Commentary

Breaking down the decline of J.D. Drew

With no DH in NL parks, his struggles become magnified over Boston's next nine games

Updated: June 23, 2011, 1:33 PM ET
By Jeremy Lundblad | ESPNBoston.com

Beginning Friday, the Boston Red Sox hit the road for nine straight games in National League parks.

J.D. Drew
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonJ.D. Drew has just one extra-base hit in his last 76 at-bats.

With David Ortiz (fifth in the AL in OPS) blocked by Adrian Gonzalez (fourth in the AL in OPS) at first base, Terry Francona has openly debated the possibility of giving Gonzalez a few games in right field.

"We actually talked to him about that a little bit," Francona said this week. "I guess the best answer I can give you is we'll see. I'm glad he's willing to do it. I think it's admirable. I don't want David to sit nine straight games. That bothers me. I guess the best thing I can tell you is we'll see. Maybe couple times, just to kind of get David where he doesn't go 10 days without playing, because that worries me.

"And Gonzie I know has done it in winter ball. And there are a few right fields on this trip that aren't huge, so we'll see. That's the best way I can say it. It's gotta work though, you know, where I don't want to outsmart myself. We'll see."

On the surface, it's an effort to keep Boston's two most impactful bats into the lineup. But underscoring that motivation is the anemic offense Boston has received from right field this season.

Carl Crawford's horrific start and concern over the catching tandem have occupied a majority of the first-half panic in Red Sox Nation. In that shadow -- and largely overlooked due to Boston's torrid offensive pace in May and June -- J.D. Drew has been a persisting hole in the Red Sox lineup.

Even on a team batting .307 over its past 31 games, Drew has remained stuck in a season-long rut. In that span, he's managed one extra-base hit in 76 plate appearances, while batting .200.

Drew doesn't have a double since May 9, and has managed just four on the season. That's the same number Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez has in 26 at-bats.

If it seems like Drew has been a rally killer, that's because it's largely true. He's hitting .204 with runners in scoring position -- including .150 with two outs. Overall, he's hitting .185 with two outs.

Twelve Red Sox batters have had three-hit games this season and Drew, who is hitting .228, isn't one of them.

Providing virtually no extra-base power, Drew's .326 slugging percentage is the fifth-lowest among major league outfielders (minimum 200 plate appearances). He's on track for the lowest slugging percentage by a Red Sox right fielder (minimum 400 plate appearances) since Harry Hooper (.327) in 1915.

Even with these struggles, Drew has maintained a patient approach (27 walks). That's led to a bit of a statistical oddity. Drew has a lower slugging percentage (.326) than on-base percentage (.330). He'd be the first Red Sox regular to do that since Darren Lewis in 1999.

Worst of all, Drew's struggles have come almost exclusively against the right-handers on whom he's traditionally feasted. Just two seasons ago, he hit .281 with a .536 slugging percentage against righties. This year, that's down to .235 with a .322 slugging percentage:

JD Drew Heat MapsCourtesy ESPN Stats & InformationAn examination of the heat maps for J.D. Drew against right-handers from 2010 (left side of the photo) to 2011 (right) shows his decline. It goes from almost entirely red (hot hitting) to blue (cold).

One primary issue has been with off-speed stuff. Drew's .263 batting average against fastballs from right-handers is relatively in line with last season's .275. However, he is batting .184 on at-bats ending in an off-speed pitch. In 2010, he hit .291 in that situation.

Drew has also failed to successfully hit to the opposite field. Last season, he hit .400 (22-for-55) on batted balls going the other way. Thus far in 2011, he has only four opposite-field hits (one of which didn't get out of the infield) and is batting .211 when going the other way.

In the final season of a five-year deal, it could result in a premature end to his tenure as a starter.

Drew's first four seasons in Boston were largely effective, if somewhat underwhelming. From 2007 to 2010 only three AL outfielders posted a higher OPS: Josh Hamilton, Magglio Ordonez and Shin-Soo Choo. Combine that with solid defense, and Drew may have fallen short of his contract, but he was an impactful outfielder.

In 2011, Drew's value has all but evaporated.

At $14 million, he's tied with Carl Crawford as the highest-paid position player on the Red Sox in 2011. Throw in the $7.25 million made by Mike Cameron, and the Red Sox have one of the most expensive platoons in history. Consider that only two outfielders in history -- Manny Ramirez and Ryan Braun -- have signed contracts averaging $21 million or more per season.

For a team with Boston's resources, that wouldn't be a problem if the two were producing. But they most certainly aren't. Cameron's .161 batting average makes Drew look productive.

According to FanGraphs.com, Drew and Cameron have combined for a -0.6 WAR (wins above replacement) in right field. In other words, they've fallen about half a win shy of what a replacement level player would have provided.

That's Darnell McDonald-level production for $21.25 million.

Indeed, the Red Sox right fielders rank near the bottom in nearly every offensive category. They've combined to hit .224 (29th in the majors) with a .657 OPS (last in the majors). Both of those numbers would both be the lowest for the Red Sox in right field over the past 35 years, according to STATS LLC.

To find the closest comparison, you have to go to 1993. That season, Boston used an eclectic combination of right field options. Carlos Quintana, attempting to come back from injuries sustained in a car accident, received the most plate appearances. A 38-year-old Andre Dawson also saw action there, as did Bob Zupcic, Ivan Calderon and Rob Deer. That group combined for a .350 slugging percentage.

Quintana and Calderon didn't play beyond that season, while Deer reappeared only briefly in 1996. Dawson lingered into his 40s but failed to produce much.

That Drew and Cameron haven't outperformed that group doesn't bode well for their future in the lineup.

Despite allotting over $21 million to the position, right field remains a question mark as the trade deadline approaches. The Red Sox certainly have enough offense to survive poor production at a position, even at a corner outfield spot. However, that doesn't mean they have to settle for it.

Ryan Kalish, the presumed next-in-line, remains sidelined with a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, Josh Reddick (9-for-22) has made the most of his brief audition while filling in for Crawford.

If Reddick keeps it up, the Drew succession plan may need to go into effect half a season sooner than expected.

Jeremy Lundblad is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for ESPNBoston.com.

Jeremy Lundblad

ESPN Stats and Information

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