The Athletics declined Stephen Drew’s 10 million dollar option on Tuesday, making him a free agent. Is he someone the Mariners should look at?
In 2011, Drew had the bad ankle injury that cost him about 11 months. The return in 2012 was pretty unsuccessful, at least statistically, as he played in 79 games with the Diamondbacks and Athletics and had just a 79 wRC + and 0 fWAR. In 2011, before the injury, he played in 86 games and had a positive defensive and baserunning rating to go along with his 91 wRC + and 1.9 fWAR. For his career, Drew has a 94 wRC + (he has a below average defensive rating, but that seems to be from early on in his career, as 2009-2011 were good defensive years for Drew according to UZR (which obviously isn’t perfect but gives you sort of an idea. DRS shows a similar drop from 2011 to 2012, but says he was good early on in his career, unlike UZR). He walked more in 2012, but struck out slightly more and hit for less power (as far as isolated slugging goes).
If you believe line drive percentages, Drew’s had his best year in 2012 when it comes to line drives. He also had the lowest ground-ball percentage he has ever has in his career, so even if you don’t believe line drive percentage, he hit more balls in the air this year. His infield fly percentage was above his career averages, but below (and well below) what it was in 2011. In his career, is average batted ball distance is 269.239. In 2011, it was 262.211, and it was actually better in 2012 at 264.971.
So his K/BB was better than it was in 2011 (and equal to his career average), and he was hitting the ball harder and farther in 2012 than in 2011 (though probably not as good as he has in his career). It seems that this points to Stephen Drew’s bat bouncing back.
Here is Drew’s 2012 swing map compared to his 2011 swing map (the one on the left is against left-handed pitchers and the one on the right is against right handed pitchers, not 2012 to 2011. Instead, the colors represent how much he swung in 2012 compared to 2011. So if it is blue, it means he swung at less pitches there in 2012 than he did in 2011 etc.):
As you can see, Drew is clearly swinging at more pitches inside against right-handed pitching. For most of his career, he has been pitched away, especially low and away:
This is where he has had the most problems in his career, at least according to this run value map:
That he is swinging at more inside pitches is probably a good career move considering most of his power in his career has come on inside pitches:
So I am pretty optimistic about Drew’s bat, even though he was horrible against left-handed pitching this year. When he put the ball in play (using batted ball data), his platoon splits were pretty similar. He walked a lot less (though still a good percentage) and struck out a ton against lefties. He has always had a pretty big platoon split but the strikeouts have definitely jumped. Considering he is swinging less than he ever has before, the addition of the strikeouts is not due to his swinging out of the zone more. Instead, the problem may be bat speed, which would make more sense if he wasn’t hitting inside pitches so well. He did see slightly more fastballs than he has seen traditionally, but it is not really a big difference.
According to the times I’ve gathered, Stephen Drew still has roughly average foot speed, and is perhaps a tick faster. However, he has never really been a stolen base threat, and he stole just 1 in 2012 (and was caught twice). From video I watched from last year, he was at least as fast, if not faster in 2012 than in 2011. His speed score did suffer quite a bit though. I don’t think you can expect much from that part of the game.
Pretty much every bit of evidence shows that Drew was already regressing before the injury. The team that signs him, especially if they give him a multi-year deal or any kind of significant amount of money will be expecting (or perhaps more accurately hoping) for a bounce back not only offensively, which seems reasonable given the data above, but defensively and on the bases. Teams have advanced medical information that isn’t available to the public, not that I could read it in any way that would be helpful anyway, so they will be able to make a better decision on whether the 30 year old’s ankle is healing in a way that gives him back at least some of his athleticism (although in just watching him with Oakland, I thought his defense was fine).
One possible solution for the Mariners with Drew could be to sign him and platoon him with Brendan Ryan. This would fix the utility player problem. Ryan really struggled against right handed pitching in 2012, and it is not as if he has hit right-handers well in his career. Drew will obviously not provide the value on defense that Ryan does, but the bat is obviously a lot better against right handed pitching. As long as he is healthy, Drew should be at least not a liability defensively if he is not average. This would allow the Mariners to trade either Brad Miller or Nick Franklin to get value to help other positions (as we will see below the Mariners could use an outfielder that can hit right-handed pitching).
So if having the option being declined means that he is not worth 10 million dollars, what is Drew worth? As a platoon middle infielder without a ton of value defensively or on the bases, it is really hard to imagine he is worth a lot. While the Mariners could use another left-handed hitter in the outfield, I don’t know if they need another one in the infield. So I put together a possible lineup against RHP if the Mariners signed Drew:
Smoak/Mike Carp (he is left handed but has reverse splits)/Free Agent: 1B
Robinson/Gutierrez/Wells/Thames/Free Agent: OF
Montero: DH (only because I don’t think they will platoon him, if they would, this would be a free agent catcher with Jaso at DH).
Obviously the small payroll and unwillingness to add to it really limits the Mariners. Drew platooning is more of an option for a big payroll club, while smaller payroll clubs usually have to use minor leaguers and minor league free agents as utility players. That is not a bad lineup against 3/4 of the pitchers you will face (as only about 1/4th of MLB pitchers are left-handed) if the Mariners ever figure out what to do with their outfield. I can’t see any way Drew gets any kind of long term deal, but I could picture 2 years with an option year. If the average salary for that deal was ~6 million, I think the Mariners should seriously consider that. I think that even in the Mariners position, that would be a good deal for the team.
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Favorite general sports moment: The Texas versus USC college football national championship comes to mind, as does Gary Matthews Jr. catch on July 1st 2006.
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