Yesterday, this writer had a Twitter discussion with Steve Michaels (@djstevem) of SoxandDogs.com fame about Carlos Beltran and J. D. Drew. Steve drew a circle around both Beltran and Drew as classic busts for long-term signings. This writer had already debunked the Beltran as bust myth at this site and sent Steve a link to that article. Steve tweeted back that he didn't care what the numbers said, his eyes told him Beltran was a bust. Well, that will get Steve a one-way ticket to the sabermetric Hall of Shame but his point is understandable. Then we discussed J. D. Drew, who Steve comically called, "Nancy." After having such a conversation, this writer figured it would be best to take a look at Drew's contract and performance before coming to any kind of conclusion--hence this post.
J. D. Drew has been an iconoclastic figure since the start of his career. He famously dissed the Phillies who drafted him in the first round of the 1997 draft. Little did Drew know that the Phillies would later become a powerhouse in the National League. Drew sat out a year and played in an independent league to prove his point. The following year, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, again in the first round. This time he signed. Without playing much time in the minors, Drew was with the Cardinals to stay and played for them for most of six seasons. He was good but never spectacular. He never really played full time and topped out at 496 plate appearances for that team in 2002.
After missing a bunch of time in 2003 and with free agency looming a year away, the Cardinals traded Drew to the Atlanta Braves along with Eli Marrero for Ray King and Jason Marquis. He had a terrific 2004 in his walk year for the Braves. For the first time, he played an injury-free season and compiled 645 plate appearances, still his most ever in a season. Between his 157 OPS+ that season and his career high 116 walks. He used that season to get himself a big contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
His first year with the Dodgers, Drew missed a lot of time and only compiled 311 plate appearances, but his second year there, he put in a full season and it was a good one. In his first two years in LA, he got paid $21 million and his play was worth around $25.5. Not bad. But then he did something that burned his bridges there too. His contract had an opt-out clause and Drew opted out. That was his right per the contract, but it didn't make him any friends among Dodger fans. He was a free agent again and this time, the Red Sox came calling. They signed him for five years at $70 million. This is the contract that Steve Michaels has a problem with.
His first season with the Red Sox (2007), he could best be called a cog in a great wheel that won the World Series. He earned only $7.6 million of his $14 million contract, but the team won the World Series and he had a great post season. So be it for the Red Sox Nation to complain, right?
His next two seasons in Boston became a sabermetric delight. His numbers didn't seem all that spectacular. But he did all those things the saberists love. He walked a lot, he had enough power to get over .500 in slugging both seasons and his defense was rated above the norm. Drew became the darling of those who advance stats as the only true way to value a player. He was touted as living proof of a guy that doesn't seem all that special, but the numbers say otherwise. His 2008 season garnered a value of $18.4 million and his 2009 season came in at $22.5 million. Both seasons were well over the $14 million he was earning.
And this is where the disconnect comes in. If you watched Drew play like this author has for many, many games, he often seems lackadaisical. He often doesn't seem to give a damn. Surprisingly, one stat Bill James came up with called wins probability added (WPA) didn't rate Drew highly with all his Red Sox seasons coming in with the lowest ratings since the second year of his career. Again, there is a disconnect of sorts there. And in a fan base that is fanatical about their Red Sox, Drew is hated by a large segment of that fan base. Why?
That fan base of the Red Sox Nation views Drew as a player who doesn't come through in big moments and often seems to get phantom injuries. He is seen as a whiner and complainer with an excuse for everything. Drew famously blamed his tough start and plunging walk totals of 2010 on the umpires changing the strike zone. As for not coming through in big moments, his OPS in high leverage situations for his career is .870 compared to .877 for his career OPS. That's really not bad and belies that reputation.
Drew did slip last year. As mentioned, his walk rate slipped and his slash line was its lowest since 2002. He ended up earning $9.9 of his $14 million salary. This year has been worse. Drew, at 36 now, has been in and out of the line up and has, in half a season, only earned $1 million of his still hefty $14 million in salary. If Drew comes on in the second half, he might earned as much as three or four million dollars more. Let's say he does. Then in his five years, his play would have earned about $63 of his $70 million contract. Yeah, that's a bit of a bust, but not terrible compared to some.
So what do we make of Drew's career? He'll finish in the .870s in OPS for his career. His fielding has always rated well. He got on base a lot. But he missed a lot of games along the way and never really compiled elite numbers you would have hoped for a former #1 pick. Is his career largely understood and largely unappreciated? Or has his career been a bust? It depends a lot on who you ask. At the very least, he's been well over average in benefit over his career. It's difficult to say the Red Sox win the 2007 championship without him or that the Braves would have been in the playoffs in 2004 without him. He is a player that fit the Red Sox business model of high walks and good defense. But there may never have been a less loved ball playler. Draw your own conclusions.
UPDATE** After reading the post, Steve Michaels made a good point. Drew has never been liked in Boston because he took the place (and uniform number) of fan favorite and "dirt dog" Trot Nixon, a beloved figure in Boston. Great point.