Stephen Drew is having a terrible season with the bat. When the Yankees acquired the 31-year-old from Boston at the trade deadline, he was hitting a meager .176/.255/.328 through 39 games. That’s about as bad as it gets for a major league hitter, but Drew’s still managed to outdo himself by slashing a pitcher-esque .153/.225/.306 since donning the pinstripes. Drew’s always been more of a glove-first player, but up until recently, was a non-zero with the stick as well. Heading into the year, Drew had a career 97 wRC+ to his name, and was coming off of an impressive 109 wRC+ in 2013. He was essentially a league-average bat. But ever since the 2013 playoffs rolled around, Drew has just stopped hitting. By itself, his .111/.140/.204 playoff performance wasn’t anything to think twice about — it was a sample of just 16 games, after all — but held next to Drew’s proceeding 62 games, it starts looking like something more than just random variation.
So what’s changed between this year and last? Peaking under the hood of Drew’s offensive performance, we see some encouraging signs. Most of Drew’s struggles have been fueled by a poor BABIP — which can be wildly fluky in small samples, while his other peripheral numbers haven’t changed much. Sure, they’re all trending in the wrong direction, but these same trends are afflicting nearly every hitter in baseball. More than anything, Drew’s change in performance boils down to what’s been happening on balls put in play. Last year, 32% of balls in play went for hits, compared to 20% this season — including just 17% with the Yankees.
Now, BABIP can be flukey, but isn’t entirely out of a hitter’s control, as harder-hit balls have an undeniably better chance of falling for hits. Anecdotally speaking, it seems like Drew’s hit an awful lot of weak fly balls since joining the Yankees, so it could very well be that he’s just not barreling the ball. But even so, it’s hard to buy a sub-.200 BABIP from a guy who’s cleared the .300 mark often than not over the course of his career, especially following his .320 mark from last season. Bad luck is a big part of what’s going on here, as Drew’s hits just aren’t finding holes.
It’s pretty obvious that Drew’s not the same hitter who put up a 109 wRC+ in 2013, but he’s also much better than his 2014 stat line indicates. He’s not in the lineup for his bat, so even if he hits something like .220/.300/.370 the rest of the way, his plus defense still makes him a useful player; and his numbers from the not-so-distant past allude that he could even be significantly better than that.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.
This article originally appeared on Pinstripe Alley.