|2009 - Marco Scutaro||123||494||88||144||33||1||11||55||76||62||10||4||.291||.385||.429|
Every year sees players jump from relative obscurity to stardom. Although Marco Scutaro's traditional numbers (.291 AVG, 11 HR, 55 RBIs) have kept him under the mainstream media radar, Scutaro is having a year that will excite any sabermetrically inclined fan. After bouncing between 2B, 3B, and SS with Oakland from 2004-2007, Scutaro seems to have settled in as a SS with the Blue Jays, and his UZR with Toronto has been fantastic, rating at +17.5 runs in just over a full season's worth of games (+10 this year). Not only that, but Scutaro has been an on-base machine, supplementing his .291 batting average with a 13.3% walk rate to post a Jeter-esque .385 OBP. Combine that with his modest power (.138 ISO, best in his career), and Scutaro has been worth +15 runs with the bat as well (by FanGraphs wOBA)
Overall, Scutaro has been almost exactly worth 5 wins so far in 2009. This is certainly uncharted territory for the 33-year-old, and it certainly begs the question of what we can expect from him going forward. Why did a player who only put up 5.2 wins total in 5 full seasons from 2004-2008 suddenly double his career production in one fell swoop in 2009?
Walking To Work Can Be Rather Pedestrian
One of the keys to the improvement in Scutaro's offensive numbers has been the rise in his walk rate. Scutaro's best offensive season before 2009 was in 2006 with the Athletics, where Scutaro posted a .331 wOBA and was effectively average with the bat, after two years of -13.0 and -6.5. The main difference with Scutaro's 2006 was a rise in walk rate from 3.8% in 2004 to 8.6% in 2005 and finally to 12.0% in 2006. Scutaro's walk rate reverted towards back towards his 2005 rate in 2007 and 2008; in both years the utility man posted walk rates in the 9% area. In 2009, Scutaro's walk rate is up above 13% for the first time in his career, and Scutaro's posting a whopping .367 wOBA.
So, it certainly appears that walk rate is a big part of Scutaro's offensive game. But, as we can see on the above graph, there's a little bit more to the 2009 explosion in offense than the walk rate. For the first time in Scutaro's career, he's walking more than he's striking out. His 2006 walk explosion was met by a similar increase in strikeouts, a rise from 12% to 18%. In 2009, his strikeout rate has remained in the 12% range, where it has been every full season he's played except for 2006.
We can see some of the explanation in Scutaro's plate discipline numbers. After dropping his swing% about 7% from 2004-2005, Scutaro's walk rate increased from his miniscule 2004 rate of 3% up to an average 8%. This swing rate stayed static until 2009, when his swing rate dropped from an 40% (already well below average) to 35%. Scutaro's improved in nearly every single plate discipline stat. He's swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone, and making contact with more pitches both inside and outside of the zone. Scutaro is making it count when he doesn't get walked, and isn't swinging wildly at bad pitches.
As Scutaro was moved around the field early in his career, he posted poor numbers at SS and relatively average numbers at his other infield positions (2B and 3B). For some reason, since he's latched on with Toronto, he's become one of the best defensive shortstops in the league. Every season with Oakland, all of his UZR component stats were average or below. Then, all of a sudden, at the age of 32, his range skyrocketed and he became the best fielder in the league. At his age, it would be hard to believe that he could maintain this kind of defensive production. Still, even if we assume some big drops in production for the next two seasons, Scutaro can still be a valuable asset. If Scutaro's wOBA drops back to average and his UZR drops back to average, as a SS, he'd still be a 2.7 win player.
However, if he continues to defy age and field like a +10 shortstop, his value will be immense for the next couple of seasons. Even with average hitting, he'd be a +3.75 win player, worth something like 15-18 million dollars for a one year deal. J.P. Ricciardi has a very valuable chip on his hands here. If the Blue Jays fall out of contention early, Scutaro could become a major piece for a playoff contender. Personally, it makes me wonder why Scutaro wasn't discussed nearly as much during this years trading season.