JD Un-Clutch?

Is JD Drew a disappointment in Boston? Depends who you ask. Certainly Drew can’t have surprised anybody with his performance in Boston. From age 24-30 in St. Louis, Atlanta and LA, he batted .291/.399/.517 and averaged 75 Runs, 21 HR and 65 RBI/year in 472 plate appearances per year over 120 games per year. In three years in Boston from age 31-33, Drew has batted .276./.390/.485 and averaged 82 Runs, 18 HR and 65 RBI/year in 516 plate appearances per year over 129 games per year. This is just about exactly what you would expect for a player of his age with his prior track record. But his contract still draws flak – here’s the Globe’s Tony Massarotti:

Despite the recent assertions of one longtime major league evaluator and executive that the Red Sox really have not signed any bad contracts during the Epstein Era, there have been mistakes. The Sox are still paying Julio Lugo. Until last year, they were still paying Edgar Renteria. J.D. Drew wouldn’t be nearly the lightning rod he is if his salary were $10 million instead of $14 million

H/T Patrick Sullivan, who responds that “J.D. Drew wouldn’t be nearly the lightning rod he is if [Massarotti] & friends knew what constituted a good baseball player.” In one sense, Massarotti is correct: the market has gone down since Drew was signed in the 2006-07 offseason, and you would no longer pay $14 million per year for a guy who does what Drew does and misses as many games as Drew misses. But Drew’s been hearing this since the deal was signed, and it does rather miss the point of the relative scarcity of guys who can put up a .390 OBP with solid power, and how useful those guys are to your team.
Has Drew been less than clutch? That charge sticks to him, and while the sample sizes in Boston aren’t large enough to accuse him of a tendency to not hit in clutch situations, on the whole you can’t blame people for concluding that his performance is less aggressive in certain situations. The flip side is that Drew walks in clutch situations a lot, and that has value of its own.
Here’s how Drew’s numbers break down over his three-year Red Sox career.
First, over 453 plate appearances with men in scoring position in Boston, Drew has batted .243/.411/.451, compared to .288/.381/.497 in his other 1094 regular season plate appareances. He’s reached base by walk or hit batsman 104 times with RISP, compared to 82 hits; in non-RISP situations the ratio is 144 to 273. That may suggest that he’s pressing or that pitchers are working around him, or both, or be simply a statistical fluke; it does indicate that over his Sox tenure, he’s been less of a threat to hit the ball and more of a threat to draw a walk when there are men in scoring position. I think the extra 30 points of OBP are more than enough to balance the scales out (you almost never find yourself in a better situation after walking a guy when there are already runners in scoring position), but it’s at least a noticeable difference.
Then there’s the late innings of a close game, much the same story: .234/.382/.354 over 220 plate appearances, with 21 RBI (an average of 49 RBI per 516 plate appearances compared to the 65 he’s averaged overall), reaching base by BB or HBP 43 times compared to 41 hits. Some criticism can fairly be laid here for Drew slugging .354 in these situations, granting that it’s only 220 plate appearances and probably a disproportionate number of those are against Mariano Rivera and other closers.
Finally, there’s the postseason, in which Drew as a Red Sox has been the opposite way, batting .286/.346/.459, an improved batting average but one with less power and a lot less walks (he’s reached by BB/HBP in the postseason 9 times vs 28 hits). Of course, postseason games are against a tougher cut of competition, and there’s a hidden factor at work; whereas he’s missed an average of 33 games per year the past three seasons, Drew has played in all 28 Boston postseason games over that period, with per-162-game averages of 23 homers, 64 Runs, and – wait for it – 109 RBI. You can’t very well fault Drew as an RBI man without noticing that he’s stepped up his RBI game in the biggest games of his Boston career.

11 thoughts on “JD Un-Clutch?”

  1. J.D. Drew gets a pass. He’s not great. He’s not worth what he’s paid. He did hit the most unexpected grand slam HR I can remember (1st inning off Fausto Carmona during the Indians 2007 play-off melt down) and without that who knows if the Sox win the Series in ’07? He also hit one off K-Rod in 2008 to help win that series. That one hit turned the prevailing opinion on him from “I hate J.D. F-ing Drew” to “eh.”
    He’s streaky. He’s got a player of the month to his name while in Boston. He walks a lot. He strikes out looking with guys on base a frustrating amount of times. He makes the game look easy at the plate and in the field yet he rarely looks as if he is trying very hard.
    I think few people in Boston thought he was going to post the last season with the Dodgers numbers in Boston and therefore most Sox fans thought it was a mistake to sign him for the money and length of his contract. After 3 years my thoughts are that while I would generally rather have someone else at the plate than Drew in the clutch there are many worse options than him as well. Especially against righties. You can do worse than a 20 HR, 70 RBI, .390 OPS guy with decent speed and who plays a pretty solid right field and can hit all over the line-up (I am pretty sure he has hit everywhere but 9th in the line-up at some point). He would be disastrous on a bad or marginal team as he doesn’t play enough to justify his talents and stats vis a vis his paycheck.
    In short, he’s sort of frustrating because you just assume he should be better and more productive than he is.

  2. You certainly can’t fault a player for continuing to do in his thirties what he did in his twenties. If the Sox paid him too much, that’s their fault, not his.
    Drew is the kind of player (like Bobby Abreu, but not as durable) that fans don’t really warm up to, because his skills are not as obvious and are considered somehow less macho than the hackers of the Joe Carter variety. And the bad blood he engendered as an amatuer free agent has never entirely gone away. But if he feels unloved, he can at least feel well-paid.

  3. JD Drew is what he is. There is no doubt the Red sox overpaid and probably so that Boras would deliver Matsuzaka. (To quote Bill Simmons, blood gushing from my eyes.)
    I think Drew makes himself hard to like by the way he carries himself. Too often, he looks like he doesn’t care. No doubt the perception is wrong; otherwise he would not have played as long and as sucessfully if he didn’t care. But he would help himself if he showed it a little more.

  4. It wouldn’t surprise me if Drew’s posture of diffidence is a direct result of the bad press he got to begin his career.

  5. I think one knock against Drew is the number of called third strikes he takes. It just looks worse than a guy that swings hard and misses, especially with men on base. The broad tendency of baseball observers in general (and baseball announcers in particular) is to laud the hackers.
    I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a baseball announcer express surprise that a player that strikes out a lot also gets a lot of walks. Guys, taking pitches either gets you walks or gets you outs. A mystery this is not.
    Still, the really great hitters — like Manny Ramirez — seem to have that ability to foul off the close third strike, rather than take it and hope the umpire calls it a ball.

  6. Ah, but swings and misses or taken pitches — does anyone track that?
    I have to say that I’m surprised that Manny and Drew have the same strikeout rate. Neither strikes out an outlandish amount, but I’ve always had the impression that Manny protected the plate as well as anyone with two strikes. I should have done my homework.
    Interesting, in 2009, J.D. Drew drew 4.13 pitches per plate appearance (p/pa) — another reason the Red Sox value him. Manny drew 4.02.

  7. Manny’s 15th on the career strikeout list (tied with Dale Murphy) and should enter the Top 10 this season. Interestingly, he’s the all-time leader in strikeouts among lifetime .300 hitters, followed fairly closely by A-Rod.

  8. I can virtually guarantee that Manny struck looking with guys on base less in his 7 years in Boston than J.D. has in this 3. J.D. is a quirky player. There is no questioning his phenomenal natural talents and when he is on it looks as effortless as is likely possible. His swing is practically flawless. You would not want 25 J.D. Drew’s on your team however.

  9. Crank, you may well be right (pause to duck lightning bolt) that Drew’s early press impacted him. He seems,however, to be a reasonably intelligent guy. If he hustled a bit, got his uniform dirty, even just looked like he cared, the fans would love him

  10. 1) Drew’s earned what they’ve paid him. He hasn’t been a great value (production >> price), but nor has he been overpaid.
    2) Anyone that says that he doesn’t hustle or get his uniform dirty is someone that hasn’t watched him play with any regularity. Throwing bats and helmets doesn’t make someone a great player.

Comments are closed.