Edit: Thanks to Jay Jaffe, who alerted me to an MLB.com piece that mentioned a strained ligament in Julio Lugo’s finger, one that had negative connotations for his offensive production after reaching Los Angeles. I’d rank this on the list of reasons for decline ahead of his disposition while in LA. Lugo hit .310/.374/.511 prior to injury on July 22, and only .224/.285/.267 afterward.
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…
Lugo’s GB% in 2004-2005 was 49 percent, 50 percent in 2006 Tampa and only 39 percent in Los Angeles, so there was a significant drop in the second half of 2006. That was within the article of course. What was not in the article was his rate of infield hits and groundball hits for the past few years.
Lugo had 182 hits in 2005, and 26 of those came in the infield; that’s 14.3 percent of his hits. In Tampa in 2006, he had 18 infield hits out of 89 total for 20.2 percent. This dropped considerably in Los Angeles where Lugo had only 32 hits (3 infield ones) for 9.4 percent. It was not just the infield hits though: his groundball hits were down considerably as well. Lugo had 71 hits on groundballs in 2005 (39 percent of all hits that year) and 37 in Tampa during 2006 (42 percent of all hits). These figures dropped to 9 groundball hits and only 28 percent of all hits during his time in Tampa.
It wasn’t just a case of poor luck either, as his groundball rate did drop 10 points from his 2002-2005 average of 49 percent. It’s tough to tell if Lugo just went into a funk because he was attempting to learn new positions–as well as playing without a set position–or if it’s a case of small sample size or a sour mood. Lugo has been publicly unhappy with the way he was handled in Los Angeles, even discussing it at the press conference announcing his joining the Red Sox:
It was a difficult situation for me being on the Dodgers. I wasn’t being myself. I’m the type of guy — I can’t be on the bench. I need to be out there wasting all my energy and trying to play and make something happen and just to be out there everyday and from now on, I’m just going to be myself. You try to improve every day, not only defensively, but offensively, the whole area. Basestealing, everything.
Considering how he has played in the years he knew he had a job versus those he fought for a position, the Sox shouldn’t be too worried about him producing. I’ll be watching this groundball issue as the year progresses though; the plan is to use Unfiltered to keep abreast of previously profiled players, and Lugo is one of those who fits the bill well.
Thanks to Jason Pare for digging up the infield data for this post