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Monday Rockpile: The Impact of Marco Scutaro

As we've witnessed over the past week or so, the Rockies have finalized their 2012 lineup by adding former Red Sox/Blue Jays/Athletics/Mets SS/2B Marco Scutaro. Scutaro, 36, is adding to the Rockies apparent attempt to make the Oldest Infield in Baseball.

If we compare the average age of the 2011 Opening Day infield to the expected 2012 Opening Day infield, we're looking at Troy Tulowitzki (26), Todd Helton (37), Ty Wigginton (33), Chris Iannetta (28), and Jose Lopez (27) vs Tulo and Helton (27, 38), Casey Blake (38), Ramon Hernandez (35), and Marco Scutaro (36). That's 30.2 vs 34.8. Granted, age is just a number, and when we consider the potential impact of Blake vs Wigginton and Scutaro vs Lopez, it's probably still an upgrade.

The only reason I mention the age of the infield is because of Rockies' Baseball Operations Assistant Walter Sylvester's presentation of the Rockies' offseason transactions to the Rocky Mountain SABR audience on Saturday. Amongst other candid confirmations of the rationale for many of the Rockies' confusing offseason moves, Sylvester said that the Rockies A. set out to acquire any young, controlled pitching with upside, and B. set out to have the oldest infield in baseball. While the former was pretty serious, the latter may or may not have been a joke. The clear need for the team was to mature and "rebuild" character, work ethic, and professionalism.

As a quick side note, I make fun of Herrera for being a slappy bunter whose grounding out to the right side with a runner on 3B with 1 out seems to be his upside. This is not new. But after a couple of seasons of having too many of the "low-contact-high-strikeout" batters punch out in order to end an inning with runners at the corners, there IS something to be said about contact hitters who at least get runners in motion. I don't REALLY think that a guy who just happens to fail better than a more productive batter with worse fundamentals should be hailed as the next best thing, but there IS something to be said for frustrating contact hitters. I'm actually doing a bit of research on this kind of thing, but I want to check with the guys over at Beyond the Boxscore to get a bit of peer review. Anyhow, moving on.

As a further side note, all Off Topic discussion should be relegated to the Off Topic thread from here on out. We're close enough to Spring Training that people are slowly starting to gear up for Baseball season, and we'd like to keep the Rockpile proper a baseball-centric as possible. Basically, this means no more comments with the "OT:" header in the Rockpile, and if you're not discussing baseball or something directly related to the Rockies, take it to the OT.

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Specifically, Marco Scutaro brings the work ethic, character, Venezuelanism, professionalism, and the reputation of being a "winner" to the Rockies. A character like Marco Sctuaro is going to be one of those cases that might just frustrate the standard issue statistical evaluation.

In 2011, Scutaro posted a BABIP-improved .299/.358/.423 line, good for a 110 wRC+ (suggesting he was 10% better than the park-adjusted "average batter"). Fielding is going to be a question mark as the metrics are a bit mixed on what to expect (although they seem to be converging on "average-ish" at 2B). When we consider that Jonathan Herrera was likely a average-to-above average glove at 2B with a decidedly negative bat (although the "little things" were typically well executed by Admiral Scrappy McBloopsalot) and Chris Nelson is an enigmatic bat and glove at any position he plays, having what projections rate as being somewhere between a slightly-below-average to slightly-above average bat with an average glove at 2B should be an upgrade.

The annoying thing for someone in my position really trying to analyze the Scutaro acquisition is trying to find a way to properly quantify things. One thing I've learned since I've started writing about baseball in general is that everything needs to strike a balance. It's one thing to play for the 3-run homer, it's another thing to fill your lineup with David Ecksteins. This isn't to say the Rockies have necessarily tried to do either, but part of me wonders if the player development guys in Colorado have associated the Three True Outcome batting style with the Bad Work Ethic style of player they're moving away from.

We look at Scutaro and we see a handful of things:

1. Potential for a .280+ batting average.

The Rockies had a franchise-low .258 batting average in the 2011 season. Scutaro should help at least get a good AVG out of the 2B position.

2. Scutaro had a 1.056 BB/K ratio in 2011 (38/36).

There's a positive trend between guys who have a high BB/K and guys who have a high batting average. Correlation does not imply causality, but forcing the defense to get outs for the pitcher is going to open up more opportunities for batted balls to drop or find a hole, whereas a strikeout does not.

3. Scutaro is a "pesky hitter"

From Fangraphs:

I wanted something to capture the experience of watching a pesky hitter - a guy who seemingly cannot be forced to swing, and when he does swing, rarely misses. So rather than looking just at walks and strikeouts (which would be more useful for purposes of projection), I used contact rate and swing rate. I did not want to favor just one or the other, so I ranked the hitters by contact rate divided by swing rate.

Scutaro had a 94.7% contact rate and a 37.6% swing rate. Nobody on the Rockies was that "pesky". The "peskiest" were Johnny Herrera (go fig) at 88% contact, 40% swing, Tulo at 89% and 41%, and Todd Helton at 89% and 42%. There's something to "not making a lot of outs" in the fashion of Chris Iannetta and "making the pitcher work for their outs" in the Scutaro fashion. Both are valuable in that they waste a lot of pitches, but too much of one or the other and you're going to have a lot of 1-2-3 innings or runners stranded at the corners.

In conclusion, we've established that Scutaro is a fit for the Rockies in the sense of "better than the current options; good stopgap for Rutledge or whoever surprises us in the next year or two", but he's also a fit for this team in terms of balancing out the lineup. He has good AVG potential, puts the ball in play a lot, and is a strong "pesky" hitter who makes an opposing pitcher work. If I haven't done it yet, I'd like to welcome Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies.