Saturday, July 18, 2009

Do the Twins need Lugo?

In ten days from now (or sooner) we'll find out what uniform shortstop Julio Lugo pulls on next.  Undoubtedly, with gaping holes in the Twins' middle infield, Lugo's name will arise as a potential suitor for the Twins offensive void up-the-middle. We addressed Lugo as a trade candidate in our Twinscentric Trade Deadline Primer mostly because of his availability but the consensus was his $9 million due this year (and in 2010) would keep the Twins from being viable trade partners.  That hurdle was cleared when the Red Sox dropped Lugo which made him fall into the Twins' price range.  The question is, do we even want Lugo pulling on our jersey?   
After signing a 4-year/$36M contract in 2006, the Red Sox very much expected the same results that Lugo produced in his six years split between Houston, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles in which he hit .277/.340/.402  (OPS+ 92) while providing solid defense.  What they got was a 31-year-old shortstop with rapidly degenerating skills who was unable to stay on the field.  Lugo had hit a collective .251/.319/.346 (OPS+ 71) supplying sub-par fielding in his three segmented seasons in Boston.  With the development of Jed Lowrie and Nick Green, Lugo became expensive roster dead-weight.

 Plus/Minus | UZR/150

Julio Lugo

Brendan Harris

Nick Punto


+1 |4.3

 -19 | -13.1

 +5 | 42.2


-2 | -2.6

 -9 | -10.3

 +4 | 17.9


 -15 | -43.2

-4 | -2.0

-9 | -1.8

As noted, Lugo is a swiftly aging product.  In over 1,200 innings in 2007 at short, Lugo managed to be +1 run defensively.  In 2008 he dropped to -2 and this year he has been at -15 in two injury-riddled seasons.  Lugo's number are hardly indicative of an agile shortstop.  Twins fans might have become accustom to Brendan Harris's diving stops on balls many shortstops could probably backhand without much effort, but using the same metrics Harris had been -19 in Tampa in 2007, -9 in 2008 with the Twins and has been -4 this year.  Nick Punto, like Lugo, is another shortstop that has entered his thirties and has watch his plus/minus go from +5 to +4 to -9 in these past seasons.  The argument could be made that Harris, who is in the later half of his "prime years", is learning the position enough to compensate for his poor foot speed while Punto and Lugo's range is shrinking with age. 
What's more is that Lugo is bad at turning a doubleplay, much more so than the two current options:

 DP Convert (2007-2009)


Julio Lugo

102-of-205 (49.7%)

Brendan Harris

110-of-196 (56.1%)

Nick Punto

83-of-120 (69.1%)

As you can see, Punto has far less opportunities but has been able to convert a significantly higher percentage than either Harris or Lugo.  Overall, the Twins stand to benefit more if Punto is manning short of the three.   
Offensively, this trio is a grab bag of hot garbage so far in 2009.  Punto has managed to find a new rock bottom below his unsightly 2007 season with a .543 OPS.  Harris, meanwhile, has struck out in 20 of his last 83 plate appearances (24 pct) before the All Star break, apparently icing down Joe Mauer's bat in the on-deck circle with all his fans in the process.  Superficially, Lugo's numbers are the best of the three, but there is plenty to suggest that this isn't going to last.  Yes, his 23.3 percent line drive rate looks appealing but RJ Anderson at attributes that to an increase in the amount of "fliners" - the weak flyball/liner combination.  His .280 average is inflated by two crazy series against the Angels and Phillies in which Lugo went 11-for-21 (.523 average) with three doubles.  If you remove those games, Lugo has gone 20-for-88 (.227 average) with just one extra base hit. 

Punto, on the other hand, has every indication that his numbers will be going up.  Sure, it's hard to look at his offensive contributions so far without your gag reflexes kicking in, but try to fight the urge to spew chucks.  Punto been doing THE EXACT SAME THINGS as he was in 2008 when he hit a respectable .284/.344/.382 in 338 plate appearances.  He's almost matching his line drive output (20.1 vs 20.5) which usually indicates an average closer to .260.  Punto's biggest detriment is that too many of his groundballs are being converted into outs.  In 2008 he hit groundballs 44.7 percent of the time and held an average of .293 on those.  This season, he's hit them 43.7 percent of the time but is staring at an average of .127 well below the league average of .235. 
With the notion that Punto's second-half numbers have a strong probability of rising couple with the fact that he will provide similar if not better defense, there seems no need to pick up Julio Lugo.  The front office should pass.