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The Taming of the Drew?

Earlier in the week, IHateSouthBend had a nice piece looking at the struggles of Stephen Drew this year, and whether they were a cause for concern. Inspired by this, it got me thinking about our shortstop in a number of other ways. What should we be expecting out of the position? How does he compare to other first-round  and/or young  players there? Is his low BABIP this year just "bad luck", or are there other factors which we need to take into account? How has Drew's defense stacked up this season?

After the jump, we'll take a look at some answers to those questions. Hey, it's an off-day. What else are we going to do?

Short-stop is not a position generally associated with offense - Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Tejada are the exception, rather than the rule. Since 2001, 229 shortstops have had 400+ PA: in a season the median OPS+ from them is only 91 - by coincidence, exactly the same as Drew's figure this season. If you look among the 52 regular players at the position over the same time (those with 1,000+ PAs), the median is even lower: basically, Cristian Guzman and his 86 OPS+ is about the average level of production. Even on a 'down' year like this, Drew is comfortably in excess of that.

If we also take age into consideration, things are very similar. 53 shortstops since 1991 have had a thousand PAs by the end of their age 26 season. By OPS+, Drew ranks 13th, with the median again 86, nine points lower than Drew's number to date. I also note the following comparison with another young short-stop:

Player    OPS+  PA   G   AB   R   H   2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
Player A   95  2041 482 1838 242 495 112 32 50 208 162 337 .269 .327 .447 .774
Player B   95  1866 450 1664 261 421  88  8 64 254 153 304 .253 .323 .431 .754

Player A is Stephen Drew. Player B would go on to be an MVP and six-time (to date) All-Star, Miguel Tejada. Of course, he also bolted from Oakland for free-agency, signing a six-year, $72m contract with Baltimore before the 2004 season.

You might think that success is to be expected - after all, Drew was a first-round draft pick. However, the track-record of first-round shortstops seems a bit flaky - for example, none of the three other short-stops chosen the same year as Drew have even reached the majors, including two taken ahead of him. Here are the stats for all those chosen as short-stops, inside the first thirty selections of the June draft. Those in italics never reached the major-leagues; those marked with a * have played the majority of their ML games at another position.

#25: Bobby Crosby: 670 games, .684 OPS
#29: Josh Burrus
#2: BJ Upton*: 498 games, .759 OPS
#8: Scott Moore*: 39 games, .665 OPS
#10: Drew Meyer*: 5 games, .429 OPS
#13: Khalil Greene: 730 games, .725 OPS
#14: Russ Adams: 286 games, .685 OPS
#26: Josh McCurdy
#27: Sergio Santos

#13: Aaron Hill*: 617 games, .765 OPS
#23: Brandon Wood*: 80 games, .527 OPS
#1: Matt Bush
#9: Christopher Nelson
#15: Stephen Drew: 482 games, .773 OPS
#20: Trevor Plouffe
#1: Justin Upton*: 275 games, .846 OPS
#7: Troy Tulowitzki: 418 games, .818 OPS
#17: Carl Henry
#21: Cliff Pennington: 79 games, .724 OPS
#30: Tyler Greene: 41 games, .585 OPS

Just one first-round short-stop picked since 2005 has reached the majors: Gordon Beckham, the #8 pick in 2008, and he is now a third-baseman. Excluding him, 35% of those listed above have never made the show, and another 30% did so at other positions. Only a quarter have had significant careers in the majors as a shortstop: Drew's OPS is ahead of all those but Troy-boy...let's just say, I believe Coors plays a factor in his success, and leave it at that!  :-) So, Drew thus far is performing more than credibly, compared to others picked in similar spots.

However, one thing IHSB's analysis missed, is that not everyone deserves a league average BABIP: hitters have more control over it than pitchers. The classic example is Chris Young, whose BABIP this year is very low, because of all the infield pop-ups which are almost guaranteed outs. Different kinds of balls in play have radically different results, and other factors such as speed, ballpark, etc. also affect BABIP. The guys over at The Hardball Times have done some excellent work in this area - see this article for an explanation of xBABIP, an enhanced version of BABIP, which includes these extra variables. There's also an Excel spreadsheet xBABIP calculator available from them.

However, if you don't want to go that deep, a better way to analyze results is still to break down Drew's BABIP by hit trajectory type, and compare that to league averages within each hit type. For example, the major league average BABIP and Drew's BABIP by hit trajectory are as follows:

Ground Balls  .236/.240
Fly Balls  .137/.124
Line Drives .724/.720

Sources: NL Average and Drew's numbers

When an NL average batter hits a ground ball, it becomes a hit 23.6% of the time; when Drew hits one, it's 24.0%, and so on. As you can see, his GB and LD BABIP are right at league average, and he's a little bit below BABIP on Fly Balls. So what is responsible for the big drop in BABIP from last year? Line Drives - Drew has hit a lot less of them. His LD% by season


To me, it's no coincidence that his BABIP was high in 06 and 08, and below average in 07 and 09. He's hitting a lot fewer line drives, and as we see above, they become hits at a much higher rate than any other type of ball in play. If you go through and assign a league average BABIP to each hit type individually, you will get a different "adjustment" than just assigning a number for BABIP across the board. Doing that, here is the variation by assigning a  league average BABIP by hit type [Don't forget to remove HR's from PA and hit totals to get Balls In Play]:

Ground Balls:  +0.6
Fly Balls:  - 2.3
Line Drives:  -1.2
Net Loss   -2.9

This way, it seems Drew  is only  "missing" about 3 hits this year, which seems closer to the truth for me. I don't think he has hit nearly as well as in the past. He's not roping line drives, and as a result he's not getting as many hits. It'd probably be a mistake to assign his season to luck and expect a rebound purely on that basis. [He may rebound again next year, if his LD rate fluctuates up again] It may be mental. When Drew sees himself as a HR hitter, his swing gets long and loopy, and he hits easy fly outs. When he is "right" his swing is more compact, and he hits low  hard line drives into the hole. That's the sign to look for with Drew. When you see the ball there, he's ready to hit.

One aspect of his game IHSB didn't cover was Drew's defense - here, we turn the ever useful for their UZR score on Drew. Here, we find a surprising change: after having had a UZR/150 [basically, UZR averaged out to a 150-game season] that ranged between -11.3 to -14.3 from 2006-2008, he is now at a very credible +3.5 this season. All the components have shown improvement: he's making fewer errors and turning more double-plays, but the biggest increase has been his range, which has gone from -11.6 to +2.3. Zone Rating concurs, Drew now ranking 7th of 22 SS, and his Range Factor has also increased from 3.95 last year, to 4.21

Overall, I'm not too concerned about Drew, though despite the comparison above, I don't expect him to become one of the position's superstars. He should, however, continue to remain an above-average contributor for the position to the offense, even in a "down year", and if he can sustain the defensive improvement shown of late, that would certainly help. But if Drew's career path does go anything like Tejada's, the odds of this Scott Boras client remaining in Arizona after 2012, are probably very slim. Enjoy him while you can.