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The Rise and Fall of Brandon Drury

Much was expected of Brandon Drury this year. But he now finds himself behind Adam Rosales. Who saw that coming?

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Arizona Diamondback v San Francisco Giants Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images

“We’re going to try and get as many at-bats for our best players, so he would be one of those” — General Manager Mike Hazen, Dec 6

“It’s been quite some time since he has started a game, and I’m well aware of that. I just feel like we switched roles for a reason.” — Manager Torey Lovullo, Aug 10

Everything went swimmingly well for Brandon Drury through a very busy Cactus League schedule, over which no Diamondback had more at-bats. He really delivered at the plate in spring training, batting .389 with a 1.145 and won the starting job at second-base, before Chris Owings claimed the shortstop job. Lovullo was impressed, and not just with the production at the plate: "Offensively he's having a great spring, but we knew he was built around offense and that was going to be, really, the non-issue for him. So he should be proud of himself for how he's addressed the needs defensively, he's been really good."

With an everyday position his, and no risk of him being shunted to the outfield, as happened in 2016, Drury was set fair. “It’s easier to get all my work in knowing one position, not having to switch positions and get work in at different places and hitting and all that other stuff. Just to have one position that I’m focused on, it’s nice.” In an article in December (which mysteriously seems to have vanished from our site!), Michael suggested Drury could have 40 double, 20 homer capability, along with the ability to hit .280 or better. The projection systems weren’t quite as bullish, ZIPS predicting .262/.306/.399, and basically at replacement level.

The season has unfolded somewhat between those two sets of expectations. Going into the Cubs series, Drury’s line is .271/.324/.436. He has been worth 1.0 bWAR and 1.1 fWAR - that’s significantly more than Chris Owings (0.7 bWAR/0.5 fWAR), who has almost the same amount of plate appearances. Now, certainly, there have been some issues of late, with some very ugly plate appearances - a particularly bad K off the bench against Yu Darvish and the Dodgers. But the season .760 OPS is actually better than the two men behind whom Brandon now finds himself on the depth chart: Daniel Descalso (.738) and Adam Rosales (.613!).

It is worth remembering, Drury is still only 24; among everyday second-basemen in the majors, only Jose Peraza (Reds), Rougned Odor (Rangers) and Javier Baez (Cubs) are younger. It’s reasonable to see him as a work in progress. Which makes his recent benching a bit odd - tonight was his first start since August 4, compared to 20+ in April, May and June. Lovullo’s most recent comments suggest defense is involved. But I was surprised how positively fielding metrics view Drury’s 2B work this year. Total Zone's FRAA and BIS Defensive Runs Saved, both have him slightly positive, at +1. And UZR/150 agrees, ranking Drury 5th among the 18 qualifying players at the position.

It appears Lovullo originally made the decision “shortly after the All-Star break,” and looking at Drury’s game logs, July 21 seems about the point. Since then, Drury has started only seven of the twenty games started by the Diamondbacks. But at that time, Lovullo highlighted Drury’s approach at the plate, not in the field: “It’s probably now about a two- or three-week period of time where he’s been missing pitches. Something will happen during an at-bat or maybe a fundamental part of his swing where he wasn’t getting off and attacking the ball and squaring it up as he was earlier in the year.”

It’s a bit odd, and you would be forgiven for wondering - though I have absolutely no evidence - if there is some other, off-field issue at play. He did have a key at-bat in this evening’s win over the Cubs, cracking a pitch high off the wall for a two-run double (though he saw only eight pitches over his four PA). Perhaps that might get him going on one of his hot streaks: “I’ve always been a streaky hitter. I have my ups and my downs. Everybody does. But I think I’ve been a little bit more up and a little bit more down than most people.” We could certainly do with getting him back on track: the Diamondbacks are 49-35 when Drury starts, but only 16-16 when he doesn’t.