Can Marco Scutaro Continue His Career Year?
Buster Posey is leading the 28-25 Giants in on-base percentage, but that's the easy one. The tougher question is trying to guess who's in second, just .008 behind. Is it:
A. Pablo Sandoval? - No, his .324 OBP is the second worst of his career.
B. Hunter Pence? - Right, and I'm excited about how good The Last Airbender is going to be in theaters too. Three cheers for 2011!
C. Melky Cabrera? - OK, somebody needs to pay more attention to offseason moves.
D. Angel Pagan? - Now you're just stretching.
If you're one of those people who pays close attention to the Giants or just one of those who reads headlines, you'd know that the answer is Marco Scutaro. Indeed, the 37-year old second baseman and his .381 OBP sit second on the Giants and 27th in the majors this season.
The numbers might be a little bit jarring; Scutaro's career-high OBP is .379, after all. But looking at his progression over the past couple of seasons, it looks like this hot start has been a long time coming.
Climbing Up the Ladder
In 2009, Scutaro's strikeout rate sat at 11.0 percent. You know, considering the MLB strikeout rate over the course of Scutaro's career sits at 17.0 percent, that's not half bad. But then it fell to 10.2 percent in 2010. And 8.1 percent in 2011. And 7.2 percent in 2012. And a ridiculous 5.9 percent this season. Downward and downward we spiral.
But those strikeout numbers aren't alone. In fact, Scutaro's key statistics have been on the upswing for a while. For instance, just look at his percentage of balls in play hit for line drives and how often he's been able to get on base when he puts a ball in play.
For the past four seasons, Scutaro has gotten progressively better at making solid contact, and in turn, his batting average on balls in play has skyrocketed way above the .296 MLB average. His batting average, in turn, has risen from .275 to .299 to .306 to .330. Even if his walk rate remains slightly below par (7.7 percent this year, 8.7 percent career), that rising average means he'll be getting on base with striking regularity.
Scutaro has never been one for homeruns or extra-base hits; his 12 homeruns in 2009 with Toronto remains a career high that probably isn't going to change any time soon. But even his flyouts are showing stronger contact than in years past. The percentage of his fly balls that have remained on the infield has decreased from 15 percent in 2010 to 13 percent to 12 percent to a career-low 8 percent this year.
While the Giants aren't rewarding him with RBIs for his efforts - his 15.4 at-bats per RBI is easily the highest total of his career - Scutaro's ability to get on-base for the Giants has proven increasingly important. His 30 runs scored is tied for 32nd in the majors, after all, and that 5.9 percent strikeout rate is the second-lowest among qualified batters behind Norichika Aoki.
Where to Go From Here
We're big fans of regression to the mean. It doesn't have the biggest Facebook Fan following, but we consider ourselves trendsetters at numberFire. And regression to the mean states even though Scutaro's progression has been fairly linear over the past couple of seasons, he's still more likely to play to his career averages than his current career-best rate.
That's why our Scutaro projections are a tiny bit muted looking forward to the rest of the season. Sure, a .298 BA and .776 OPS the rest of the season aren't bad, they just don't provide the Giants with a legitimate second option other than Posey.
Projected Rest of Season Stats
You could do worse. In terms of our remaining 2B projections, Scutaro sits as the 11th most valyable second baseman overall, ninth if you figure Ben Zobrist is primarily an outfielder and Kyle Seager is primarily a third baseman. You could do worse if you need a stopgap second baseman due to injury.
But if you do pick up Scutaro as a fringe starter for your fantasy team, just don't expect that .381 OBP to continue for long. It's been a long-time building, but always expect gradual regression to the mean, particularly from a 37-year old infielder.