Although the 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks are fading into NL West irrelevance fairly quickly, their infield has had a good season so far. Mark Reynolds, Adam LaRoche and Kelly Johnson are all hitting well. The fourth member of the infield, shortstop Stephen Drew, has gotten relatively little attention this season. However, he’s actually leading the Diamondbacks’ value leaderboard as of today at 1.6 Win Above Replacement.
While Drew performed well in his 59 game (226 PA) 2006 debut, his first full season in 2007 was a disappointment both offensively and in the field. At the plate, Drew simply didn’t show much power (.133 ISO), and while there were good signs as far as his walk rate and plate approach went, as well as a fair share of BABIP bad luck, a .303 wOBA (-18.9 batting runs below average) wasn’t exactly what the Diamondbacks were hoping for from their 2004 first round pick, especially when his defense was at best average (Plus/Minus) and at worst abysmal (-12.3 UZR). 2008 showed marked offensive improvement for Drew. Although his OBP was merely adequate (.333) he hit for good power (.211) ISO as part of a .353 wOBA campaign — very good for a shortstop, even of of the most hitter-friendly parks in the majors. However, his defense was, if anything, worse than it had been the season before, between below average (-3 DRS) and Betancourt-esque (-15.8 UZR). According to the defensive metrics, 2009 was an improvement in the field for Drew (+8 DRS, +3 UZR), but his bat fell back below average.
It isn’t as if Drew has been terrible the past couple of seasons. On the contrary, with the less-friendly UZR numbers, FanGraphs WAR has him at 2.2 in 2008 and 2.1 in 2009 — about a league-average player. I suspect that a detailed study would find this is be decent production for a #15 draft pick. Still, it would be understandable if the Diamondbacks and their fans were a bit disappointed in Drew.
2010 has been a different story. It’s too early to say much about the defense other than to note that Drew’s numbers look to be in line with his improvements in 2009. Drew’s offensive output (.304/.372/.507, .387 wOBA) has been impressive so far. He’s hitting with the power he displayed in 2008 without excessive home run/flyball luck (although he has had one inside-the-parker). There isn’t much different going on for Drew, actually, in terms of plate discipline or batted ball profile — a few more walks, and a few more line drives. He’s probably benefiting from luck on balls in play (.357 BABIP), and his platoon split (a career-long issue) in 2010 is big even for a lefty. And, of course, he’s only 165 plate appearances into the season.
It is to the organization’s credit that they didn’t get frustrated with Drew’s “merely” average value the previous two seasons. The Diamondbacks have let Drew work out his struggles with the bat and glove on the field, rather than scapegoating him, moving him to a different position in favor of a mediocre stopgap, or trading him when his value would be low. Maybe Drew will just turn out to be an average player in the long-run, but the Diamondbacks have been smart enough to realize that their best choice in the situation has been to be patient, and so far in 2010, they are reaping the reward.