It’s official. Mike Aviles will be the Red Sox starting shortstop on Opening Day. Despite reports that Bobby Valentine was interested in keeping Jose Iglesias on the 25 man roster and conjuring up images of Rey Ordonez in our heads, the right decision was made. Iglesias has had only 618 Minor League at-bats and with those has posted just a .261 AVG. with a single home-run and 51 RBI’s. He still needs some polishing on his swing mechanics and approach so let’s hope a few hundred at-bats down in Pawtucket will lead him in the developmental direction that is needed. Mike Aviles is clearly the offensively superior to the 22 year old Iglesias and has had a pretty impressive spring thus far. He has been seemingly hitting line drives at will thus far and is certainly capable of providing the Sox with a near .300 average and quite possibly a dozen or so round-trippers. As was pointed out by Erik Hahmann of FanGraphs, Aviles has a penchant for performing well in even years. In 2008 which is the last season Aviles played a large amount of games (91) at SS for Kansas City he hit .325 and in 2010 he posted a .304 average. It would be a huge bonus to see numbers like that from the SS position not to mention the back end of the lineup this even numbered 2012 season.
Aviles held his own defensively as well in KC as the shortstop in 2008, posting a respectable .974 fielding percentage with just 10 errors. 8 of those errors coming on throws. An area that can certainly be cut down on, especially with a gold-glove first baseman in Adrian Gonzalez helping out with some scoops and crisper feeds on double plays from another gold glove caliber infielder in Pedroia. For comparison, last year’s AL Gold Glove winner Erick Aybar of the LA Angels had a fielding percentage of .980 albeit in nearly twice the attempts. Pretty close numbers considering the Nation’s worries. The Sox have also won a title in the past with the likes of Julio Lugo manning the hole so it’s not as if we are looking at an issue that we haven’t seen before.
One other area of note that helps support Aviles is UZR or ultimate zone rating.
Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is one of the most widely used, publicly available defensive statistics. The theory behind UZR is tougher to intuitively grasp than Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), but the simplified version is that UZR puts a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess (or lack thereof). There are a couple different components to UZR, including:
● Outfield Arm Runs (ARM) – The amount of runs above average an outfielder saves with their arm by preventing runners to advance.
● Double-Play Runs (DPR) – The amount of runs above average an infielder is in turning double-plays.
● Range Runs (RngR) – Is the player an Ozzie Smith or an Adam Dunn? Do they get to more balls than average or not?
● Error Runs (ErrR) – Does the player commit more or fewer errors compared with a league-average player at their position?
The run values in each of these categories are then compiled into one overall defensive score, UZR. Since UZR is measured in runs, it can be compared easily with a player’s offensive contributions (wRAA).
Aviles posted an 11.7 UZR in 2008 which is considered great by league standards and is close to the +15 rating that most Gold Glove Caliber infielders post. Now he is four years older and his range has most likely dipped some, but anything above +5 is considered above average and coupled with his offensive output should be more than welcome. While there have been murmurs that Iglesias is already considered a Gold Glove talent, the difference between what he will create offensively, which is slightly better than what a decent NL hitting pitcher such as Mike Hampton would produce, and the amount of runs he would save aren’t high enough on the plus side to warrant rushing the very green 22 year old prospect up to the show just yet.
How will this affect the pitching staff? Red Sox pitchers by and large are a ground-ball inducing bunch, but as stated before Boston has two gold glove talents on the right side of the infield and a slow, but sure handed third baseman in Kevin Youkilis. Last year’s numbers for the Sox rotation in the GB% category look as follows.
- Lester 50.5%
- Beckett 40.1%
- Buchholz 50.0%
- Bard 52.7%
- Cook 55.1%
- Doubront 43.8% (small sample size)
While they would certainly be more confident with a vacuum cleaner such as Iglesias behind them let’s just hope they will be happy with the benefit of some clutch hits and .280 plus AVG providing them with more cushion to offset any doubts they may have.
In the end, being a former shortstop, I do have high hopes that Jose Iglesias will get his swing down and some more confidence at the plate, but if Aviles can provide anything near his 2008 output over the season, I will be extremely happy.