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September 8, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Stephen Drew's August Yardwork

by Craig Brown

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On July 31, Stephen Drew was hitting .264 with a total of four home runs, 31 RBI and a .133 ISO.  His power wasn’t just down… It was in full fledged blackout mode.  As July came to a close, he just completed his 57th consecutive game (230 plate appearances) without going yard.

Then came August.

Drew homered in his fourth plate appearance of the month.  Then he homered in his ninth.  He kept going and going…

His final August line:
.310/.381/.628, 8 HR, 18 RBI, 25 Runs

It was an interesting month, to be sure.  Drew’s .303 August BABIP was lower than his batting average on balls in play in April, May and July.  His August line drive rate of 12.4% was his lowest of any month on the season.  Owners who stuck with him through the first four months received some (delayed) dividends and those who were able to pick him up early in the month found themselves on the side of an immediate upgrade.

As quickly as the home runs started leaving the yard in August, they disappeared when the calendar flipped to September.  Since the first of the month, Drew has just three hits (one double) in 27 plate appearances for a line of .125/.222/.167.

Overall, Drew’s slugging percentage is down about 50 points from his 2008 season (the best year of his brief career) but his on base percentage has been helped by his relatively more patient approach at the plate where he’s walking 9.6% of the time compared to his career rate of 8.2%.  Add it all together and his scorching August propelled him to his current .276 TAv, a mark that is tied with his final TAv in 2008 for the best of his career.

Drew is a dead pull hitter.  All of his power comes when he yanks the ball to right.  From Hit Tracker, here are the landing spots of his home runs this season.  

Note the lone home run to center field.  That one needs an asterisk as it actually didn’t leave the yard, but was an inside the park number on Opening Day.  Aside from that, Drew’s power exclusively to the pull field isn’t something new.  Drew has hit 62 home runs in his career and according to Hit Tracker, a grand total of four have landed to the left side of second base.  Three of those were to center and the fourth we could generously classify as left-center.  Of his 46 home runs Drew has hit since the start of 2008, only one has landed on the left side of second base.

Alone, this isn’t a huge deal.  Long term, there are enough issues with Drew to raise a red flag about his ability to ever hit for much power (or at least match the 21 HR he launched in ’08.)  Start with his batted ball rates based on location:

The chart from Hit Tracker illustrates how his power resides in his pull field.  Yet, when he pulls the ball, he hits a fly ball 27% only of the time. Most of his fly balls are to the opposite field, but since he doesn’t have power to left, those are more often than not harmless outs.  His rates from this season closely mirror his career rates.  It’s not difficult to understand why Drew hasn’t approached his 20 home run potential most of us believed he possessed when he arrived in the majors.

His spray chart from this season (courtesy of Texas Leaguers) underscores this issue.

What is interesting is the lack of plots in play in deep right.  We’ve established his power is definitely to right, but Drew is kind of all or nothing.  Maybe it’s not so surprising considering he simply doesn’t hit that many fly balls to right.  The cluster of base hits would be the result from sharp ground balls through the hole between first and second or line drives over the infield.  He's hitting roughly one fly ball for every grounder or liner to right, which is good for his average, but bad for his power.  If he could just get some loft on those pitches he pulls, we would see those home run totals climb.  However, in five major league seasons, he has yet to show the ability to consistently hit fly balls to right field.

Drew hit 21 home runs in 2008 and bookended that season with 12 home runs in ’07 and ’09.  This season (with 23 games remaining) he has once again clubbed 12 home runs. (Don't forget only 11 left the yard.) Based on his profile and batted ball rates, it is safe to say his 2008 season was an anomaly as far as home runs are concerned.  PECOTA had his weighted mean at 16 HR this year, which at the time sounded about right.  However, now that we know a little more about Drew’s approach, going forward I think we need to continue to downgrade expectations in the power department.  A power downgrade won't hurt his overall value, though. Drew was a three star shortstop option this year and will likely get a similar rating ahead of next season, although he will slide a little closer to the two star end of the pool.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

Related Content:  Fourth Of July,  Hit Tracker

2 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Nice work. And a good choice of a guy to investigate. Makes me wonder if players understand these patterns in their performance --- and how it might affect their approaches if they did.

Sep 08, 2010 10:53 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Craig Brown
BP staff

Thanks, pobo. I've wondered the same thing. Surely, they know, right? But knowing and being able to execute aren't the same thing. Still, it would be interesting to know if someone has at least talked to Drew about this.

Sep 09, 2010 07:02 AM
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