So let’s dissect this bounceback. Stephen Drew put up a 109 wRC+, nearly 30 points higher than his 2012 mark. We can’t point to improved strikeout or walk rates; in fact, both of those trended slightly worse in 2013 (although the walk rate is well up over his career average).
Drew’s BABIP was the most significant contributor to the climb in batting average, jumping from .275 last season to .320 this. There’s no obvious marker in his batted ball profile that could have contributed to this; his line drives were down a smidge but the rest of his batted ball profile has been remarkably consistent across the board. Drew’s well-above average LD% contributes to high xBABIPs, with his last two years coming in at .341 and .317. Even not considered the fleetest of foot, there seems reason to believe his average should more closely resemble 2013 than 2012, at least in the near future.
Another uptick for Boston’s shortstop was the power. Fantasy owners were rewarded with 13 homers (18 if you are prorating to 700 PA, which may be a useful metric for daily fantasy shakers), which was a handful more than he was projected to go for in the preseason. It wasn’t just homers; his ISO and slugging both took big steps forward. In my OPS league, his .777 OPS certainly helped nudge him a couple spots higher than the standard 5×5 metrics would lead you to believe.
It wasn’t just a hitting the ball farther thing, his batted ball distance actually fell a couple feet to 278 in 2013. The extra dinger output may actually just have been a function of some HR/FB% regression (8.1% to 9.7%). I originally was going to peg some of this on getting out of Oakland (a park that massively suppresses left-handed power), but he only had 172 post-trade plate appearances with the A’s last season. Given both this and his high percentage of line drives discussed above, we can probably conclude that a lot of that bump in ISO/slugging was also BABIP in disguise — line drives have an average of .771 but also lead to more doubles and triples, numbers that will help inflate (albeit less than homers) power metrics. This is probably good news for Drew owners in points or OPS leagues, although it doesn’t imply a lot of homer upside beyond this year’s mark.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on Drew’s postseason. While many Boston fans were able to tolerate his whifftastic tendencies thanks to a few defensive gems, Drew was brutal at the dish in Boston’s 2013 World Series run, posting a disgusting -19 wRC+ over 57 PA. He couldn’t even hide behind “hey, I’m hitting the ball hard,” since he posted an 8% LD% and struck out one-third of the time. His 3.5% BB% either points to a hitter who became extremely impatient at the dish or one that pitchers kept challenging with strikes in the zone that he could do nothing with. Of course, you should place very little weight into a 16 game sample size; I’m not altering my ranking of him next year based on it. That said, it may weigh on my mind if I need a tiebreaker between a few different players.
So where does that leave us going forward? Drew was extended a qualifying offer by the Red Sox, but it sounds likely that he’ll turn it down, leaving him in search of a multi-year deal from a shortstop-needy team like the Mets, Dodgers, or Cardinals. As a line drive hitter without the strong HR/FB markers, Drew is relatively ballpark-independent, although a move to a place like Yankee Stadium might knock his stock up a peg or two. If a team signs up to hit him second, his R/RBI upside bumps him a couple spots, but either way, he should be a fairly safe bet as a reserve SS or starting MI in most standard redraft leagues next year.