For a player who reveals so little emotion, no player seems to elicit more emotion than J.D. Drew.
Almost from the moment he signed his five-year, $70 million free-agent contract before the 2007 season, the right fielder has been the object of scorn and ridicule for things he isn’t, rather than appreciated for what he is.
And what Drew has been for the Red Sox over the past three seasons is precisely what general manager Theo Epstein hoped he would be.
“There’s always been a discrepancy between how valuable a player he is and how he’s viewed by a certain element of the fan base, and the media in particular,” Epstein told WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan show late last month. “There’s been a lot of strides in the game in terms of how people properly value players based on more meaningful statistics.
“Drew is sort of a touchstone for that, because you actually look at the underlying performance and things that really matter as far as winning games and not winning games, he’s been over the length of the contract one of the 10 most valuable outfielders in baseball. Over the last two years, I think he’s been one of the top two or three in the league, and this past year, again, one of the top two or three most valuable outfielders in the American League.”
Such a statement, especially the final sentence, tends to strike fans as impossible — GM-speak intended to justify the spending of lavish dollars for a player who has yet to play more than 140 games in a season for the Red Sox, who has yet to hit above .280 and has yet to drive in more than 70 runs.
But, in fact, despite all the assumptions and superficial views of his play (or lack thereof), Drew has indeed been among the most valuable players at his position the past three seasons, and has more than earned the $42 million paid to him thus far.
According to Fangraphs, which offers a comprehensive statistical analysis of every player, including adjusted monetary value, Drew was the 10th most-valuable outfielder in baseball in 2009, worth $21.1 million — 33 percent more than the $14 million he actually received. For his three seasons in Boston, Drew’s value is set at $45.2 million, slightly more than the $42 million he’s received.
Due primarily to his exceptional ability to get on base (.390 OBP with the Red Sox), Drew ranks 10th among outfielders since 2007 in OPS (.875.) In the past two seasons, that percentage has shot to .920, third among all outfielders, behind only Manny Ramirez and Matt Holliday.
But the fact remains that Drew has been a better hitter with nobody on base (.289 avg., .383 OBP, .891 OPS) than with runners in scoring position (.243 avg., .411 OBP, .862 OPS), which is the root cause of his frustratingly low RBI numbers.
“Somebody who tends to walk a lot tends to drive in fewer runs than somebody who puts the ball in play a lot,” Epstein told WEEI. “In Drew’s case, he’s an extreme because he walks at a tremendously high rate. Ted Williams has been criticized over and over again, ‘Hey, runner on third and less than two outs, you have to expand the zone and swing at something that’s a ball just to drive the runner in.’ Well, Williams wouldn’t do that. He would take his walk, and he was criticized for it. Wade Boggs was criticized for it.
“Some hitters come out of their approach and put the ball in play in an RBI situation and drive in runs, and some hitters don’t do that. Drew is the type of hitter who doesn’t do it, and to be honest with you, as an organization, we don’t mind if guys don’t come out of their approach. It might cost you not driving in runs here or there, but in the long run, staying in one’s approach — which is getting in a hitters’ count, getting a pitch you can drive and then driving that ball, and if not, then taking your walk — in our mind, that’s more fundamentally more important.”
Throw in his defense, and Drew’s overall value increases. Drew ranked 10th among outfielders in 2009 with a UZR of 10.5, while Jason Bay (-13.0) and Jacoby Ellsbury (-18.6) both ranked at the bottom. In fact, only two American League outfielders ranked higher than Drew in both offensive and defensive metrics: Ichiro Suzuki and Ben Zobrist … and Zobrist isn’t even a full-time outfielder.
Walks too much? Perhaps. Sits too much? Maybe.
Makes too much? Maybe it’s time to give Drew his due.
NESN.com will be answering one Red Sox question every day in November.
Tuesday, Nov. 10: Where should David Ortiz hit in the lineup?
Thursday, Nov. 12: What does Jacoby Ellsbury need to do to become the best leadoff hitter in the game?