Supplanting Stephen Drew

Stephen Drew is a bad hitter. That’s putting it nicely. The Yankees’ second baseman has made it past the halfway point of the season without being displaced, frustrating fans with the team’s persistence to trot him out at the keystone regularly. It’s understandable that he was given a flyer at an affordable five million dollars for the season, but at this stage, his play is no longer acceptable.

Of 164 qualified hitters, Drew ranks 12th-worst in wRC+. It’s amazing he’s lasted this long, 270 plate appearances, given the dreadful performance. Sure, he’s popped 12 home runs including one last night, but that alone doesn’t make him deserving of a starting role. His glovework is steady, but again, that isn’t sufficient to justify his presence in the lineup everyday. And, given his miserable 2014, it’s not like this malaise is a fluke. It’s time to move on. Fortunately, the Yankees have an internal option waiting in Triple-A, Rob Refsnyder. He’s not a guaranteed improvement, but what do the Yankees have to lose? Quite frankly, it would be difficult for him to play poorer than Drew has.

Chris ranked Refsnyder the Yankees’ seventh best prospect and profiled him back in February. The Yankees’ fifth-round pick in 2012 has warmed up as the season’s progressed, and has posted a stellar 133 wRC+ through 359 trips to the plate in Triple-A. That’s right in line with what he did last year at the level, albeit with a little less power (ISO down to .121 from .157) and much more contact (K% down to 12.3% from 20.1%).

KATOH, Chris’ minor league projection system, likes the 24 year-old second baseman but isn’t necessarily enamored with him. Prior to the 2015 campaign, it forecast 5 WAR for Refnsyder through age 28. I asked Chris to re-run the projection using his year-to-date performance, and the system spit out 3.3 WAR through the same age. I was a little surprised to see a worse projection than before considering his strong performance in 2015, but it makes sense: the preseason projection included his stellar output at Double-A in 2014 (159 wRC+) in addition to Triple-A. This year, although his hitting has still been quite good, he’s a year older which hurts his projection a tad.

More important than a long term projection, however, is what Refsnyder can do for the Yankees immediately. Steamer forecasts a .257/.321/.386 line (96 wRC+) going forward. There’s no publicly available rest-of-season ZiPS projection for Refsnyder, but the preseason forecast estimated .241/.310/.373 (92 wRC+). Either way, those would be significant boosts over Drew’s output at the dish.

Defensively, Refsnyder has a poor reputation. He’s made 13 errors in 71 games in Scranton. Yet, if he can make the routine plays, the Yankees would absolutely tolerate his fielding if he met or exceeded the projections (at least in the short-term).

Odds are that Refsnyder would outplay Drew over the remainder of 2015. He wouldn’t be anything special, likely a below average second baseman in fact, but it really doesn’t take much to be an upgrade over Drew. Alternatively, the Yankees could go the external route and pursue someone like Ben Zobrist. Unlike Refsnyder, Zobrist would undoubtedly be an upgrade. Getting a player of his caliber won’t be cheap, so I think it would behoove the Yankees to give Refsnyder an opportunity as soon as possible. Give the prospect a couple of weeks before the trade deadline, and if it doesn’t work out, then go elsewhere.

With all that said, Drew does still have a place on the roster even after being benched. Other than Didi Gregorius, he’s the only infielder capable of playing shortstop. He can stay on the roster as a reserve, bumping Gregorio Petit who is redundant at the moment. Drew could be used as a defensive replacement or spell Refsnyder against a tough righty from time to time. Whatever Drew’s utility for the rest of 2015 is, it shouldn’t be as a starter.

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