As most fans of baseball or schadenfreude can tell you, Stephen Drew didn't have the best 2014. Fresh off a three-win season and a World Series ring with the Red Sox, he declined the team's $14.1 million qualifying offer, and set out to find a new contract on the free agent market. Half a year later, that opportunity finally came around, as Boston brought him back on a one-year, $10 million deal. He proceeded to play like a man who hadn't seen the field in two months, costing the Sox and the Yankees (to whom the former shipped him in July) a win with his poor performance.
After all of that, the sight of 2015 most likely elated Drew. It would give him a chance to begin anew, to make up for past hardships. Since re-signing with the Yankees this season, though, Drew's continued to struggle. His wRC+ has increased from last year's feeble 44 to a still-meager 71, and his defense at second base has remained inadequate. That combination of performance has resulted in -0.2 WAR, which only bests eleven other AL hitters. For the most part, 2015 hasn't treated Drew any more kindly than 2014 did.
Looking into Drew's offensive numbers reveals an intriguing trend. In 2014, he struck out in 25.0% of his plate appearances, and posted a .137 ISO — both subpar marks. So far in 2015, he's bettered each of those, to 16.2% and .190, respectively. Moreover, he's sustained his high walk rate, taking free passes at a 9.4% clip. So if Drew can take free passes, avoid going down on strikes, and hit for power, why hasn't he performed better at the plate?
It's simple: Drew's balls in play haven't gone for hits. Like, ever. He currently owns an incredible .171 BABIP, easily the lowest in baseball. That horrendous rate has sapped every hope that Drew could have for an offensive rebound, to say nothing of the games it's cost the Yankees. And more importantly (for non-New Yorkers, at least), that minuscule a mark doesn't occur too often.
For the sake of fairness, we'll take into account Drew's rest-of-season FanGraphs depth chart projection, which foresees him posting a .244 BABIP in 224 plate appearances. This would give him an overall 2015 BABIP of .201, still the worst in the majors, and 2.59 standard deviations below the qualifier* mean.
*Technically, this projection thinks Drew will finish with 502 trips to the dish, three short of the threshold to qualify for the batting title. Counterpoint: Who cares?
Since 1913, only 48 batter seasons — out of more than 11,000 — have had a BABIP z-score of -2.50 or lower:
But this doesn't even go into the truly weird element of Drew's present campaign — the fact that he's succeeded in the other three central elements of offense, his total failure here notwithstanding. Let's stack up his BABIP z-scores with those of his strikeout rate, walk rate, and isolated power.
Looking again to the projections, we see that Drew should theoretically have a 21.8% K%, 9.3% BB%, and .159 ISO from here on out. For the season as a whole, he'd thus have a walk rate of 9.2%, a strikeout rate of 18.7%, and an isolated power of .179. These would give z-scores of 0.04, 0.57, and 0.28, respectively.
We'll again go to history. To account for further regression on Drew's part, we'll look for player seasons with:
- A BABIP two standard deviations below the mean
- An ISO and BB% above the mean
- A K% no more than a half a standard deviation above the mean.
Of these, there exist only 40 since 1913:
The performance of this type — solid plate discipline and clout, but abhorrent results otherwise — doesn't come around every year. Someone like Drew really is one of a kind.
For whatever it counts, Drew has earned his output this season, for better or for worse. He's lowered his O-Swing% to 20.6%, compared to a career rate of 24.0%, and has upped his contact rate to 86.4%, from an overall 81.8% level. He's also put the ball in the air to a much greater extent: His fly ball rate has jumped to 50.7%. At the same time, many of those fly balls have stayed in the infield (12.6%), and he's hit the ball hard only 20.8% of the time. Put it all together, and you get a recipe for, well, whatever Drew has done.
If Drew sees this much time at second base for the rest of the season, he could make history. The Yankees will try to avoid that, by running out Rob Refsnyder more often in the second half, as we'd expect of a first-place team. For the fans who like to see the uncommon, to track the bizarre happenings of this wild game, this will disappoint. For the fans who like to see the Yankees win (and really, who likes those guys?), this will give hope. What we can say for sure, at this rough halfway point in the season, is this: Stephen Drew would love to go back to 2013.
. . .
All data as of Tuesday, July 14th, 2015.
Ryan Romano is an editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles on Camden Depot (and on Camden Chat that one time), and about the Brewers on BP Milwaukee. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.