Name: Stephen Drew
Age on Opening Day: 28
2011 Stats: 86 games, 354 PAs, .252/.317/.396, 5 HR, 45 RBI
2010 Stats: 151 games, 633 PAs, .278/.352/.458, 15 HR, 61 RBI
2011 wasn't a bad year for the D-backs and their fans. But if there's one image we would rather forget, it would be the one of Drew breaking his leg sliding in to home-plate on July 20th. [Viewer discretion definitely advised on the link] It was one of those complete freak accidents - there wasn't any contact with the catcher involved in the injury - and it was clear from almost the moment it happened, that it was the end of Drew's season.
Even before his year ended, a nagging collection of ailments had troubled our short-stop, and his production had been not what we hoped for. Drew managed only five home-runs in 86 games, and at the time of the accident was hitting .252 with a K-rate up near 21%. It says a lot that, the first month Stephen was out, Willie Bloomquist produced at virtually the same level.
What is it with Drew and odd-numbered years? 2006, 2008, 2010: OPS+ of 117, 109, 113. The intervening seasons: 71, 92 and an injury-shortened 93. Optimistically, 2011 would see Drew mentioned alongside the likes of Jose Reyes and Troy Tulowitzki, finally becoming a consistently top-tier short-stop, the kind we have seen in flashes since Stephen made his debut for the Diamondbacks in July 2006. He finished 2010 strongly - from August on, he hit .300 with a .932 OPS, though he has always been a stronger player in the second-half of the year [his career OPS after the All-Star break is 73 points higher than before it].
It's his position that makes him particularly valuable. Coming in to this season, his career OPS+ was 98, but that should be read alongside the knowledge that in 2010, the tOPS+ for the short-stop position was only 91, making Drew above-average offensively at that spot on the diamond. His defense, something of a question-mark in his early days, seemed to have improved, to the point where he would make all the expected plays and occasionally surprise with range into the hole and arm. All told, last year his numbers (3.6 bWAR, 5.1 fWAR) were close to elite, and Arizona fans hoped for more of the same in 2011.
It wasn't just us. Neutral expectations had him hitting at around the .270-.280 mark, with home-runs in the mid-to-high teens and and OPS around .825, a significant uptick on his OPS coming in of .780. There were also hopes Drew could parlay his speed into some more stolen bases. Stephen led the majors in triples over the 2008-2010 period, with 35; it tells you something that the three tied for second, on 31 were all renowned speedsters, Jose Reyes, Carl Crawford and Shane Victorino. The trio averaged 36 SB per season over that time; Drew a mere six.
Finally, if you want a "wildly off the mark" projection, let's turn to numerology. Inexplicably, no mention of Drew breaking his leg. Must have been a typo.
For Stephen Drew, 2011 is a year of expansion and personal growth. It is a time of heightened personal expression. Creativity and artistic talent come to the forefront. During 2011, Stephen is lighthearted and drawn to all kinds of social events. More than most other years, he will entertain and be entertained. Drew meets new and exciting people. It is a time to appreciate all that he has.
There were problems for Drew right from the get-go, with a lingering lower-abdominal strain limiting his playing time during spring training. He had to sit out a number of games, and as a result was on the bench at the start of the regular season, though a DL trip was avoided. He made his first start in the fifth game of the season, but made up for lost time, with an unusually productive April; he hit .321 with 22 RBI and a .920 OPS, mostly out of the clean-up spot, where Gibson described him as "one of our best pure hitters". The productivity boosted the hopes mentioned earlier, that this level of performance was now the norm for Stephen.
It didn't last. The problem with his groin resurfaced, and it seemed to be aggravated when he was turning double-plays, a key component of his position. Whether directly related or not, May proved disappointing: Drew batted only .241 with just a single long-ball and an OPS that collapsed all the way to .680 for the month. The rest of the first half was no better, Stephen hitting .234 from June through the break, and by a couple of days after the restart, the media had officially labeled him as "slumping short-stop Stephen Drew" At the start of play on July 20, over the previous month Drew had gone 13-for-78 (.167), with a .487 OPS. His season was about to get a whole lot worse.
[I thought long and hard about whether to include the video above or not, but I think it needs to be part of the record; clicking it is, of course, entirely optional.] Drew had doubled, and when Chris Young's fly-ball down the left-field line wasn't quite caught by the Brewers left-fielder, he hustled around third and came home. The relay throw beat him to the plate; as Drew tried to slide around the tag, the Arizona infielder caught his foot on the Milwaukee catcher, and his right ankle got twisted unnaturally. The agony was immediately obvious, and it was no surprise when the official prognosis came down after the game: a fractured ankle and torn ligaments.
Surgery followed on the Thursday, with the team issuing this statement afterward:
Stephen Drew underwent orthopedic surgery in Phoenix this afternoon to repair a severe right ankle injury he suffered yesterday. Dr. Peter Mitchell MD performed internal plating to the fibula bone and repair of the ligaments torn as his cleats caught the ground twisting the ankle awkwardly. All went as expected, and we are optimistic for a full recovery.
Can Drew recover to become a full-time short-stop again, or will he need to be moved to another position on the diamond - perhaps third-base? That's really the key question, and the problem for the team is, it's one where the team likely won't know the answer until spring training, and we see him in action. The official word is that he should be able to make a full recovery - but a full recovery and reliable short-stop are not necessarily the same thing. Ankles are tricky things, and a position like short-stop requires lateral motion, and quick turns as the pivot on a double-play. Only time will tell.
However, might this be a good time to try and sign him to an extension? Drew will be a free-agent at the end of 2012, and there's no immediate replacement ready in the farm system. Chris Owings is the team's top-ranked prospect: he spent this year in High-A and didn't exactly over-achieve there, hitting .242. He only turned 20 in August, so while there's no need to panic, some coverage for at least a year or two might be no bad thing. Certainly, at this point, both Drew's trade value and contract value are likely at a low ebb, though signing him to any long-term extension would contain a significant element of risk at this point.
Overall grade: D+
Drew's importance to the team shows in the horror we felt when he was injured - though that might have been partly due, both to the gruesome nature of the injury, and the realization Willie Bloomquist would be our starting SS the rest of the way. Bonus credit has been applied for resetting his own ankle at home-plate, which is probably the most hardcore thing I've seen on a baseball field. He said, "I don't want to come out of the game and my foot be at 180 (degrees), so (it was) just one of those things where reaction took over, and (I) set it back in place." Mick Foley nods approvingly...
But, in a season when so many regular players took big steps forward e.g. Roberts, Montero, Upton, Parra, this year left a definite question-mark for the team at SS. While I did contemplate the "incomplete" grade, Drew was hurt in the team's 98th game of the year, which to me feels like enough to award a mark. Even discounting the injury, this had been a disappointing season for Stephen, although it's tempting to assume he'd have had his traditionally-strong second-half, we can't really do so. If a 93 OPS+ with solid defense is by no means terrible; it is a good deal less than we were hoping for and expecting.
Harsh? Certainly. But part of the expectations of Drew going into the year - and why we extended him rather than going year-to-year in arbitration - was that he was reliable and not much of an injury-risk. So much for that, I guess. Not only did his triple-slash line completely underwhelm (it's a shame he's a "second-half hitter" considering that we lost his entire second half of the season), but he wasn't on the field for the whole year and caused us to deal with Willie Bloomquist there on an everyday basis. Bloomquist exceeded expectations at shortstop, but Bloomquist exceeding expectations at shortstop is still dramatically inferior to Drew failing to meet expectations at shortstop.
Kishi: C- (Incomplete)
Not a good season for Drew. While his contributions on the field weren't necessarily awful, they just weren't up to the standards we were hoping for. I don't remember any problems with his normally solid defense, but he wasn't hitting up to the standards we expect for him, let alone what we might have hoped for after last season. Add in missing time for two different injuries- and a video I still can't go back and rewatch- and it just leaves us disappointed.
Marc: Unsatisfactory / Incomplete
It's hard for me to knock Drew down based on a semi-decent first half and a rather unpleasant injury. Ergo we meet in the middle. For what it's worth, he definitely earned an A+ in extreme manliness.
It was a disappointing season for a multitude of reasons, but I'll just mention a couple. First of all, he missed a significant chunk due to injury, a time when he normally produces. The numbers he put up before going down, though, are pretty pedestrian. Let's put it this way, he was nearly identical to Edgar Renteria. He was nearly identical to Willie Bloomquist. People want to hate on Willie, and for many good reasons, but the fact is that until Drew went down he wasn't much different.