Aggressive Approach Works for Stephen Drew

Heading into the 2004 amateur entry draft, Florida State star Stephen Drew was considered to be the top talent available. A lefty-hitting shortstop with power and enough leather to stick at a premium position, Baseball America labeled Drew a “five-tool player.” However, Scott Boras-induced bonus demands caused Drew to slip a bit on draft day, before the Arizona Diamondbacks anted up at pick #15 and delivered a considerable bounty. Though negotiations were contentious, the D-Backs eventually got their man for a cool $4 million, which tied Jered Weaver (also a Boras client who slipped to the Angels at pick #12) for the highest bonus among 2004 draftees.

It didn’t take long for J.D. and Tim’s little brother to make it to the big leagues, as Stephen reached Arizona during the second half of the 2006 season. A college-trained hitter with a high pedigree, Drew predictably beat up on lower level pitching, but posted solid-if-unspectacular numbers in the hitter-friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League. The 6-1, 195 pounder was highly impressive in his first major league stint, however, posting a .316/.357/.517 line in 226 PA. His plate discipline was pretty rough (6.3 BB%, 23.9 K%), but Drew posted a .201 Isolated Power (ISO) number and a healthy 23.8 line drive rate (LD%). His .396 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was still extremely high, as his line drive rate suggested that his BABIP should have come in around .358. All things considered, a 23 year-old player at an up-the-middle position raking right from the get-go is pretty rare.

However, instead of building upon his early-career success, Drew crawled to a .238/.313/.370 line in 2007, with a -1.12 WPA/LI. That figure put Drew in the company of a sordid group at his position, including on-base ciphers Omar Vizquel, Tony Pena Jr. and Juan Uribe. Some of his regression can be chalked up to bad luck, as his sky-high BABIP sank to a lowly .271. However, Drew’s LD% also dipped, down to 16.5%. His expected BABIP was .285, so if we adjust for some bad bounces, Drew’s line “improves” to .252/.327/.384. That still represented a troubling drop in production, particularly in the power department (Drew’s ISO slipped nearly 70 points, down to .133). If you want to look for a silver lining, Drew’s walk rate climbed to 10% and he struck out only 18.4% of the time.

In 2008, Drew essentially replicated his 2006 season, showcasing an aggressive approach that led to 21 home runs and 11 triples (fun fact: according to the 2009 Bill James Handbook, Chase Field increased triples production 76 percent more than the average park from 2006-2008). Drew’s walk rate was identical to his ’06 mark (6.3%), but he lowered his K rate again (17.8%), posted a career-high .211 ISO and hit line drives at a 22.6% clip. His WPA/LI climbed to 0.83, ranking 6th among all shortstops.

In his three years in the big leagues, Drew has produced two stellar campaigns where he took aggressive hacks and experienced a high degree of success. In 2007, when he actively took more pitches, his line drive rate and power fell by a considerable margin. During his solid 2006 and 2008 seasons, Drew had an O-Swing%’s of 30.6% and 28.2%, respectively. Drew’s O-Swing% fell to 21.8% during his more passive 2007 season, but he failed to sting the ball. It seems as though Drew is at his best when he’s looking to swing early in the count, looking for a pitch to drive into Chase Field’s spacious outfield gaps. He has also become more proficient in making contact with pitches thrown out of the strike zone, and has increased his overall Contact% each year:

Drew’s O-Contact% and Contact%, 2006-2008:

2006: 51.2 O-Contact%, 74.3 Contact%
2007: 57.5 O-Contact%, 82 Contact%
2008: 61.8 O-Contact%, 82.6 Contact%

Conventional wisdom says that hitters are best off utilizing a patient approach at the plate, and for many players, that sort of style works wonders. However, in Drew’s case, a “grip-it-and-rip-it” philosophy just may be more effective than a “take-and-rake” design.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


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