- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- What to do on a day in which the Red Sox made a 138-mile bus trip through pouring rain across the state just to find out that their game with the Cardinals had been cancelled, leaving them with little choice but to turn around and head back?
How about taking a look at J.D. Drew? More specifically, let’s consider the exhaustive statistical breakdown on Drew offered by free-lance writer Mark A. Brown in his piece, “Earning His Keep,” that appears in the 2010 Red Sox Annual, published by Maple Street Press in collaboration with the Sons of Sam Horn.
Whether Drew has, indeed, earned his keep is the question addressed by Brown. For many, that’s a debatable proposition given the size of Drew’s contract -- a five-year, $70 million deal -- and the modest numbers he has put up in his first three seasons with the Red Sox: a .276 batting average, no more than 68 RBIs in a given season, one season of 20-or-more home runs, no seasons with as many as 85 runs scored. All while starting fewer than three-quarters of games played by the Sox in that span (359 of 486 games).
Those are not the kind of stats normally associated with premier players.
But Brown, using more advanced metrics, makes the case that Drew actually was worth more to the Red Sox than the $42 million they’ve spent to date, and that compared to the outfielders who changed teams after the ’06 season, he easily delivered more bang for the buck.
Point by point, Brown addresses the criticisms aimed at Drew. Here are some of the highlights:
* Criticism: Drew should swing more and walk less.
Explanation: Brown employed a study that demonstrated every positive hitting or base-running event takes on even more value in higher-scoring games and in offense-friendly parks, and that for the Red Sox, a walk was worth about .354 runs, while an out cost the team .363 runs. Drew’s ability to draw a walk has made him a valued part of the Sox offense, never more so than in the final three months of 2008, when his walk-per-plate-appearance rate of .228 was 265 percent higher than the league average (.086).
* Criticism: Drew should drive in more runs.
Explanation: Brown breaks out numbers showing that Drew had considerably fewer plate appearances in 2008 and 2009 with runners on base than many of his fellow right fielders in the American League, and that the number of plate appearances with runners on and number of runners per plate appearance have declined.
* Criticism: Drew should hit more home runs.
Explanation: Of the dozen AL right-fielders with at least 750 plate appearances the last two seasons, Drew has hit more home runs than all but Jermaine Dye, even though he had fewer plate appearances than all but Jose Guillen and Ryan Sweeney.
Drew also ranks second in slugging percentage among all big-league right fielders in that span, a percentage point behind Ryan Ludwick of the Cardinals and leads right fielders in OBP (.399) and OPS (.920). As Brown notes, when Drew wasn’t hitting home runs, his walks were more productive than the outs being made more frequently by his peers.
* Criticism: Drew isn’t a great fielder or baserunner.
Explanation: Drew’s fielding metrics have improved considerably since his first season, and last season he made just two errors while compiling a 10.5 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and saving 10.5 FR (Fielding Runs), both second in the AL among right fielders. As for baserunning, while Drew hardly ranks as a base-stealing threat, he has done well on Bill James’ speed score, which grades the combined frequencies of steal attempts, steals, triples and run scoring). He ranked as high as sixth among AL right fielders in ’08 before dropping last season.
* Criticism: Drew is always hurt.
Explanation: Despite missing 78 games over the last two season and 91 starts, Brown’s numbers show that Drew has been the second most valuable right fielder in the AL in that span, trailing only Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki by $1.7 million. Value, as Brown is using it, is the metric developed by Dave Cameron of FanGraphs which quantifies WAR (Wins Above Replacement) with a dollar figure. If this all sounds confusing, don’t worry, you’re not alone, but WAR combines all the positive and negative events attributed to a player and calculates their net value in terms of how many wins a player contributed. WAR is expressed relative to a readily available replacement player, like a Triple-A minor league or fringe big leaguer (Thanks for the definition, Mark!).
* Criticism: The Sox should have signed someone else.
Explanation: Brown assembled a chart listing all the free agent outfielders signed after the ’06 season, and Drew is one of the only players to generate a positive performance return. The others -- a list that includes Vernon Wells (who signed an extension with the Blue Jays), Alfonso Soriano, Juan Pierre, and Carlos Lee -- have combined for a net cost to their teams of nearly $189 million. Mercy.
According to the calculations used by Brown, the Sox have gotten $45.4 million worth out of Drew for a $42 million investment. The last two years that production has been nearly $40 million while being paid $28 million, a 42 percent profit for the Sox. And Brown predicts that with the Red Sox having strengthened the bottom of their order with the additions of Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro, Drew should see better pitches, be more of an RBI force and have more chances to score runs.
Want more? Pick up the Annual, check out Brown’s tables and charts, and scope out some of the other worthwhile pieces in the book.