Amidst a year full of disappointments flowing from every orifice of this team, one of the more prevalent disappointments as of late has been the continued decline of Stephen Drew, Mr. Extra Bases of 2008. Obviously, his season hasn't been as bad overall as the seasons of Eric Byrnes, Chris Young, Chris Snyder, Chad Tracy, and Drew even possesses a higher OPS in '09 than Gerardo Parra, whose rookie campaign has generally been thought of as a success, but it's bad enough to make me wonder why they haven't placed anybody more suitably-qualified in the second-spot in the lineup on an everyday basis (MiggyMo?).
However, I believe that his struggles have received either as much or more ire as all of those players for a wide-ranging yet strong list of reasons. After a crappy first couple of weeks to start the season, nobody had the expectations for Byrnes that they had for Drew after Drew's stellar 2008. CY's season has been a complete disaster, but he has showed signs of turning it around and at least becoming a servicable bat in center field as of late, whereas Drew has not, and at least CY has been healthy all year. Snyder's injuries have plagued him all season, but the impact of his downfall has been padded by Miguel Montero's immense success, while our only backup plan currently on the roster for Drew for this season and 2010 (or at least until September 2010 when Pedro Ciriaco may be called up) is Augie Ojeda, who likely won't be on the roster in 2010 for lack of ability. As the case with Byrnes, anything we received from Tracy's injury-riddled knees was considered to be extra-credit for a team that had become accustomed to him being on the disabled list, while expectations for Drew were high. Parra's in the midst of his rookie season, whereas Drew's broke into the big-leagues with 59 games in 2006.
It's also worth noting that among that list of players, Byrnes, Snyder, and Tracy are likely to be gone by Opening Day 2010, and CY and Parra will each be fighting for playing time in a very crowded outfield picture for 2010. Drew is being handed the everyday shortstop job on a silver platter. The only shortstops on Reno's roster at the end of the season were Taylor Harbin, called up for a short stint from Hi-A Visalia and definitely not ready for the majors, and respective over-30 major-league washouts Ed Rogers and Abraham Nunez. Further, this isn't a club that has the luxury of spending money on an above-average stop-gap backup option for a position that is supposed to have a key part of its nucleus under control for multiple years stationed there, especially since the position is one that often is worth a high premium.
So with the intro under the belt, time to get into the stats themselves that lead us worried and try to see whether Drew has been subjct to issues of luck, if his struggles are less temporary issues, or a combination of both, as well as to see if he has made improvements in any areas of his game this season amidst the general feeling of disappointment that hovers over his '09 campaign. All stats are before today's game against the Padres, which, at the time of this sentence, he is 0-3 in with a two runners left on base, including one in scoring position.
Admittedly, these stats are a little confusing at times, and people will certainly be trying to balance the negative effects his ISO drop against the positive effects of his decrease in strikeout rate and increase in walk rate in an attempt to judge the overall effects on his numbers. To try to put this in perspective, I re-calculated Drew's line using the same at-bat (473 in 2009), home run, strikeout, and sacrifice fly (6 in 2009) totals Drew has accumulated in 2009, but with 2008's BABIP, using the following formula:
(H - HR) / (AB - HR - K + SF) = .322 -- (x - 12) / (473 - 12 - 78 + 6) = .322 -- x = (.322)(473 - 12 - 78 + 6) + 12 -- x = (.322)(389) + 12 -- x = 125.258 + 12
So, rounding remainder to the nearest hit, we find that x = 137, an improvement of 15 hits from his current 2009 total of 122. Since he keeps the same number of walks per plate-appearance and strikeouts per plate-apperanace (none of the three variables were affected by the re-calculation of hits), then his OBP-BA and SLG-BA (a.k.a. ISO) also remain unchanged. This means that Drew's line comes out to:
Batting Average: 137 / 473 = .290
On-Base Percentage: .321 - .258 = .063 -- .290 + .063 = .353
Slugging Percentage: ISO = .175 -- .290 + .175 = .465
On-Base Plus Slugging: .353 + .465 = .818
OPS+: (93 / .754) = (x / .818) -- (93 / .754)(.818) = x -- x = 101
This adjustment of BABIP by 39 points gives Drew an adjusted OPS increase of 64 points, and an OPS+ increase of 8 points, taking him from a below league-average offensive producer to being barely above league-average. However, there are two very important points to make here. The first point is that Drew's BABIP isn't necessarily destined to rise to his 2008 total again. He could spend the rest of his career with a BABIP around the .280 mark like he has now, and would be a much less valuable producer. The second point to make is that even with this adjustment, while it makes Drew's season a lot more palatable, it does not make Drew's season as good as his 2008 campaign, in which his OPS was .835 and OPS+ was 110. Thus, his raw power and on-base numbers from 2009, before the luck factor is involved, are inferior to those of last season.
In my opinion, I don't think it's wise to depend on Drew's BABIP rising back to its 2008 total, as .280 and .320 both appear to be fairly evenly distanced from a typical BABIP (although I could, of course be wrong). If this is the case it's up to Drew to regain his Isolated Power Output from 2008, something less to do with luck and more to do with skill. If that ISO from 2008 was a fluke, then it's easy to imagine that we'll be in for yet another rough year from Drew next season. Drew needs to reach that 20/40/10 HR/2B/3B potential that he was acclaimed as a top-prospect for in order to be an everyday, top-of-the-lineup (probably best for the two-spot in the lineup w/Upton & Reynolds in place) player. If that isn't there, he is exactly what he has been this year, a sixth-or-seventh-hitter miscast as a leadoff or second-spot hitter. Do we have cause for concern? That would be a painful and depressing yes, we do.