While the Sox camp is once again playing straight man to the zanies down at Steinbrenner field, we do have one bit of drama---Shortstop. Although many Sox fans would argue that there's very little competition here---it's Lowrie's position to lose---statements coming out of the coaching staff and Lugo's own spitfire suggest otherwise. So let's have a look and make some projections.
While Lugo has no doubt been an expensive disappointment, it hasn't been all bad. Back in 2007, Lugo had a nice respectable second half, hitting .280 with a .728 OPS after the All-Star break. Lugo's also been a fairly solid Fenway hitter, averaging over over .300 in a small 2008 sample and .286 over the span of 2007 at home.
The complaints, however, are fairly persuasive. Lugo's fielding has been in free fall since he got to the Sox. committing 19 errors at short in 2007, followed by 16 errors in just 81 games in 2008. The range wasn't there, and you couldn't help but hold your breath on double plays. So that's the downside. That, and, you know, the majority of his offensive production.
Lowrie, on the other hand, did not commit an error in his 2008 tenure at short. He didn't make a lot of spectacular plays, but he did prove a reliable DP partner for DP. And according to the Sox, they're all about defense in 2009 (whether this particular spin is a reflection of a beefed-up rotation or low expectations on the lineup is a subject for another post).
Unfortunately, Lowrie left something to be desired at the plate, hitting .258 in 260 at bats. But, he did show some promise in the clutch, hitting .297 with RISP and .333 with the bases juiced. (Lugo, on the other hand, shows dramatically better numbers when there's nobody on base in front of him.) There's also the matter of Lowrie's switch-hitting, which not only diversifies the Sox lineup, but also might offer even more hope, as switch-hitters historically have a steeper learning-curve upon getting called up to the majors. That means we might expect him to make some high-yield adjustments early on this season.
So there are the numbers, and here's the prediction: Julio Lugo in an upset.
Call it a hunch. Call it a shot in the dark. Call it blind speculation, but I think this is the year that Julio Lugo steps up and takes the shortstop job. It's not just the extra 10 lbs. of muscle he showed up to camp toting. (And while I haven't seen the pictures, let's hope it's not in his forearms, 'cause the man already looks like he works on a dock pulling rope all day.) Muscle never seems to mean all that much, especially on a wild-swinging oversized bat-using shortstop. It's also not the Dominican bravado when he tells the press that the bench simply isn't an option, though I admit I like it.
It's maybe just my old Sox-fan contrarian belief system. I just don't know whether I can really root wholeheartedly for the whole efficient-grow-from-within-by-smart-player-investment-and-asset-nurturing thing. It's all just too reasonable. I need to believe in the guy who has given you every reason not to. I don't want to talk about 10 year plans for corporate growth. I want to talk about how This Is The Year despite every indication to the contrary. So you, Julio Lugo, you are my man. You're my link to the old days. I know they're not good for me. I'm happier now. But I just can't help it.
Lugo for SS.