.5 percent). He also rarely chased pitches outside of the strike zone, swinging at just 19.4 percent of those offerings. That number was tops for the Sox and ranked fifth in the American League. If he did swing at those outside pitches, he made contact with 87 percent of them (third in the A.L.).

All around - considering both pitches inside and outside of the strike zone, Scutaro made contact with 94.8 percent of the pitches he saw. That was the best rate in the American League (tied with Juan Pierre).

So he hit just .275 and got on base at a .333 clip, but Scutaro was certainly more valuable than that. Having a hitter that can foul off pitches and has great strike zone judgment is something you cannot teach. And having Scutaro in the lineup (it didn't matter really if it was at the top or the bottom) is valuable because of those tools.

As it does every year, it all comes down to spring training. Will Scutaro continue to play like he's capable of or, hopefully, better? It will be his second year in the high-energy Boston atmosphere, something that takes times for some players to adapt to.

Will Lowrie continue where he left off in 2010? Or will he have a mysterious illness that puts him on his couch for half the season? (OK, mono isn't a mystery, but he literally disappeared off the face of the Earth for months. How does that happen?)

They both have their advantages going into the new season. Scutaro has the contract, while Lowrie has the expectations. Lowrie has the recent history of success, while Scutaro has had more success in a longer career.

We'll have an answer April 1.

Well, hopefully.

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