Stephen Drew (ESPN: 14 percent owned; Yahoo!: 19 percent owned)
How much venom has been lobbed at Stephen Drew by jilted fantasy owners over the years? Like Francisco Liriano and any number of other fantasy femme fatales, Drew — through no actual fault of his own — seems to have hoodwinked owners over and over again, sometimes baiting them into taking him when they should have passed and sometimes doing the exact opposite.
He broke onto the fantasy scene in his rookie season with a .316/.357/.517 line, then collapsed the next season with a .238/.313/.370 line in his first full year with the Diamondbacks. If that were the totality of his career, Drew would be just another flash in the pan that didn’t work out long term. Instead, here are Drew’s wRC+ by year prior to this year: 115, 72, 107, 88, 113, 89. It’s that up and down motion, his ability to be 13 percent above league average one year and 11 percent under it the next, that has made Drew such a tough player to draft and such a maddening one to own.
While last year fits his career pattern well, Drew looked better than that 89 wRC+ gives him credit for, for most of his shortened season. Drew had an .830 OPS as late as June 12 — about five weeks before the broken ankle that finished his season — and while the .170/.188/.255 line he posted in July wasn’t doing him any favors, he had at least shown a greater level of competence recently.
This season doesn’t fit Drew’s pattern. Surely his recovery from the aforementioned broken ankle did him no favors as far as having a great, productive season goes, but a 57 wRC+ isn’t just another down year for Drew; it is very bad. While he can take some solace in still being 40 percentage points better than Marlon Byrd, it’s cold comfort at best. What actually does Drew some good is that while there are only 16 players who have had a worse offensive season than he has, one of them is Cliff Pennington, and that explains why Drew was just acquired by the Oakland A’s.
The move may or may not prove to be wise for the A’s, prompting the lingering question of exactly how much Drew’s new digs will change his wretched season. At first blush, the move doesn’t seem to help him a bit as Drew will leave one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball for a rather suppressive one. Oakland is decidedly a pitcher’s park and whatever power Drew has left is going to be severely tested by the spacious grounds. However, after this series against the Twins ends, the A’s play just 15 of their remaining 39 games at home. With 10 games spread across Detroit, Texas, and New York, Drew will have almost as many games in solid hitters’ parks as he will in the O.co Colosseum. Even if the park ends up being about a push, Drew’s still a total wreck, right? Well, not really. After abysmal months with OPS of .397 and .537, Drew is holding his own in August with a .742 OPS. It’s not earth-shattering, sure, but it ought to be enough to get him back on most people’s radar.
I’m not ready to bet on a red hot September from him just yet, but the pieces look like they’re starting to fit back into place for Drew right now, and that bodes well going forward. He has a 29.7 line drive rate and a .242 BABIP, so if nothing else he should start to get some regression to the mean and a few more hits as a result. Hoping for his power to come back at this stage of the season may be a fruitless hope, but there’s enough in his profile that signals a coming change that an uptick in power could well be part of it.
If nothing else, Drew will be an interesting player to follow to see if he’ll spark the A’s into a Wild Card berth, but I think there’s a non-zero chance that he’ll be worth rostering in September. If the average rises the way it seems like it ought to, be aware that from September 18th to the 27th, he’ll play in parks with short porches and could steal a cheap homer or two that he wouldn’t have gotten at home. Betting on one good week isn’t typically a strategy I advocate, but since that will be the stretch run for roto players and the head-to-head playoffs, even a marginal gain is better than nothing.
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