“What’s the matter with Daisuke Matsuzaka?” is how MLB.com’s Ian Brown begins his recap of tonight’s Red Sox game, adding, “That question, as difficult as it is to answer at the moment, is more mysterious than haunting for the Red Sox at the moment.”

I beg to differ. It’s not mysterious at all. Julio Lugo is what is the matter.

As I’ve been trying to explain to people since last summer, when I had the distinctly painful experience of watching Lugo “play” 50 or so games for the Dodgers, Julio Lugo is not a good player. Sure, he put up some gaudy numbers in Tampa Bay, far, far from the klieg lights of actual playoff contention, but you really have to watch Lugo every day to see the little ways he hurts teams with his bad decisions on the basebaths, his ill-advised positioning and hesitant play on defense, and his bafflingly low-quality at-bats in key situations (eg doubles down the line with nobody on and two down, strikes out on three straight swings with and a man on third and no outs).

Alex Gonzalez shows Julio Lugo who the better shortstop is!Tonight, by my count, Lugo single-handedly cost Matsuzaka five of the seven runs he allowed on five terrible plays, only one of which was ruled an error (another was initially called an error but later reversed and called a hit).

In the first, after Matsuzaka walked the bases loaded, Lugo in explicably went for the out at third rather than turning a double play. A few minutes later, Lugo let Kenji Johjima’s easy grounder glance off his glove for his only official error of the night. Finally, Lugo let Yuniesky Bentancourt’s pop-up glance of his glove for what should clearly have been another error, but just because he had to run a bit out into the outfield they later said it was a hit.

So while Matsuzaka was certainly not on his game, he basically had to get 6 outs in the first innning thanks to Lugo.

But Lugo was not done causing harm. After Daisuke settled down and breezed through the next three innings, he ran into a bit of trouble in the fifth, walking Raul Ibanez and giving up a single to Richie Sexon.

Re-enter one Julio Lugo.

Jose Guillen hit another little pop-up behind shortstop. Lugo started after it, then hesitated, then started up again before going into a pathethic little slide as the ball dropped at his feet. They scored it a hit as a run came home.

Daisuke then got Johjima to ground out (to first and not short, thankfully), and then Bentancourt hit a slow, easy grounder straight at Lugo, who took his time, fielded it, and then threw high to first forcing Youkilis to leap up off the bag. Again, this was somehow inexplicably called an “infield single.” Seven “earned” runs for Matsuzaka in five innings, although Lugo actually earned five of them.

This isn’t the first time Lugo helped undo Daisuke. You may remember that Matsuzaka lost his third start of the season in heartbreaking fashion when he was outdueled by Gustavo Chacin 2-1. Much was made of how Matsuzaka got “rattled” in his one bad inning after what looked like a third strike was called a ball and then two runs later came in. But hardly anyone mentioned the potential inning-ending double play ball hit right at Julio Lugo two batters later that Lugo let skip over his glove and into centerfield.

Naturally, it was scored a hit.

After watching Alex Gonzalez run halfway to the wall out in left centerfield to chase down a flyball with a sliding grab last week, you have to wonder what the Red Sox pitchers’ ERAs would be if the Sox had somehow had the vision to pony up a measily $4 million to re-sign the shortstop who should have been the AL gold glover last season.

Last time I checked, Gonzalez was outhitting Lugo this season as well.

7 Responses to “Julio Lugo is What’s Wrong”

  1. Nick Kapur says:

    Well, let’s not forget that the Dodgers didn’t just trade Aybar straight up for Betemit. They actually traded both Aybar *and* reliever Dannys Baez for Betemit, which was kind of ridiculous given that Aybar was a better player than Betemit at the time and even a straight-up trade would have been questionable.

    And given that the Nationals had just gotten Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez for two ordinary middle relievers (wheareas Baez was a closer/setup), and that Baez later got a HUGE contract with the Orioles in the offseason, the Dodgers probably could have gotten a *lot* more for him than Betemit.

    Yeah, it did turn out that Aybar is AWOL with a drug problem, but still. However, I do feel I must at least stand up for Betemit a little (it’s not *his* fault he was in a bad trade!), and point out that his BA/BIP this year is a very low .182 so far this year, suggesting that he has been really unlucky when he has actually managed to put the ball in play.

  2. Paul Moro says:

    Nick, it’s true that his BABIP is low. But I think that’s only part of the problem with Betemit. He strikes out far too much. Sure, he has power potential, but he is yet to show it over a substantial period of time. His contact rate is .733, which is far too low for a guy with such limited pop. Even if his BABIP was better – say over .300, which would give him ten hits for the season instead of his current six – he’d still be batting .222.

    His saving grace thus far in ’07 has been his ability to take a few pitches. for a guy hitting .133, a .300 OBP is better than what you’d expect.

  3. Alejandro Leal says:

    Is that Andy LaRoche of Adam LaRoche fame?

  4. Yeap they’re brothers.

  5. Sarah Green says:

    Nick is actually just upset that Daisuke Matsuzaka is on his fantasy team, and all these errors that keep getting scored as hits are ruining his ERA!

  6. Lugo is not as bad of a batter as you write – pointing out 2 specific situations (or are these just made up?) doens’t make him a bad hitter. He is a patient hitter and rarely swings on the first pitch, which fits in well with the Red Sox philosphy.

    Defensively, I agree that he is no Alex Gonzalez, but then again, few are. He is a servicable shortstop. Yes, he had a bad night last night, but I think it was more the microphone that he was wearing than anything else. He is quick and gets to a lot of balls that many others wouldn’t (those shallow center field hits especially) so when he misses, it looks bad, but come on, is Derek Jeter even going to get close to any of those?

    You can’t blame him for positioning in the field – these decisions usually come from the dugout. The one bad throw to first was more a function of good baserunning by Jose Guillen than it was a mistake by Lugo.

    He fields balls cleanly most of the time and typically makes solid throws. Not quite getting to a ball is an error that is acceptable, throwing it into the stands is the error to look out for.

  7. Sarah Green says:

    You can’t defend Lugo’s limited range by comparing him to Derek Jeter, another shortstop with limited range! Come, now.

    Last time I checked, Alex Gonzalez was hitting better than Lugo this season as well. And yeah, Lugo also drove in a couple of runs in that game, if I’m not mistaken, but Gonzalez would have saved even more than that with his glove. Short is a vital defensive position—I don’t know where the Sox are getting this idea that the shortstop has to also hit home runs. Isn’t that what they’ve got Ortiz and Manny for?

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