On Tuesday night, the Giants won on a walk-off walk by Marco Scutaro, courtesy of Red Sox right-hander Brayan Villarreal. Winning on a walk-off walk is rare; the Giants hadn't done it in a decade. On the surface, though, this walk-off walk seemed more predictable than most, since Villarreal would walk his own grandmother if she decided not to swing. But it was actually a weird one in two ways: first, that the walk came on 3-0, and second, that ball four looked a lot like a strike.
Over 19 games, the well-traveled 37-year-old second baseman hit better than .480. Four-eighty!
Marco Scutaro rode a lot of buses before he ever sniffed the big leagues. After being signed by the Indians in 1994, he played six full seasons in the minors. Then there were cups of coffee with the Mets in 2002 and 2003, but Scutaro didn’t get a shot to play every day until Oakland picked him up prior to the 2004 season, when he was already 28. In four seasons with Oakland, he showed glimpses of the player he might become, including a .269 True Average in 2006. He was never flashy, but he was an integral part of the A’s playoff run that year, a super-utilityman who played significant time at all non-first-base infield positions.
Now, at age 37, when most players are well into decline or out of the game altogether, Marco Scutaro is arguably in the prime of his career. After a terrible first month, during which Scutaro now admits he was suffering from a bad back, he caught fire. He put together a 19-game hitting streak, during which he hit .481. He’s worked just 12 walks this year, but he’s also struck out just 13 times. Scutaro’s current TAv is .294, and he’s already accrued 1.0 WARP in just 46 games.
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A Scutaro hot streak and slump explain why the "good luck" and "bad luck" narratives don't always make sense.
Some players’ stat pages are interesting for any number of reasons. Others are nondescript, save for a single defining stat that stands out so much more than all the others that you quickly come to associate the player with that particular category. Marco Scutaro is a “single stat” guy.
Scutaro’s defining characteristic is that he makes more contact than anyone else. When someone says “Marco Scutaro” 10 years from now, you won’t think about that one time he led the league in sac flies, which his black ink would have us believe was the only time he led the league in anything. You might remember his unusual career arc: a utility guy throughout his 20s who “clearly was put on Earth to be a reserve,” according to Baseball Prospectus 2006, Scutaro bloomed late and became an above-average starter at shortstop in his early- to mid-30s. But mostly you’ll remember that his bat touched the ball on roughly 95 percent of his swings, and that he cut down on his K’s as his career went on while the rest of the league’s strikeout rate rose.
There’s been a lot of talk about narratives lately, mostly concerning the Yankees and identifying reasons for their struggles. By comparison, the National League Championship Series seemed almost boring. Here you had two good teams playing for a chance to win their second world title in a two- or three-year span—nothing exciting about that whatsoever. In Monday night’s Game Two, the series-defining narrative arrived.
Shining a spotlight on the minor mental mistakes and successes that often go overlooked.
There was an axiom tossed about when I was in college, one that I and my other bench-warming teammates were only too happy to co-opt, which held that the dumber you were, the better you played. In other words, the less intelligent a player was, and the less he had going on in his mind (colloquially, the less "in his own head" he was), the more focused he'd be on playing to the best of his abilities. Some rebutted that we spent too much free time during games coming up with theories about why we weren't playing, but you get the idea.
The big leaguers we see on TV have found a way to circumvent this problem, if it even exists. Nevertheless, there remains a mental aspect of the game that often goes ignored, both by sabermetricians (because it's nearly impossible to measure) and by the players themselves (because these mistakes are usually too small to affect their club's opinion of them). I don't mean visualization or Pedro Cerrano's Jobu doll or Turk Wendell's animal tooth necklace—I'm talking about the nuts-and-bolts logic of baseball that, when ignored, costs teams outs and runs, which eventually cost them games.
Which teams are likely to see significantly more production from their new players at positions in need of improvement?
Teams don’t always have to make a major move in order to improve over the winter. Sometimes merely subtracting someone who played poorly can affect our expectations for a club. Occasionally, a series of seemingly minor moves can make a major cumulative impact. And at other times, there’s an obvious in-house fix for a roster’s flaws in the form of a player returning from an injury, being promoted from the minors, or switching to a position where he’ll be of more use. The Rays went from last place in 2007 to first place in 2008 without acquiring an outside player more accomplished than Troy Percival. Some off-season overhauls don’t start making headlines until the regular season is well under way.
Still, the moves that make us dream about how good a given team can be when players report to spring training tend to be the ones involving established talents. When we’ve already seen what a player can do, it’s easy to picture him doing it again in a different uniform. Naturally, the more a team struggled at the new player’s position last year, the more exciting the upgrade. But it’s easy to get carried away and overstate the improvement. Assessing the impact of a high-profile player addition requires more than a little imagination and mental arithmetic.
What are the fantasy implications of some of the recent trades and signings?
Marco Scutaro | Colorado Rockies | SS/2B | Acquired via Trade
After spending all of 2011 struggling to find someone capable of handling second base adequately, the Rockies have finally found someone. Scutaro is far from a sexy player, and the move to Coors Field won’t help him as much as it will a guy like Michael Cuddyer, who has actual power, but Scutaro should still receive a moderate benefit from the park and league change. But the biggest benefit might come from where he’ll bat in the order. If the Rockies decide to bat Scutaro second, as they did many of their second basemen in 2011, he would see a big increase in runs from batting eighth or ninth for the Red Sox. In NL-only leagues, Scutaro could be a very nice, under-the-radar pickup.
The move severely hurts the value of Chris Nelson, Jonathan Herrera, and D.J. LeMahieu, who were set to battle it out for the starting spot prior to Scutaro’s arrival. In Boston, the move opens up shortstop for a potential Mike Aviles/Nick Punto platoon. Whether that’s a strict platoon will have a large effect on each player’s value. Aviles is the better fantasy option, but he’s right-handed, so it’s possible he only faces lefties. If the split is more 50-50, or if Aviles gets the majority of starts, we’d need to remember that we’re just one year removed from a lot of analysts calling this guy a fantasy sleeper. He had an up-and-down 2011, but he still has some potential across-the-board skills that could be useful to an AL-only owner. Value Change: Gain for Marco Scutaro; Loss for Chris Nelson, Jonathan Herrera, and D.J. LeMahieu; Gain for Mike Aviles; Gain for Nick Punto
Middle infield Keeper Reaper returns with Reyes, KJ, Lowrie, Scutaro, and Furcal
The Keeper Reaper returned earlier this month, but the up-the-middle positions were suspiciously absent due to previous commitments by yours truly. However, the up-the-middle Keeper Reaper is finally back, bringing Baseball Prospectus readers a few more names to consider for their keeper leagues.
Jose Reyes | Miami Marlins
Shallow (30 keepers): NO Medium (60 keepers): YES
Deep (90 keepers): YES
NL-only (60 keepers): YES
Super Deep (200 keepers): YES