After Theo Epstein, the Red Sox's General Manager, appeared on WEEI last week defending JD Drew's performance and contract terms, the Boston sports world has had some pretty negative things to say about Drew, Epstein, and Drew's contract. Let's take a look at what Drew's contract should be.
From a skill set standpoint, Drew is one of the elite hitters in baseball. As discussed in a previous posting, Drew had one of the top 30 OPSs for 2009 (with at least 200 At Bats).
Drew has the most reasonable contract of anyone on the list that has hit free agency! Carlos Beltran who has .915 OPS to Drew's .914 will earn $18.5 million a year for the next two years. This is significantly more than Drew's $14 million a year. Looking further down the list Lance Berkman, Aramis Ramirez, Chase Utley, and Todd Helton will all make more than Drew. The only players that have lower contracts on this list are either under team control, arbitration eligible, or negotiated a contract while arbitration eligible such as Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez, and Ryan Braun.
According to the Epstein interview there is much more than OPS when evaluating talent. General Managers look at overall offense including base running. So let's look at JD Drew's rank on the Red Sox roster in 2009 for EqBRR or Equivalent Base Running Runs which measures how many additional runs the player accounts for on the base paths. As you would expect Jacoby Ellsbury leads the list followed by Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay but JD Drew ranks third from the bottom only above David Ortiz and Mike Lowell.
Drew's base running performance evidently was not good in 2009. His base running is only part of his offense, however. To look comprehensively at JD Drew's offense let's look at his VORP or Value Over Replacement Player which measures the number of additional runs that a player generates over an average player at that position.
Drew ranks 65th on the VORP list for all players in baseball in 2009. The top of the list is comprised of Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez, Derek Jeter, and Prince Fielder. Looking over the list matches what my eyes tell me when I'm watching a game. Red Sox players on the list include Kevin Youkilis (17th), Jason Bay (28th), Jacoby Ellsbury (38th), Dustin Pedroia (45th), and JD Drew (65th). Looking deeper down the VORP list Mike Lowell, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, Alex Gonzales, and Julio Lugo round out the Sox's top ten.
Drew's $14 million is a little more than Lowell's $12 million and Ortiz's $12.5 million but they are in the same ballpark. Seeing what Jason Bay gets this offseason will be an interesting look. My guess is somewhere in the $16 to $18 million range a year based on the lack of impact position players for this offseason. (This number will depend on the number of years of his contract.)
Now let's take a look at Drew in the field. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is a very complicated formula for computing how effective a player is at saving runs in a given position. Let's look at all of the qualifying Right Fielders in baseball.
We can see that Drew has the third best UZR of all 19 qualifying Right Fielders behind Nelson Cruz and Ichiro Suzuki and number 13 of all 63 qualifying outfielders.
There are other factors in determining how good a player is. Durability and number of games played matters. Drew started 124 games this season and played in another seven with one as a DH and one as a PH only. This earned him the 11th spot on the same list of 19 Right Fielders.
There are other intangibles that could be measured. If a player is a terrible teammate that would certainly be a factor. Some comment on Drew's temperament where he doesn't get excited or upset when making a bad play. I'll turn it the other way and say his lack of excitability lets him get the job done.
One of the other arguments is against paying so much money for a number eight hitter. Drew only started nine games batting 8th. When you dig into the stats, it is amazing how versatile he is in terms of where he can hit in the lineup. He started at every position in the lineup except 9th. He had 30 or more At Bats in every position except 4th and 9th. He had the most ABs in 6th followed by 5th and then 2nd spot. Drew had over a .800 OPS hitting from the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th spots. Drew's lack of excitability allows for Terry Francona, the Red Sox manager, to have Drew bat from multiple different positions in the lineup. One can imagine certain players getting bent out of shape if they were moved down in the order.
My opinion on Drew turned in game 6 of the 2007 ALCS. His mauling of the Indians with 3 hits, 2 runs, 5 RBI, and 1 HR made me forever grateful to his presence on the Sox roster.
For those that object to his contract, I wonder what they think a fair contract would be. Drew compares very favorably financially to others with similar stats. One maybe could argue that he should only be paid $12 million or so but it would be tough to argue that his contract should be substantially less.