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Is Gonzalez an upgrade?

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  August 14, 2009 05:53 PM

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The Red Sox acquired Alex Gonzalez today to solidify their infield depth and improve their defense on the left side. The lasting images from Gonzalez’s 2006 season in Boston suggest the Red Sox have made a significant maneuver for their stretch run. “He made plays that just made you shake your head,” Sox manager Terry Francona said.

But is Gonzalez really an upgrade? According to one defensive metric, Nick Green has actually had a better defensive season than Gonzalez.

The Ultimate Zone Rating compiled at FanGraphs.com uses a formula based on errors, range, and arm strength to quantify how many runs above average a player’s defense creates for his team. This season, Green’s UZR per 150 games would give the Red Sox eight runs above average. Gonzalez’s would provide four runs above average.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “I remember watching him in 2006 and he was awesome.” Your memory does not deceive you. That season, Gonzalez’s UZR/150 was 16.9, an incredibly strong rating. His range by itself produced 7.1 runs above average in 111 games.

Gonzalez, now 32, has seemingly lost much of his range over the past three seasons. His range this year is exactly average, while Green’s range has been 3.7 runs above average. Those numbers suggest that Gonzalez was once a dynamite shortstop and is now pretty much mediocre.

The Red Sox, of course, believe differently. Francona has not decided exactly what Gonzalez’s role will be once he arrives tomorrow, but he made clear he plans on giving Gonzalez playing time.

“I think Greenie, what he has done has been admirable,” Francona said. “Without him, we’d be lost. But getting a guy who can catch the ball like Gonzie probably really going to help us. That’s the whole idea.

“He’s going to play,” Francona said. “I don’t think I ever feel the need to make a lineup out next week. I’d like to sit and talk to him. He’s been playing every day. I want to see how he is physically. We try to communicate with everybody and try to put them in the best position to succeed.”

Offensively, the picture is downright bleak for Gonzalez. He’s batting .211 with a .554 OPS and, according to FanGraphs, he has created -20.4 runs this season with his offense – only former Reds teammate Willy Taveras, at -24.7, is worse.

To that point, David Ortiz was asked what he remembered about Gonzalez when he played with the Sox in 2006. “Not a damn thing,” Ortiz said. “I know he can pick it.”

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