by Eno Sarris
We continue our way around the infield after examining the post-hype prognoses for Chris Davis and Rickie Weeks. It’s about time that I admit my dark secret – I actually own a fantasy team that features all of these players around the horn on the infield. As I joked on this podcast with the folks at BaseballPress, this is not a strategy to try at home, and it’s only the particulars of this league that forced me into a corner. On the other hand, finding an undervalued player that has shown elite skills in the past for a bargain price is useful in any league.
So does Stephen Drew count? He has certainly shown plenty of strong attributes at the plate – but not in the same season. If he puts these disparate parts of his game together, though, he could become an impact player at shortstop. It’s been shown by researcher Tom Tango that a player’s peak age range is 27 through 29. Lo and behold, Drew is 27. Could this be his year?
There’s a bit of a split between Bloomberg Sports’ projections for Drew and the wisdom of the crowd on this one. The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Kit projects Drew for an underwhelming .268 batting average, albeit with 18 home runs. Shown graphically to the left, these numbers don’t combine to instill confidence. In what is perhaps a nod to the fact that manager A.J. Hinch is thinking of batting Drew second this year, he is projected for a decent 80 runs. Are those runs scored combined with the poor batting average and mediocre home run total enough to make fantasy owners right for drafting him more than 100 spots earlier than his B-Rank (B-Rank 229, ADP 127.6)?
There’s obviously some value in his complete package of skills. His skills looks better on a Bloomberg Sports spider graph, where you can see how he stacks up in the offensively-challenged position of shortstop. Even that graph might be selling Drew short, though.
Take his batting average. Not only has he hit .291 before (in 2008), but he’s shown the different components of being able to do it again. Check out his reach rates (the percentage of swings at pitches outside of the zone) since he hit the majors: 30.6%, 21.8%, 28.2%, 22.3%. It may not be a surprise that his walk rate has oscillated similarly: 6.2%, 9.7%, 6.2%, 8.2%. On the plus side, one element of his game has steadily improved: His contact rate has risen from a poor 74.3% to a solid 84.2%.
What does it all mean for his batting average? it means that Drew is struggling with his aggressiveness but is making more and more contact as he figures it out. The recipe for a good year might just include a nice middle ground for his reach rate (say around 25%), an average walk rate (last year the ML average was 8.9%) and an above-average contact rate (the ML average was 80.5% last year). He’s done each piece before – it follows that he could hit each benchmark again, ideally in the same season.
Because he’s not a speedster (19 career stolen bases), the power is the other attractive part of Drew’s profile. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) has also jumped around more than Ozzie Guillen after a liter of Red Bull: .201, .133, .211, .167 (ML average is usually around .155). This is probably related to another component stat that Drew is struggling to harness: his line drive percentage (23.8%, 16.5%, 22.6%, 18.9%). It seems that his power rises and falls with his line drives. The lesson here is that he’s had nice line drive rates twice before – he can do it again.
Why would this year be the year that he once again puts together a good line drive rate with a strong approach at the plate and gives us something that looks like 2008 (or better)? Well, spring training stats are obviously a small sample size, but sometimes those mere 40 or 50 at-bats can give us hope. It is also worth mentioning that John Dewan has shown that about 75% of players that improve their slugging percentage by more than .200 in spring training go on to perform better than their career average during the upcoming season. Drew’s close. His slugging percentage this spring? .609. His career number? .445.
For more information on Stephen Drew and his fellow shortstops this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kit for yourself.