As of today, the Stephen Drew free agent market is in a holding pattern, waiting to land in one of what appears to be two destinations; Boston or New York. In essence, Drew has become this year’s Michael Bourn, a quality major league player left with limited suitors. The Mets may be in very good position to get Drew when you look at the competition. The Red Sox are more than likely going to hold fast to a short contract offer as they have in house candidates in Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts to fill in on the right side of the infield. That doesn’t appear to be the Red Sox preference, as Middlebrooks struggled last year and Bogaerts is in essence a rookie, but they are also not in a situation where they absolutely need Drew. The Yankee’s are waiting on how long Alex Rodriguez will be suspended for and are more focused, at this time, on Masahiro Tanaka, as they should be, since pitching is their largest need. No other teams are reportedly interested in Drew at this time, and if you look around the league, that makes a lot of sense. The Mets are the one team that has a definitive hole at shortstop. So the question becomes, is Drew worth the wait to get him at a reasonable contract.
Fielding wise, the answer to that question appears to be yes. Drew has a plus career DWAR, according to Baseball-Reference and had a plus UZR this past season according to FanGraphs. Last season he tied for the highest fielding percentage of his career and his range was considered slightly above average for American League shortstops. Basically, Drew has become one of your classic if he gets to it he makes the play shortstops. He’s not going to wow you with his range, but he will make the plays that come to him. That’s refreshing over the inconsistent fielding the Mets have seen from shortstop over the past two seasons and basically also describes the fielding prowess of Ruben Tejada, at his best, the player the Mets will start at shortstop if Drew doesn’t join the team. However, Tejada didn’t show that level of consistency last season, so having a steady veteran to anchor the position defensively would be a breath of fresh air.
With the bat, Drew is definitely an upgrade over Tejada, but how much so is the great debate. That’s a hard argument to side upon as his numbers are a tad misleading. For instance, last season, Drew appears to have had profound lefty right splits. Against lefties, Drew batted .196 with an abysmal .246 OBP and .340 SLG. Against righties, Drew was strong, batting .284 with a .377 OBP and a .498 SLG, numbers that were actually better than his career numbers against righties in those categories, even though he struck out at a slightly higher rate in 2013 (16.5% strike out rate for his career against righties, 20.7% against righties in 2013). This makes Drew appear to be, in effect, a platoon player, but that doesn’t seem to be entirely accurate. Drew’s poor numbers against lefties were the direct result of a high strike out rate. Coming into 2013, Drew had, for his career, hit .242 with a .296 OBP, a .400 SLG and a 22.8% strike out rate against lefties. Those are serviceable numbers that you can live with in a left hand hitting everyday player. However, in 2013, Drew’s strike out rate against lefties exploded to 32.9%, making his numbers look a lot worse than they actually were. When Drew put the ball in play against lefties, he did so with authority. Drew hit .306 with a .553 SLG on balls in play against lefties, basically the same as he averaged in his career in that category prior to 2013 (.323 AVG and .535 SLG). Basically, this appears to show that Drew could be an everyday shortstop, as long as he cuts down on his strikeouts against left hand pitchers.
The other side of that argument comes with a question; why did his strike out rate increase so much against lefties in 2013? One could say that he was on the downside of his career, or that his many injuries have now adversely affected his play. That could be true. It also could be true that there are other reasons for this change. Drew’s strike out rate against righties didn’t show the same appreciable increase as it only went up 4.2% as opposed to 10.1% against lefties. The answer could simply have been fatigue. Drew hadn’t played a full season since 2010, and may have gotten worn down as the season progressed. That also could explain Drew’s abysmal hitting in the 2013 postseason. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what was the cause of his increased amount of strike outs, which would have to be a concern for the Mets.
Drew also appeared to have extreme home road splits in 2013. However, home road splits are some of the most overanalyzed statistical numbers in the history of baseball and Drew’s 2013 is a perfect example. In 2013, Drew hit .283 with a .367 OBP and .491 SLG at home as opposed to a .222 AVG with a .295 OBP and a .392 SLG on the road. That appears concerning, but the numbers are deceiving. Drew had 18 more hits at home than on the road, but 10 of those hits were singles and six were triples. Playing at Fenway Park didn’t make Drew hit 10 more singles. That can be done at any ballpark. The triples are also an anomaly as he’s actually more likely to repeat those numbers in the large outfield of Citi Field than he would in the smaller confines of Fenway. The other power numbers are in essence the same as he hit three more doubles at Fenway and one more home run on the road. Basically, if you add 10 singles to Drew’s away numbers, his AVG and SLG would increase by .048 points and his OBP by .042, which would make those home road splits look a lot less extreme, which his career numbers show. Despite playing in hitters ballparks the vast majority of his career, he’s only hit .017 points lower on the road than at home, with a .048 difference in his SLG. That SLG difference is also anomalous as the difference is basically because Drew, for his career, has hit 36 more triples at home than on the road. In fact, despite having most of his home at bat’s take place in Boston and Arizona, Drew has hit 10 more career home runs on the road. Basically, this all appears to show that a move to Citi Field isn’t going to adversely affect his power numbers.
Drew also has experience batting lead-off. Drew has batted first in the order 219 times in his career. In that position in the order he’s hit .283 with a .343 OBP and a .473 SLG. These numbers are improved when you look at what Drew has done leading off games in his career. To start a game, Drew has hit .322 with a .374 OBP and a .495 SLG. Those are much better slash lines. On the other side of this coin, though, is the fact that Drew has never been a stolen base threat and he didn’t hit lead off in 2013. In fact, in lead off situations in 2013 (batting with nobody on and 1,2 or 3 outs), Drew hit .248 with a .341 OBP and a .398 SLG. He did produce a 12% walk rate in those situations, the highest in his career, but also struck out over 25% of the time. If his strike out rate was not the result of fatigue and is more the result of deteriorating talent, then he’s not the guy you want to bat lead-off.
Then there is the injury history. Drew has missed a lot of games over the past three years (38 in 2013, 83 in 2012 and 76 in 2011). Prior to 2011 Drew was a healthy, everyday player, playing in over 150 three times in four years and missing four straight 150 plus games seasons by only 15 games in 2009. He is reportedly fully healed from the injury that caused the majority of those missed games, a vicious ankle fracture he suffered in 2011 that required surgery and caused him to miss much of 2012. His missed time in 2013 was partially due to a concussion suffered in spring training that year and because, when he came back, Jose Iglesias had cemented his place with a strong start.
So, putting all of this together, how can we answer the question in the title of this post? If Drew is willing to accept something like a one or two year deal, with options for the second or third year based upon performance (say a certain amount of at bat’s or plate appearances), then the Mets should jump at it. People forget how good Drew appeared at a young age. He seemed to be a budding star, a dynamic offensive shortstop who was improving defensively. Unfortunately, his career had a massive detour right when he should have been hitting his prime seasons, leaving the aforementioned concerns, which are legitimate considering he’s a shortstop entering his age 31 season. However, Drew showed many signs that he could be returning to the player he once appeared to be. If that is the case, the Mets would be foolish not to take the chance, if the contract is affordable. If Drew becomes that player, he would provide a nice bat, solid defense and give the Mets lineup some really good balance, being the fourth left hand hitter that would be making a regular appearance in the lineup. The bottom line is, the positives appear to outweigh the negatives, making the answer to, is Drew worth the wait a yes.