Friday, November 27, 2009

Blue Jays Prioritizing Middle Infield Defense

With the resigning of shortstop John McDonald and the addition of former Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez on a one-year, $2.75M deal, it appears that the Blue Jays' search for an MLB shortstop is over for the offseason. Certainly, the Blue Jays will still pursue young shortstops in talks for right-hander Roy Halladay, but it seems almost assured now that the team's previous everyday shortstop, Marco Scutaro, will depart as a free agent.

While the Blue Jays have essentially decided to punt the idea of getting offense from their shortstops, the McDonald/Gonzalez combo along with incumbent second baseman Aaron Hill, a two-time Fielding Bible award winner as the best defensive 2B in the game, should provide the Blue Jays will excellent defense in the middle infield. Both Gonzalez and McDonald have routinely been regarded as two of the best defensive shortstops in the game, and that's been supported by metric statistics, McDonald has a +3.9 UZR/150 for his career, while Gonzalez has an even more impressive +6.9 mark.

Unfortunately, defense is where essentially all of the value lies for these two guys. McDonald has a career line of .238/.276/.317 and a .264 wOBA in 1862 PA, and Gonzalez has a career line of .247/.294/.395 with a .295 wOBA in 4776 PA. McDonald showed some improved power in 2009, but he also walked just once in 156 at-bats, he really doesn't belong on a major-league roster if he's not playing his usual plus defense.

Gonzalez not only has the superior defensive metric numbers, but he's shown far more on the offensive side as well. He posted a solid .284/.316/.453 line in 44 games with Boston, and as recently as 2007 he posted a .340 wOBA with Cincinnati, although that was in a hitter's park in the easier league. He's certainly not an offensive weapon, he's not much of an asset offensively at all, but he's less of a liability than McDonald, and should at least provide a wOBA around .290-.310 before all is said and done, which is at least tolerable if you're a shortstop playing plus defense.

Clearly, Gonzalez is the superior hitter and likely the superior defender at this point as well, so he's clearly Toronto's everyday shortstop going into next season. The shortstop will likely be manning the nine spot in Toronto's batting order next season, but at the very least, Blue Jay pitchers should feel better knowing that they have one of the best defensive middle infields in the game behind them.

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