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The BABIP Dragons have eaten Stephen Drew

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The Yankees' infielder has held his own in a few components of offense — but has bottomed out in one of the most important ones.

Despite his terrible overall 2015, Drew has knocked his fair share of home runs.
Despite his terrible overall 2015, Drew has knocked his fair share of home runs.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

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 Soxhe 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:

Season Player BABIP z_BABIP
2014 Brian McCann .231 -2.57
2013 Darwin Barney .222 -2.60
2013 Dan Uggla .225 -2.53
2011 Vernon Wells .214 -2.81
2010 Aaron Hill .196 -3.50
2010 Carlos Pena .222 -2.67
2007 Ray Durham .233 -2.54
2006 Clint Barmes .241 -2.52
2005 Andruw Jones .240 -2.52
2004 Tony Batista .225 -2.88
1998 Ed Sprague .233 -2.60
1994 Matt Walbeck .215 -2.85
1991 Rob Deer .220 -2.60
1991 Mark McGwire .214 -2.80
1990 Mark McGwire .223 -2.75
1989 Mark McGwire .214 -2.58
1988 Darrell Evans .212 -2.89
1986 Dave Kingman .204 -2.86
1984 Ron Kittle .226 -2.63
1983 Tony Armas .214 -2.75
1982 Dave Kingman .207 -3.29
1981 Ted Simmons .200 -2.79
1975 Brooks Robinson .204 -2.81
1974 Gene Tenace .213 -2.64
1971 Dick McAuliffe .206 -2.67
1968 Curt Blefary .198 -2.71
1963 Jim King .208 -2.84
1962 Norm Cash .215 -2.74
1961 Roger Maris .209 -2.88
1955 Del Crandall .214 -2.70
1953 Willie Jones .213 -3.05
1951 Andy Pafko .222 -2.53
1947 Eddie Lake .215 -2.51
1947 Roy Cullenbine .206 -2.81
1940 Frankie Crosetti .219 -2.61
1939 Babe Dahlgren .238 -2.91
1937 Leo Durocher .218 -2.81
1936 Skeeter Newsome .239 -2.55
1933 Art Scharein .213 -2.87
1933 Jim Levey .220 -2.65
1932 Leo Durocher .236 -2.80
1931 Freddie Maguire .240 -2.61
1931 Jim Levey .241 -2.57
1928 Doc Farrell .222 -2.72
1927 Phil Todt .238 -2.54
1927 Wally Gerber .237 -2.57
1926 Fred Haney .235 -2.65
1922 Ralph Young .232 -2.60

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:

Season Player K% z_K% BB% z_BB% ISO z_ISO BABIP z_BABIP
2011 Evan Longoria 16.2% -0.14 13.0% 1.80 .251 1.45 .239 -2.02
2011 Mark Teixeira 16.1% -0.16 10.7% 0.98 .246 1.37 .239 -2.03
2010 Jose Bautista 17.0% 0.01 14.4% 2.30 .357 3.23 .233 -2.31
2010 Carlos Quentin 15.7% -0.22 9.0% 0.31 .236 1.18 .241 -2.05
2009 Ian Kinsler 12.0% -0.80 9.2% 0.14 .235 1.00 .241 -2.28
2008 Paul Konerko 15.6% -0.17 12.0% 1.06 .199 0.34 .244 -2.40
2006 Frank Thomas 14.5% -0.12 14.0% 1.75 .275 1.47 .247 -2.31
2004 Chipper Jones 16.9% 0.34 13.6% 1.56 .237 0.84 .246 -2.13
2003 Rafael Palmeiro 11.8% -0.64 11.6% 1.01 .248 1.13 .240 -2.26
2002 Raul Mondesi 16.2% 0.15 8.8% 0.01 .200 0.27 .239 -2.17
2001 Rafael Palmeiro 12.6% -0.52 13.2% 1.45 .290 1.42 .249 -2.03
2000 Robin Ventura 16.5% 0.35 11.7% 0.65 .207 0.27 .237 -2.34
1998 Brady Anderson 13.6% -0.32 12.9% 1.28 .184 0.06 .247 -2.10
1998 John Valentin 12.0% -0.65 10.9% 0.68 .196 0.23 .250 -2.01
1997 Jeff King 14.8% -0.16 13.2% 1.23 .214 0.60 .234 -2.42
1995 David Justice 13.8% -0.14 14.0% 1.45 .226 0.87 .247 -2.07
1991 Tom Brunansky 13.9% 0.03 9.1% 0.15 .161 0.14 .235 -2.10
1990 Lou Whitaker 12.9% -0.13 12.3% 1.27 .169 0.45 .242 -2.03
1989 Mark McGwire 16.0% 0.45 13.4% 1.56 .237 1.79 .214 -2.58
1988 Brian Downing 10.7% -0.49 13.0% 1.74 .200 1.10 .229 -2.28
1985 Bob Brenly 12.3% -0.12 10.4% 0.74 .170 0.39 .216 -2.32
1985 Darrell Evans 14.3% 0.31 12.5% 1.41 .271 2.23 .223 -2.11
1982 Ben Oglivie 12.0% -0.05 8.6% 0.22 .209 1.10 .232 -2.34
1978 Darrell Evans 9.6% -0.53 14.2% 1.79 .161 0.34 .239 -2.07
1978 Joe Morgan 7.5% -1.00 14.3% 1.84 .150 0.14 .228 -2.49
1977 John Mayberry 13.4% 0.21 11.7% 1.04 .171 0.24 .231 -2.25
1977 Graig Nettles 11.9% -0.15 9.1% 0.28 .241 1.47 .237 -2.07
1977 Wayne Gross 14.4% 0.45 13.9% 1.69 .184 0.46 .238 -2.02
1971 Dick McAuliffe 12.5% 0.13 9.2% 0.28 .172 0.54 .206 -2.67
1966 Rocky Colavito 13.2% 0.14 11.8% 1.53 .193 0.62 .229 -2.05
1966 Tom Tresh 14.0% 0.31 12.8% 1.86 .188 0.54 .229 -2.04
1963 Jim King 8.4% -0.94 8.3% 0.30 .214 1.22 .208 -2.84
1962 Norm Cash 13.0% 0.41 14.9% 2.29 .270 2.06 .215 -2.74
1961 Roger Maris 9.6% -0.42 13.5% 1.28 .351 2.43 .209 -2.88
1958 Gus Triandos 11.9% 0.34 10.4% 0.54 .211 0.81 .223 -2.07
1957 Yogi Berra 4.4% -1.45 8.8% 0.06 .187 0.45 .221 -2.13
1955 Al Rosen 7.4% -0.59 14.7% 1.65 .159 0.00 .228 -2.18
1953 Willie Jones 7.9% -0.18 14.9% 1.51 .160 0.08 .213 -3.05
1949 Joe Gordon 5.2% -0.67 13.1% 0.42 .155 0.18 .238 -2.11
1947 Roy Cullenbine 8.4% 0.21 22.6% 3.02 .198 1.01 .206 -2.81

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.