MLB Free Agents: Stephen Drew Leads a Thin List at Shortstop

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Boston Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew

Oct 30, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew hits a solo home run against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth inning during game six of the MLB baseball World Series at Fenway Park. Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Baseball free agency period has gotten off to a slow start as a thin free agent class has turned this signing period into a bear market as big league executives seem to be hesitant to offer long-term deals to any player. As we have established before, the biggest name in this year’s class is second baseman Robinson Cano. Meanwhile, at third base, Juan Uribe has pulled ahead as the best at his position–by default. We will now focus on yet another position that lacks superstar talent and depth. The following teams might be in the market for a shortstop this offseason:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers–Money and a “win-at-all-cost” attitude, the Dodgers will look to upgrade at short.
  • New York Mets–They could sure use an upgrade at the position.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates–They’re going to need a capable shortstop if they expect to return to the playoffs for 2014.
  • St. Louis Cardinals–The team has already inquired about Oakland Athletics’ shortstop, the very SABR-friendly Jed Lowrie.

Stephen Drew heads this year’s class of free agent shortstops. Not a player worth getting excited for, but there are some teams that could use a veteran like Drew. Here’s what Drew has done in the last three seasons:

Stephen Drew: Production

Year

Age

BB%

K%

OBP

SLG

ISO

UBR

wSB

wOBA

2011

28

8.5%

20.9%

0.317

0.396

0.143

1.3

-1.1

0.315

2012

29

11.3%

23.2%

0.309

0.348

0.125

-1.2

-0.9

0.291

2013

30

10.8%

24.8%

0.333

0.443

0.190

-2.1

0.8

0.337

Drew’s agent is the infamous Scott Boras. Last week, he proclaimed he was expecting Drew to receive offers from teams of at least four years. Four years for an unproductive player who has not played more than 150 big league games since 2010. That’s free agency for you.  In the last three seasons, Drew has averaged a Walk:Strikeout ratio (BB:K) of 0.45. Last year’s strikeout rate of 24.8 percent was a career high. On the positive side, he did bounce back in 2013 after undergoing frustrating seasons in 2011 and 2012. He posted an OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage) of 0.776, a serviceable mark for a major leaguer. So how did Drew improve at the plate? For the answer, we take a look at his Batted Balls Rate:

Stephen Drew: Batted Ball Rates

Year

Age

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB%

2011

28

20.6%

38.9%

40.5%

16.0%

5.0%

2012

29

27.6%

32.2%

40.2%

11.6%

8.1%

2013

30

25.2%

33.2%

41.6%

11.9%

9.7%

To Drew’s credit, he will look to drive the ball into the air more often than not. One thing to note, however, is that his Line Drive Percentage (LD%) in the last three seasons has been the highest of his career. Unfortunately, in that same time span, his Pop Up Rate (IFFB%) has also been the highest in his career. Surprisingly enough, Drew is not a free-swinger:

Stephen Drew: Plate Discipline

Year

Age

Swing%

Contact%

SwStr%

2011

28

43.1%

79.4%

8.7%

2012

29

38.3%

79.9%

7.5%

2013

30

40.7%

77.8%

8.9%

However, he also doesn’t make a lot of contact with the ball. So what do we make of Drew’s hitting? Entering his age 31 season for 2014, it’s hard to imagine that he can continue to hit for a lot of line drives like he has done in the past three seasons. He is patient to a fault as it has resulted in a high Strikeout Rate. And the few times he does make contact, he’s looking to drive the ball in the air, which can result into easy outs by way of popouts or flyouts. The LD% is very promising, but the price of admission (based on Boras’ assessment and a projected contract worth of at least four years, $40 million, relative to other shortstops’ salaries for next season) may not be worth it.

Drew’s saving grace will be his defense. His 2012 season, in terms of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR–a defensive metric that attempts to gauge a player’s defensive prowess, or lack thereof) was his worst since 2008. Drew has a reputation of being a solid defender, but his Defensive Runs Saved metrics (DRS–similar to UZR, but with different calculations to determine a final value to a player’s defense), conclude that Drew may just be an average-at-best defensive shortstop at best. An average defender that is aging and will no doubt continue to see his skills with the glove diminish.

The other big-name shortstop available is Jhonny Peralta:

Jhonny Peralta: Production

Year

Age

BB%

K%

OBP

SLG

ISO

UBR

wSB

wOBA

2011

30

6.9%

16.5%

0.345

0.478

0.179

-1.9

-1.3

0.356

2012

31

8.4%

17.9%

0.305

0.384

0.145

-2.3

-1.2

0.301

2013

32

7.8%

21.9%

0.358

0.457

0.154

-0.8

-1.0

0.356

Peralta had a mixed year in 2013. On the one hand, he had a bounce back season after going through a disastrous 2012 campaign. Unfortunately, his improvements were clouded by the Biogenesis Scandal that rocked the baseball world throughout this past season. Peralta would not only get suspended for 50 games, but a lot of doubts about his true abilities have surfaced among fans and personnel executives alike.

The power at the position that Peralta brings is nice, but he can be a frustrating player to have as he does struggle to draw walks on a consistent basis. To his credit, he has done a better job at cutting back on the strikeouts. But that still doesn’t remove the doubt about his game. Last season, he posted the highest Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) of his career (.374). Here’s how his Batted Balls Rates look like:

Jhonny Peralta: Batted Ball Rates

Year

Age

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB%

2011

30

20.0%

35.8%

44.2%

11.3%

10.8%

2012

31

22.0%

41.4%

36.7%

7.0%

8.3%

2013

32

25.2%

39.0%

35.8%

4.5%

9.8%

The LD% is nice, but last season was the highest it has been since 2004. The inconsistent distribution of batted balls just makes Peralta that much more unpredictable. His 2013 Pop Up Rate alone (after noting the very high BABIP) should be enough to categorize last season as a fluke. Due to the randomness of Peralta’s batted balls, along with fluctuations in his Strikeout Rate leads one to believe that Peralta has a very poor approach at the plate.

Jhonny Peralta: Plate Discipline

Year

Age

Swing%

Contact%

SwStr%

2011

30

48.0%

80.6%

9.0%

2012

31

48.8%

80.9%

9.0%

2013

32

48.4%

76.3%

11.0%

Peralta is not really a free-swinger, but based on what we know of him already, along with his Swinging Strike Percentage (11 percent last year), it just seems that he does not have a good, relative understanding of the strike zone. The decrease in Contact Percentage should really not be a cause for alarm as it has regressed down to his career average. What he lacks in contact skills, he is supposed to make up for it in power.

Defensively, Peralta brings some versatility to his game, having played left field and third base in his career. The results in the last three years with the Tigers have been sort of mixed. In terms of DRS, Peralta rates as a barely average defender. But with a surprising twist, Peralta’s UZR metrics has him rated as a very good defender at shortstop, getting high marks for his range and preventing errors. However, adding more to the confusion, his career advanced stats rate hims as a below average defender.

As mentioned earlier, the Mets might be looking for a shortstop and have already reached out to Peralta last week. Other notable shortstops:

  • Clint BarmesPoor on-base and contact skills; pops up too much; ticket to an MLB roster is with his superb glove; has history of playing multiple positions; will be 35 years-old for the 2014 season.
  • Rafael FurcalHas received interests from teams despite coming back from Tommy John surgery; great approach at the plate; batting skills and speed will likely continue to diminish as he enters his age 36 season for 2014; ground ball hitter; defense was already declining in 2011 and 2012.
  • Ramon SantiagoAs mentioned in our second basemen free agency overview, the 34 year-old Santiago is “sort of a poor man’s Omar Infante. Santiago offers a decent approach at the plate and pretty high contact rate. But his most appealing attribute is his versatility in playing all over the infield.”

The New York Yankees already decided to go with Brendan Ryan to help spell Derek Jeter at short. It’s going to be interesting to see how this will affect Drew and Peralta’s market.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.

Felipe Melecio was the managing editor for the blog Pathological Hate. When not watching sports, he's listening to music--or listening to music while watching sports. Keep tabs on all his knee-jerk reactions on Twitter:
2 comments
@pathological_h8
@pathological_h8

Hello, First of all, his name is Stephen Drew, not Steven. And I was aware that Drew's performance in 2011 and 2012 may have been hindered by injury, but if you're a GM of a ball club and you're making an assessment of Drew's overall production of the last three seasons, you can either give him a pass because of injury OR you can assess that maybe Drew is a bit of an injury-risk. I chose to go with the latter. A 31 year-old with some injury history, but your agent is going to want me to give him a four-year, $40 million contract--at the very least? Maybe you would, but I'm not quite sure about that. Although Drew helped the Red Sox win the World Series with both bat and glove (especially his glove because Fox made sure to keep replaying those nifty plays he was making on the field), the fact still remains that Drew will be getting older, therefore his skills will start declining, if they haven't already. That's something a team has to account for when looking at Drew. And you excused his lack of production for '11 and '12 because he was hurt, but the injury does not excuse the high strikeout rates he posted in the last three seasons. And even though he was healthy this season, an on-base percentage of .333 is not something to get excited about. And if you pay attention to Drew's plate discipline in the last three seasons (which you obviously did because you watch the games), injured or not, those percentages have virtually stayed the same. So in the end, it doesn't matter if his injury hindered his performance or not. When he was healthy enough to play, these are the numbers he posted. Based on those numbers, I have a hard time believing that teams are calling his agent day and night to meet with Drew at the moment and sign him, post-haste. Thanks for reading.

Mujo
Mujo

Your assessment of Steven Drew completely ignored the fact that his poor numbers for 2011 and 2012 - from decreased offensive production, , to poorer than normal UZR, and most obviously, games played - were the result of a horrific ankle injury necessitating a long recovery period. Drew was finally fully healthy by late spring 2013, at which time he put up numbers at, or better, than his pre-injury statistics. As for his defense being only average, did you watch the World Series? I get the feeling from your analysis that you don't watch the game much and have no idea what factors may be in play that cause the changes in numbers.