It's been refreshing over the past few years to read the collective work of Amelie Benjamin and Adam Kilgore in the Boston Globe. The two writers have covered the Red Sox well, and their youth has proven beneficial, as they've both incorporated more comprehensive statistics into their analysis and reporting than, say, Nick Cafardo. Kilgore especially has even included OPS+, ERA+ and UZR in his stories for Web and print, while both liberally use WHIP and OPS, stats that some baseball writers still ignore or downright disdain.
That makes this morning's story by Benjamin about J.D. Drew all the more disappointing. The story as a whole is good enough, and certainly worth writing given Drew's just-completed month of August. Yet it seems a Drew defender's work is never done.
In the story's opening paragraph, Benjamin throws this out there:
The contributions from J.D. Drew can be measured in months. A month here, a month there, not nearly enough to add up to $14 million per year, yet tantalizing enough to see how a general manager couldn’t resist the temptation.
This happens all the time, largely because many people forget that Drew is not a designated hitter. He fields his position well, and not for nothing, his home ballpark is one of the toughest places in baseball in which to field that position. His UZR/150 this year is 13.6. Last year, it was 12.9. It was a career-low -2.4 in 2007, a figure that was 1. not that bad, and 2. clearly anomalous.
So should we be surprised, then, that Fangraphs lists Drew's value as $15.8 million so far this year? For those keeping track, that is actually more than $14 million. Last year, despite missing a month of the season, he was still worth $18.6 million. Also more than $14 million. In 2007, when off-field concerns affected on-field performance, he was worth just $5.5 million. Add them up, and Drew's been worth $39.9 million to the Red Sox, an average of $13.3 million per year — $700,000 short of his salary.
In other words, pretty darn near to $14 million per year. Certainly not "not nearly enough."
Not only is Drew's defense overlooked, but so is his offense, as is clear later in the story, when Benjamin continues the "few good months" theme:
But, all in all, the numbers are stark. Drew has hit at least .300 in just four of his 17 months with the Red Sox during the regular season. He has hit less than .240 in five of those months. Even his hot August has brought up his average this season to just .265, with 18 homers and 53 RBIs.
It is incredibly disappointing to see a writer as seemingly knowledgeable about statistics as Benjamin write garbage like this. A comparable paragraph would criticize Kevin Youkilis for not stealing 20 bases a season, or Jacoby Ellsbury for not hitting 15 home runs a year. Drew is an excellent hitter, but his strength doesn't lie in hitting .300; it lies in his amazing plate discipline. In his 10 full seasons (including this one), Drew has hit .300 twice. The Red Sox were not purchasing a .300 hitter. His career average is only .282.
But his career on-base percentage is .391. He has reached base at least 37 percent (a figure just as arbitrary as a .300 batting average) of the time — 25 points higher than the league average during his time in Boston — 10 times in those 17 months. Among those five months in which he batted lower than .240, Drew still reached base at a league-average or better clip twice. By my count, Drew has had a truly terrible month — below .700 OPS – four times in Boston.
He is a .282 career hitter with the potential to be better, to blossom at any time. Building off last month, this September could be brilliant. Or it could not. With Drew, it’s often hard to tell.
Well, yes. Those are the two options for basically every player: Brilliant. Or not. And given our inability to see the future, it is indeed hard to tell which it will be. But there are probabilities.
Acknowledging the arbitrariness of splitting a season into 30-day increments based solely on the calendar (which has little to do with anything over the course of the baseball season), Drew's 17 months break down this way:
- 1.000+ — 3
- .900-.999 — 2
- .850-.899 — 0
- .800-.849 — 4
- .750-.799 — 4
- .700-.749 — 0
- <.700 — 4
That says to me that Drew has had an .800 OPS or better 52.9 percent of the time in Boston. League-average OPS has varied between .780 and .790 in that time. Three additional times, Drew has had an OPS of .780 or better — meaning he has been average or above average more than 70 percent of the time.
This leads me to believe that the chances are pretty good that J.D. Drew will be above average this September — as he has been the vast majority of his Red Sox career. Based on his value over the past two seasons, he'll even be worth more than the Sox are paying him.