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January 17, 2007

Player Profile

Julio Lugo

by Marc Normandin

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Julio Lugo is the new shortstop for the Red Sox, after years of rumors that the organization was looking to acquire him. As a player, Lugo is not exactly a model of consistency. He's been a plus glove some years, a minus glove in others, and all over the place offensively, at least early on in his career. For the most part, he's an average-to-above average bat with solid fielding that occasionally nets him some extra production, and that's just what the Red Sox are hoping for from the Dominican shortstop.

Julio Cesar Lugo was drafted in the 43rd round of the 1994 amateur draft--with the 1193rd overall selection--by the Houston Astros. In fact, Lugo is the lowest-round draft pick in Houston's history to reach the major leagues. The 19 year old Lugo did not sign until May 17 of the following year, and started his professional career with Auburn of the New York-Penn League as a second baseman and shortstop. He led the team in steals with 17 (71 percent success) but did not do all that much else offensively, hitting .291/.368/.357 with an XBH% of only 15 percent. His walk rate was a nifty 10.2 percent though, and he kept his strikeouts down.

Lugo spent 1996 through 1998 at Single-A Quad-City and Kissimmee, with basically the same results on both clubs. He repeated Kissimmee in 1998 for this reason, listed in Baseball Prospectus 1999:

The Astros had three fine shortstop prospects--Lugo, Jhonny Perez and Carlos Guillen--which forced Lugo to repeat a level. He had another fine year, and after Guillen was traded Lugo was promoted to help the Zephyrs win the Triple-A World Series. Speed is his game, with 14 triples and 51 stolen bases, but he's not a weakling and draws a fair number of walks, so he can contribute in several ways. He needs to come on fast this season if he wants to win the coming battle with Perez for the starting job, but he has the edge defensively.

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
----------------------------------------------------------------
Qua.(A)   393 .295/.350/.427 .247  26%  .132   20    7.5%  17.6%
Kis.(A+)  505 .269/.329/.408 .285  32%  .141   36    8.1%  17.5%
Kis.(A+)  509 .303/.367/.438 .297  27%  .135   34    8.8%  12.9%
There were improvements along the margins: Lugo started hitting more triples, which helped his power game out some. His walk rate rose a bit as time went on, and he started to steal more bases, and stole them effectively--except for a Quad-City stint with a sub-70 percent success rate. Of course, now he was a 22-year old at High-A, so he would have to succeed at the next level.

Lugo passed that test in 1999 by being named a Texas League All-Star at shortstop, his second All-Star team in the minors. That season, in combination with his 101 plate appearances at Triple-A New Orleans the next year, earned Lugo a call-up to the Astros:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
----------------------------------------------------------------
Jac.(AA)  445 .319/.381/.463 .274  27%  .144   29    9.0%  10.8%
New.(AAA) 101 .327/.393/.475 .307  24%  .148    5    9.6%  17.5%
Hou.(MLB) 420 .283/.346/.431 .267  31%  .148   27    8.0%  20.0%
Not bad for a 43rd round draft pick, eh? Lugo put up numbers consistent with his minor league ones, hitting some doubles and triples, walking at a respectable rate, and stealing at over a 70 percent success clip. Lugo fielded a tad below average as a shortstop, with a Rate of 97, and had a poor showing at second base with a Rate of 91. Lugo never did play much second base after that, save his half-season stint for Los Angeles this past season when he filled in for the injured Jeff Kent.

Lugo's BABIP in New Orleans was a nutty .385, but even dropping down to .344 in the majors did not hurt his production all that much. It removed the gaudy batting average from the equation, leaving him as an average shortstop offensively in his age-24 season. He won Player of the Week Honors for September 4-10, as he slugged 1.000 with a .588 on-base percentage, mostly thanks to a 5 for 6 showing against the Cubs at Wrigley on September 8.

Baseball Prospectus 2001 detailed what kind of players the Astros had in Lugo:

The trade for Adam Everett was a fairly explicit vote-of-no-confidence in Julio Lugo's defensive ability, since he is clearly a better hitter than Everett. But when Everett showed up in March swinging a wet newspaper, the Astros had little choice but to give Lugo a chance. He did exactly what he needed to do: hit well enough to overshadow his problems in the field. He's never going to be a great shortstop, but teams need to stop acting like they play on Lake Wobegon and that every shortstop is capable of above-average defense.

His first full season in the majors did not go as well as his brief debut, thanks to another drop in his BABIP, this time down to .323. That was still above the league average, but much lower than the totals at his previous two stops. He was awful on the basepaths as well, stealing only 12 bases while getting caught 11 times. In roughly 30 AdjG more, Lugo was worth only 0.3 WARP more than his 2000 season, thanks to a .239 EqA. The only good news was that Lugo's Rate at shortstop was an even 100, perfectly average. Let's also not forget that his problems with errors during the 2001 NLDS had a lot to do with the Astros heading home early.

Lugo's 2002 season would be more of the same offensively, and he would have his worst defensive season to date:

        AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
-------------------------------------------------------------
2002   322 .261/.322/.388 .233  29%  .127   16    7.8%  20.7%
Lugo's main problem seemed to be the number of balls he hit on the ground; he wasn't having any luck with hits on the ground, and 48 percent of his batted-balls in 2002 were grounders. Lugo did not earn the starting shortstop job out of spring training, as Baseball Prospectus 2003 noted:

They've never been happy with Lugo's glovework down in Houston, and his key errors in the 2001 NLDS were the last straw. It's not often the incumbent outplays the challengers in all phases of the game in spring training and loses his job, but it happened to Lugo last March. He got it back only after Everett couldn't toe the Mendoza Line. The Astros need to accept Lugo's shortcomings and recognize he's their best near-term solution at shortstop. Entering his age 27 season, he could surprise some people this year.

Lugo would surprise some people in 2003, but it was mostly the Houston front office after he became a useful hitter and average defender almost immediately after arriving in Tampa Bay. Lugo was released by the Astros' organization on May 9 of 2003, and Tampa picked him up just six days later and made him their starting shortstop:
           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
----------------------------------------------------------------
2003 (TB) 433 .275/.333/.427 .249  27%  .152   17    7.3%  18.3%
His .263 EqA was right around the league average, and his 9 FRAA stood as the best mark of his career until 2005. 2004-2005 was a mix of different offensive and defensive campaigns from Lugo, and this is where projecting his 2007 gets a bit murky:
           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
----------------------------------------------------------------
2004      581 .275/.338/.396 .241  33%  .121   45    8.2%  16.1%
2005      616 .296/.362/.403 .252  26%  .107   42    8.8%  10.4%
2006 (TB) 289 .308/.373/.498 .284  34%  .190   18    8.4%  14.6%
2006 (LA) 146 .219/.278/.267 .137  19%  .048    6    7.3%  17.7%
The version of Lugo you see might look much different in these four stat lines, but he's basically the same player throughout. He'll slug about .400, depending on his batting average, and his on-base percentage won't kill you. He's basically an average shortstop offensively, as stated above. The 2006 Tampa version was helped out by a little BABIP fluke and the fact that it was only 289 at-bats; his dreadful stint in Los Angeles helps to bring his numbers back to a much more realistic .278/.341/.421 for the season. His batted-ball data is fairly consistent as well:
Year P/PA  FB%   LINERD%  GB%   IF/F%  HR/F%  BABIP eBABIP Dif.
----------------------------------------------------------------
2004 3.8   32.7%  18.0%  49.3%   N/A    4.9%% .327   .300  -.027
2005 3.6   30.7%  20.1%  49.2%  12.9%   4.0%  .327   .321  -.006
2006 4.0   31.2%  18.4%  50.4%   5.5%  17.1%  .335   .304  -.031
2006 3.9   38.5%  22.2%  39.3%  15.6%   0.0%  .274   .342  +.068
(To avoid confusion, the Dif. column is the difference between BABIP and eBABIP, with the numbers positive if they underperformed and therefore need points added into their rate stats, and negative if they overachieved and merit deduction from their season line.)

Lugo is a fast baserunner who turns his speed and groundball hitting ability into hits, so he should usually perform over his eBABIP by a bit, as evidenced in 2004, 2005, and the first half of 2006. Even though he hit liners at a higher rate in Los Angeles than in Tampa, his groundball rate dropped considerably while his flyball rate rose; flyballs are detrimental to BABIP, and Lugo does not have the power to be a successful flyball hitter, as seen in these hit charts for the 2006 season:

hit chart

It's safe to say that Lugo has warning track power, as most of his flyballs reach the middle of the outfield and land in a fielder's glove or turn into doubles. These hit charts are only from Lugo's home parks, but the idea is conveyed in three separate years and two parks. Considering all of the mid-outfield flyballs and liners Lugo hits, the Green Monster might end up being his friend.

Fenway hit chart

The sample is small, but it looks as if Lugo hits doubles off the wall and does not fly out all that often in his time there. He's a career .330/.384/.496 hitter at Fenway, most likely because of the small sample size of 127 plate appearances, but also because of that giant green wall that takes up left and left-center field. Lugo hits many of his flyballs to right field, where Fenway has the Pesky Pole and shortened fence of just 302 feet, and hits most of his line drives to left, where the Monster is:

batted ball charts

Lugo seems somewhat built for Fenway Park--or the other way around, depending on your perspective. His PECOTA projection of .284/.347/.406--hot off the presses--may be underestimating the effect Fenway's dimensions will have on him, although the range of outcomes are not currently available, and those would most likely encapsulate Lugo's potential for 2007 at the 75th percentile.

As far as Lugo's defense is concerned, he's very good at getting to liners and flyballs at shortstop, but groundballs are an adventure of another sort for him. Take a look at these defensive charts put together by David Pinto, creator of Probabilistic Model of Range:

PMR charts

He's below average on grounders, especially in between left-center field and second base, but he was above average on liners and flyballs, just enough to make him about average overall defensively. Fielding Runs Above Average confirms the rating in the charts above, as Lugo scored -1 FRAA with a 99 Rate during his time at short in Tampa during the 2006 season.

Lugo may be able to overshoot his somewhat consistent offense from the past few years--at least while playing in 81 home games--and should provide what boils down to average defense. Of course, groundballs are the most important part of a shortstop's defensive job, so a lack of liners or flyballs to boost Lugo's defensive value may give him some below average numbers. The Red Sox should be pleased with their acquisition of him, and fans should come to enjoy his production, even the ones who insist Alex Gonzalez was the second coming of Ozzie Smith.

Marc Normandin is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Marc by clicking here or click here to see Marc's other articles.

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