Marco Scutaro has been the most valuable Blue Jays position players this season, combining a solid glove at SS with his improved bat to post a 4.3 WAR. Aaron Hill is a close second with a 3.9 WAR and while Adam Lind has been the best overall hitter, his relatively poor defence and work as a DH/LF hurts his overall WAR value (3.1).
Scutaro has a career high in nearly every major category (as well as a .354 wOBA – impressive for a SS) as he has been given a chance to play every day for the Blue Jays this season (eclipsing his former high in plate appearances of 592 in 2008 with 680 this season). The biggest reason for Scutaro’s improved slash line (282/379/409) is his increased patience at the plate, posting a career best 13.6 BB% and career low o-swing% of 12.4 (career mark of 14.5%).
In fact, Scutaro is barely swinging at anything this season, showing a Brian Giles like approach to batting with an overall swing % of just 34.7 (career 40.3% mark) while making contact with over 93% of pitches he swings at – a deadly combination that has thrust Marco Scutaro into the national spotlight for the first time in his career and just in time for a crucial contract year for Marco.
Sample size means everything. Scutaro last season had an impressive 7.6 UZR rating in 56 games at SS but it appears this year the extra games and innings have given a more true reflection of Scutaro’s defensive prowess as his UZR sits at 0.5 for 2009 in 143 games (career UZR at SS is -8.8) . That is still a very solid defensive season but also shows he is not quite as valuable as he looked after about 80 games this season when his UZR was markedly higher. I think it’s fair to say Scutaro is a solid defender at SS – with less range than average but a very “heady” fielder who makes up for any lack of range with the tendency to make very few errors.
Scutaro has been worth 4.3 wins above replacement (WAR) and has been worth nearly 20 million in “value” to the Blue Jays this season with his great work with the bat and solid work with the glove. For the season, he currently ranks #5 among all qualified SS in WAR, just behind Rays SS Jason Bartlett (4.8) and just above the much publicized Braves SS Yunel Escobar (3.8). Although WAR information was not available when this former Jays legendary SS played, I would think Scutaro’s season is right in line with any of Tony Fernandez’s best seasons – albeit only for one year.
Which brings us to the real issue, is this season a fluke? Scutaro who turns 34 in October has never shown this ability to get on-base before (previous high in OBP was .350) but has not been getting helped by the luck department (BABIP – .308, HR/FB 5.5% – both right around career marks) although he has hit a lot less groundballs than in years past. His .354 wOBA is well above his career mark of .320 but has Scutaro found a winning recipe with his new more patient approach, and what can we expect from him going forward?
Scutaro was worth 20 million dollars to the Jays in 2009 when we consider his WAR at a premium SS position and what the average teams pays for each win of WAR on the FA market. Of course Scutaro will never in a million years receive a contract for 20 million I think he can easily expect a contract offer of 3 years and around 24 million (8 million/year). If he continues to play at his current rate offensively and shows he can at the very least maintain his defensive prowess at SS he would probably make a team very happy at that price.
But, if he regresses back to his old ways with the bat (career .320 wOBA, .265/.337/.384) he might not be worth the 3-year investment (likely over 20 million) that will probably be needed to secure his services. Scutaro has earned a total of $40.9 million in value (again based on WAR) for his career and 20 million of that was earned in 2009 – so buyer beware. A team could be wise to sign a more defensively minded shortstop in hopes the market will be less for a defence-first guy like Jack Wilson than a guy coming off a career year like Marco Scutaro.
If the Jays can get him on the books for 5-6 million per year I think they would have to make that move as there doesn’t appear to be any in-house replacements on the horizon who would give you what even a less than 2009 version of Marco Scutaro could. With apologies to all of the John McDonald supporters but his career .262 wOBA is just not playable by any standards or salary.
In closing, I love watching Marco Scutaro play and if there was a way to clone his intangibles and spread them to the other Blue Jays – I’d pay for it. He seems to make one play every game that makes you say “wow” and he is certainly the type of ballplayer the Blue Jays should be adding to their roster year in and year out, but at 34 I think a little caution must be in order before the Blue Jays (or any other team) make a decision to offer big bucks in his direction.