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Coming to the defense of Stephen Drew

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  April 23, 2013 01:30 PM

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Based on email, Twitter, and an occasional listen to sports talk radio, Stephen Drew is the subject of consternation among many Red Sox fans.

There are two reasons for this:

1. Drew is hitting .121 with a .388 OPS in 10 games since coming off the disabled list.

2. He has the nerve to be J.D. Drew's younger brother.

Let's look a little deeper at some of the aspects of this and try to figure it out.

Drew himself: Drew had only 18 plate appearances in spring training before he suffered a concussion. Nearly a month later, he got 16 plate appearances in four games at Double A Portland during a rehab assignment played in winter-like conditions. That's not much in the way of preparation.

From 2006 until he gruesomely fractured his right ankle in 2011, Drew hit .270/.330/.442. That was over 733 games. In other words, Drew was a productive major league player for six seasons. He went on the disabled once before he broke his ankle.

Drew was by no means a standout defensive player. But based on advanced fielding metrics, he had developed into a very good one. After playing to a negative UZR from 2006-08, Drew had positive UZR numbers until he came back from his ankle injury. Drew had, in fact, an 8.9 in 2010 and was at 8.4 in 2011 before he was hurt.

Drew is not remotely as good as Jose Iglesias in the field. But the idea that he is some slouch is wildly incorrect. Over the course of the season, the amount of runs Iglesias might have saved will likely not come close to the runs Drew will provide at the plate.

Drew was well above average offensively until his injury and better than average defensively. Judging this player based on 38 plate appearances over 10 games about 6 percent of the season is nonsensical.

The injury: Take a look at this video. Drew broke his fibula and tore ligaments. It's one of the worst injuries a baseball player has suffered in recent seasons.

So it's fair to discount how Drew played in 2012 given that he had missed a year recovering. His ankle is fully healthy now, and if you watch his movements at shortstop, he seems to be the player he was before the injury.

"It's all in the past as far as that goes," Drew said last week. "I feel good physically."

Setting the bar: The average American League shortstop hit .255/.306/.368 last season. The home run leader was J.J. Hardy with 22. The RBI leader was Alexei Ramirez with 73. Only eight players who were shortstops had 50+ RBIs in 2012.

This is 2013. MLB tests for performance-enhancing drugs now, and the days of shortstops being run producers have largely ended. Outside of Troy Tulowitzki, you're not going to see many shortstops high in a batting order. The position has evolved from the late 1990s and is back to what it once was. Nomar Garciaparra is not walking through that door, people.

If Drew approaches 80 percent of what he did in Arizona, the Sox will get more offensive value from the position than most teams in the league. That is why they signed him.

Regarding Iglesias: Jose Iglesias hit .450 in six games for the Red Sox before he was sent down. That is an indisputable fact. He was 9 for 20. Those campaigning for him point this out repeatedly.

But five of those hits never left the infield. Two were bunts and three were ground balls he beat out. Another hit, in Toronto April 7, was a bad-hop double off the artificial turf.

So six of the nine hits weren't exactly rockets. If you take away three of those, Iglesias was 6 of 20 and hit. 300. That's better than expected. But it's also 20 at-bats. Let's not get carried away.

Iglesias has hit .263/.317/.474 in 10 games for Pawtucket, which is better than he has done in the past. But it's important to remember this is a player with a career .633 OPS in 1,117 minor league plate appearances.

Anybody making the case that Iglesias is ready to play in the majors offensively is basing that more on wishes than facts. He does have a better approach at the plate and is stronger. Let's see what he looks like in a few months and then decide whether he can handle the job.

What could have happened: You can make the case that the Sox should have given Iglesias the job and signed a low-cost veteran as his caddie. The $9.5 million spent on Drew could have been invested elsewhere. That is a legitimate argument and, frankly, one I espoused over the winter. His defense really is that good, and maybe he could hit .240.

What did happen: The Sox signed Drew because they didn't think Iglesias was ready. They saw him hit .118/.200/.191 in 25 games last season and decided that wasn't enough. It's hard to fault that logic. Drew was amenable to a one-year deal, so he's not blocking anybody. He's also a quality, above-average major leaguer and that was something the roster was sorely lacking last season. They had the payroll flexibility and they made the move.

What happens now: Drew has a .190 batting average on balls he puts in play. In his career, that number has been .304, which is about the average. That means he's had a bunch of bad luck so far on balls he has hit.

Drew had a single and drew a walk Monday night, and based on the numbers and his history, his numbers are going to keep climbing. That's not a sure bet, but it's a good one.

If you look at the projections Bill James and others have done, Drew will end up around .260 with 10 homers and 50 or so RBIs. He'll mix in some triples and probably double 20-25 times.

That may not sound like much. But for a shortstop in 2013, it's gold.

It's April 23. You might want to give the guy a chance.

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