One Drew Was Not Enough: Red Sox Ink Stephen

The Red Sox have been one of the baseball’s most active teams on the free agent market this winter, inking David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, and maybe Mike Napoli (depending on a recent hold-up with his physical) as they look to pick up the pieces following a last place finish in 2012. Their August blockbuster with the Dodgers freed up hundred of millions of dollars in payroll space, and so far that money has been put back into the team in the form of sensible, short-ish term contracts. The pitching staff still needs work, but up until the today the only position they had not addressed was shortstop.

The internal options were not all that appealing. Ivan DeJesus Jr. hasn’t played much shortstop in recent years and Pedro Ciriaco managed an 85 wRC+ (2.9 BB%) in 272 big league plate appearances this year. Prospect Jose Iglesias is a wizard with the glove, but he owns a .251/.302/.287 career batting line. In Triple-A. In almost 800 plate appearances. There’s a minimum acceptable level of offense at the big league level, and it’s not very likely the 22-year-old Iglesias can provide it right now. Defensive skill only goes so far.

Rather than enter the season sorting through those scraps, the Red Sox agreed to sign Stephen Drew to a one-year contract worth $9.5 million today with some more available via incentives. Give Jon Heyman credit for the scoop. The agreement is pending a physical, which is something less than a slam dunk for Drew following his gruesome ankle injury in late-2011. He did manage 327 plate appearances split between the Diamondbacks (59 wRC in 155 PA) and Athletics (97 wRC+ in 172 PA) after returning this summer, but there is always a lingering concern following an injury like that.

Despite the down year, the 29-year-old Drew was (by far) the best shortstop available on the free agent market. He was replacement level this season thanks in part to a defensive hit, which could be attributed to decreased mobility stemming from the injury. The range component of UZR suggest this might be the case — it checked in at -5.4 in 2012 after ranging from 0.3-2.6 from 2009-2011 — or it could just be the general ups-and-downs and baseball. Defense is like everything else, a player can have an uncharacteristically poor (or great) year for no reason. Or at least nothing we can analyze as easily as we do offense.

Defense aside, the real gain for the Red Sox will be Drew’s offensive production compared to the Iglesiases and Ciriacos and DeJesus Juniors of the world. He came into the season as a league average hitter (.266/.322/.433, 98 wRC+) from 2009-2011, which is what Boston hopes they’ll get next year as he gets further away from the ankle injury. Drew is a pull-happy left-handed hitter as you can see (via Texas Leaguers) …

… so he doesn’t stand to gain much from the Green Monster. Ross, Gomes, and Napoli are dead pull right-handers who will feast on the big wall, but Drew will instead add some balance to the order and while wrapping a few homers around the Pesky Pole. It’s worth noting that his career-high 27.6% line drive rate* resulted in his lowest BABIP (.275) in six years in 2012, something that should correct going forward. Add in the career-best 11.3% walk rate, and you’ve got a solid recipe for an expected offensive rebound.

* Standard batted ball data disclaimer: BIS data is subject to scorer bias and should be taken with a grain of salt, especially fly balls and line drives. We’re still talking about a big (~7%) spike in line drive rate from Drew’s career norms, which is large enough to think something other than scorer bias is in play here.

The $9.5 million guarantee is market value for a league average shortstop, maybe even a slight bargain given the dearth of quality players at the position. Drew gets a chance to rebuild his value in a hitter-friendly ballpark before hitting free agency again next winter while the Red Sox are looking at a considerable upgrade over their internal replacement level (or worse) solutions. A return to form from Jon Lester and a full season of second half Clay Buchholz could have Boston on the cusp of wildcard contention, so the Drew signing is not insignificant. They’re right on the marginal win bubble, where every win added impacts their shot at the postseason far more than it did even four weeks ago.




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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

24 Responses to “One Drew Was Not Enough: Red Sox Ink Stephen”

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  1. Ryan Dempster says:

    Ahem.

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  2. big papi's pharmacist says:

    I will take good care of Stephen under my watch, he won’t be nicknamed like his brother JD was as DL Drew.

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  3. KJ says:

    I’ll copy this from my rotographs comment since it’s more appropriate here anyway:
    I’d like to see a daily platoon of sorts with Drew… if he can get on base with his 3rd or 4th AB, stick in Ciriaco to run and take over for remaining innings.

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  4. Erikk says:

    How on earth did he get a hit in first base foul territory?

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  5. Steve says:

    Boston buying low? I like it.

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  6. Fly says:

    Doesn’t LD% correlate positively with BABIP?

    http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/11/10/1124792/a-new-xbabip-calculator

    Looking at Drew’s numbers, I don’t have a good explanation for his BABIP in 2012. Maybe because his IFFB% was quite high? Not sure about this one.

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    • Fly says:

      Here’s a thought: Since Drew is a heavy pull hitter, maybe teams were shifting on him, and those LD were turning into outs? No clue, really. Maybe we have to reinvestigate LD% correlation with BABIP for pull hitters in the shift? Too lazy to do this, but could be interesting.

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    • Matt says:

      Could be that his lack of mobility restricted him from legging out more infield singles.

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    • Derek says:

      Weird things happen in small samples. This is a small sample. I don’t think we need to re-examine batted-ball-type and BABIP correlations because Stephen Drew had a lower-than-expected BABIP on Line Drives in that season where he only played in half the games.

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  7. Hog says:

    Good, solid move by Cherrington…

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    • Matt says:

      The next solid move by Cherington will be the first.

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      • NBarnes says:

        You didn’t like the Dodgers trade? 0_o

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      • Bagman says:

        Shane Victorino for three years? Seriously? If that’s a great signing in 2015 I’ll eat my shorts.

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      • Jonathan says:

        @Bagman, he’ll be in the last year of his contract. No one expects it to be a great signing. It’s a decent signing. An overpay in dollars, but good target on years.

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      • NBarnes says:

        I’m not a huge fan of the Victorino signing. But there’s a perspective that really helps support it.

        There’s a lot of benefit to the team and to the team’s fanbase for the team to be not-awful. And there’s a lot of upside to being not-awful, too; look at the Giants. They’ve won two WS in the last three years with a team that can, at best, be described as ‘good’ and it wouldn’t be unfair to describe them as living more on the mediocre end of good rather than the 95-win end. But baseball is like that. If the Red Sox FO just shrugs and tosses in the towel for two or three years, they forfeit the possibility of catching lightning in a bottle. Is it likely that they will do so? Of course not. Is it possible? Well, again, Giants.

        And that’s where players like Victorino and Drew come in. Are they potential superstars that will carry the Sox to 93+ wins a year for the next five years? No. Might they manage to have career years at the same time and have one magical season? Maybe. Stranger things have happened in baseball.

        So, the Red Sox bought a lottery ticket. That’s useful. But at what price? Well, the price was pretty low, actually. Some of these players are picking up a decent salary, but none of them are really eye-popping. And every single one of them is three years or less. There is simply no chance that this shopping trip will cripple Boston for years and it does not stop the Sox from making bigger moves that they think are worth a more serious investment.

        So, no. The lottery ticket that the Red Sox bought with this offseason did not come at an extravagant cost. It does not represent a mortgage of the future for current mediocrity. At worst, it takes Boston from ‘probably bad’ to ‘probably mediocre’ for the next two or three years, and at best take the Sox from ‘vaguely good’ to ‘slid into the playoffs on the last wildcard spot’; and all that in addition to, you know, that many more wins and a that much more watchable team in 2013. That’s worth some investment, and while this all is an investment, it’s one that the Sox can afford.

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  8. Tom says:

    I was hoping the Sox would get Drew about 5yrs ago.
    The Sox have been picked by scouts and managers not in the AL East to finish last place in 2013. It looks like the problem is the owners and the GM. It’s time these owners got out of the baseball business and get on with the soccer and other interests they have. I hate to say it but it looks like it’s going to take a boycott of Fenway Park and NESN before that will happen. I’ve gotten rid of NESN on my tv and it won’t come back until Liverpool goes away.

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  9. Mac says:

    Is it still true that you have to go to a hitter-friendly park to build value as a batter? I would hope every MLB front office is well aware of park effects and is able to adjust accordingly.

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