Red Sox Player Preview: J.D. Drew
Next up in our player previews is a player who fans seem to either love or hate, J.D. Drew.
The outfielder approaches his contract year as he nears the end of a 5 year, $70 million deal that he signed prior to the 2007 season. Health has always been J.D. Drew’s biggest downside, but when healthy he is a player who is an extremely patient hitter with above average power, runs the bases well, and plays elite right field defense. Over the first 4 years of Drew’s five year deal he has had two all-star level seasons bookended by two subpar seasons. So which J.D. Drew will we see in 2011?
We will look at his 2010 statistics, his career highs in parenthesis, and his 2011 outlook.
Games: 139 (146, 2006)
Average: .255 (.323, 2001)
On-Base Percentage: .341 (.436, 2004)
Slugging Percentage: .452 (.613, 2001)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .793 (1.027, 2007)
Home Runs: 22 (31, 2004)
Runs Batted In: 68 (100, 2006)
Runs: 69 (118, 2004)
Doubles: 24 (34, 2006)
Walks: 60 (118, 2004)
UZR/150*: +4.9 (+18.5, 2004)
*UZR/150 is a sabermetric number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games. Zero is an average fielder.
When you look J.D. Drew’s career highs and 2010 numbers, two things jump out. The first is that he can be an extremely productive player. He can really be a true 4 tool player, with speed the only tool that is not outstanding though he is a good and smart base runner. However, the other thing that jumps out to you is that he has not put up career best years in any of those categories since he signed his deal with the Red Sox in 2007.
The reason for his poor 2010 can most likely be attributed to two issues that Drew recently spoke about to WEEI’s Rob Bradford. The first that he mentioned was an injured left hamstring that limited him to 139 games in 2010, an injury that Drew said was extremely painful during the end of the year. Drew has actually been more durable since joining the Red Sox, but never in his career has played more than 146 games.
The hamstring issue is supposed to lie in the area at the top of the hamstring. Drew received platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy in December, and from what he says it sounds like he is still working towards getting back to 100% and he will ease back into his baseball activities. Drew told Bradford, “It is a lot stronger than it was during the season, so hopefully that will help overcome some of the issue when I get into camp and we can ease into where things are good and go from there.” Hopefully the treatment this off-season means that Drew can continue to play about 120-130 games this season.
Drew also said he struggled with the strike zone in 2010. Drew’s career walk rate is an outstanding 14% and he is considered to be a master of the strike zone. However, his OBP in 2010 was the lowest it has been since Drew’s rookie year. Drew indicated that he got into his own head and started to swing at pitches he normally would not. Drew told Bradford, “My whole thing is quality at-bats. I had a really tough time with that last year. I had fits trying to have quality at-bats. I think you watched and saw on TV.” 2010 did seem to be the year of the pitcher, and I suppose it is possible that umpires consciously were looser with their strike zones in 2010. However I tend to think that this was just a statistical fluctuation and that Drew should see his walk rate rise from the 11% of 2010, closer to his career mark of 14%. Same is true of his average. His batting average on balls hit in play (babip) was .282 last year, which should regress towards his career average of .314 bringing his batting average north with it.
Paying Drew $70 million over five years may seem like a lot for a guy who has not had a career year in any statistical category since joining the Red Sox and also has not been able to remain healthy. While this does seem like the case, it is Drew’s versatility that makes him so consistently valuable. His ability to contribute with the glove as well as with his eye and bat are what makes him worth his contract. Theo Epstein indicated as much, and it prompted the guys over at Fan Graphs to take a look at it. Their conclusion was that Drew’s contract has paid him perfectly appropriately for the value he has returned, even with the time missed to injury.
In 2011 the Red Sox hope Drew can return to his high OBP ways, and also hope that his hamstring allows him to stay on the field to play the elite right field defense he is capable of. The positive part for the Red Sox is with the arrival of Carl Crawford, the Red Sox have 4 very good outfielders with Drew, Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury starting in the outfield and veteran Mike Cameron coming off the bench.
Cameron’s presence if healthy can allow Drew (along with Ortiz and Ellsbury as well) to get a rest against some of the tough left hand starters. Drew and Cameron actually make an ideal platoon pair. Drew has a career .340 weighted on base average (wOBA) verses lefthanders and a dominant career .395 wOBA verses righties. Cameron on the other hand has killed lefties with a career .380 wOBA, and struggled against righties with a career .331 wOBA. Both may have more success against a particular type of pitcher, but the fact that both play very good defense makes them solid player regardless of the handedness of the pitcher. This is why the health of Drew is key, because if healthy it allows Francona to keep Drew in against some lefties and rest either Ellsbury or Ortiz.
Overall Drew is a key piece on one of the strongest units on the 2011 Boston Red Sox, and in all of baseball. He will most likely hit down somewhere around 6-8th in the Red Sox order and could be used behind Crawford against some lefties, where his patience would give Crawford ample opportunities to run. His success this year could lead to a nice new contract for him, but could also make the Boston outfield defense one of the best in the league and the lineup deep and dangerous. Drew could be the difference between the Red Sox being merely good in 2011 and potential champions.
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Want to know more about J.D. Drew’s outlook in 2011? Please comment and ask questions in the comments section. Also, find me on Twitter @WillWoodBoston.