What Needs to Happen: JD Drew
The bad starts just keep piling up… and keep continuing, causing some real problems in the lineup and some real frustration for the millions of Fenway Faithful.
J.D. Drew’s poor April just keeps on coming, which has only added to the ineptitude and futility of the 2010 Boston lineup.
Still, while fans may have already begun clamoring for an overhaul, Drew’s April has all the earmarkings of a really bad, persistent slump — one that can be ridden out with a patient couple weeks.
When players go through stretches like Drew has, at his age no less, the primary questions that tend to be asked are 1) is the player hurt? 2) is he seeing the ball well enough or just putting poor swings on the ball? and 3) is he getting old?
Positing an answer to the first inquisition, while we often bemoan J.D.’s fragility, this may be the one time where it works in our favor. While Drew may be as tough as glass, we can pretty firmly rule out question number one as a major contributor to the slump, because, hey, J.D. Drew doesn’t hide injuries.
If he’s hurt, he’ll know it, the trainer will know it, and the whole world will know it. And, if injuries were the primary mover in this case, he’d have been put on the DL already –- probably weeks ago if the past is any indicator.
Eliminating the injury bug, it must mean that J.D.’s approach is off or he’s getting old.
Aging and major injuries are usually pretty well correlated, and sudden drop-offs without warning that are due to age are really a lot more infrequent than most people tend to believe. Drew doesn’t have “big body” syndrome and, like was already stated, wouldn’t play if he were hurt.
Given that there is nothing out of the ordinary in his plate discipline indicators that would ring the alarm for bat speed decline (i.e. a sudden, major drop in contact rate or sharp increase in pop-up rate), it doesn’t seem like there is much going on in the way of sudden, age-related decline. While it’s not out of the question considering that Drew turned 34 last November, it’s not terribly likely either.
On the other hand, however, there are a few positive earmarks that this is just a bad slump. Though unfortunate, yes, because slumps are bad, a slump is really a good thing in this case because they can be overcome with a day off to clear a batter’s head or a little work in the batting cage.
These indications are 1) that Drew’s power is still there, evidenced by his two homers in 57 at-bats (also another indication that injury is not a major factor), and 2) there are some curious, unsustainable numbers in his plate discipline characteristics that are contributing to his poor performance.
At this point in the season, the plate discipline indicators seem to be the best at explaining what is going on — most notably, a freakish, extraordinarily high first strike percentage contributing to the decline in the rest of the indicators.
Sitting at an exorbitant 72.7 percent, Drew has been unfortunate enough to bat from behind in the count in nearly three-quarters of his at-bats this season – nearly 20 percent more than his career average. To say that this scenario would affect his performance would be an understatement.
A few things happen to a hitter when they are behind in the count.
For one, they are more susceptible to striking out — which Drew has, plenty of this season, at over 35 percent of his at-bats. An obvious development, yes, but noteworthy all the same.
After going down 0-1, with only two strikes to work with during the rest of the at-bat, Drew’s strikeout rate would be expected to rise by quite a bit. For a bit of perspective, without laying a finger on the rest of his plate discipline indicators, his K-rate would be expected to drop by about 3.5 percent if his first strike percentage were to revert back to his career number of 53.8.
Next on the ladder, by virtue of hitting behind in the count more often, Drew’s O-Swing rates would rise as well.
When hitters bat behind in the count, they have a tendency to expand the zone, fishing at pitches they otherwise would not — both whiffing more and making poor contact more frequently.
Remember when your Little League coach told you to “protect the plate” with two strikes?
Well, Major Leaguers do it too -– even a guy with a relatively passive approach like J.D. Drew, meaning swinging at pitcher’s pitches and getting himself out more often. That rise in O-Swing percentage owes itself in no small part to the rise in the first strike rate -– which causes Drew to dig his hole a little bit deeper.
In the spirit of full disclosure, however, expecting a regression in anything other than Drew’s first strike rate is pure speculation. While it is reasonable to assume a resulting correction in his O-Swing rates as well as other indicators, it is impossible to attach a firm number to the analysis because there is just not enough data to monitor the effects of these trends.
For the sake of curiosity, however, assuming that these numbers were to regulate, we would next expect to see a return to normal in his zone percentage, which is currently at a low 46.5 percent.
Once pitchers are behind in the count 1-0, they won’t be able to throw out of the zone as much as they can during at-bats that start 0-1. This will force them to throw more pitches in the zone in the hopes of not falling behind 2-0. Thereafter, with the ability to wait on pitches and be more selective, Drew’s Z-Contact will finally return to normal — at which point he’ll be back to striking out in about one in every five at-bats, instead of one in every three as he has been.
At this point, his BABIP should regulate as well — if it hadn’t already. Drew has a terribly low BABIP right now, .194 to be exact, but it is just as likely that this is the first or the last event in Drew’s turnaround.
Still, though many in the sabermetric community seem to think that all balls in play are created equal, this is absolutely not the case.
Any number of factors can contribute to a low BABIP. While most like to quote “bad luck” and not finding the infield holes as was stated in “Moneyball”, this may actually be the least common of all factors. Though in the long run most pitchers will level out at .300, batters, on the other hand, can get themselves in real trouble with a poor approach.
If Drew is having trouble getting a read on pitches, making poor swings, or is off-balance, all those tappers to short or those roll-overs on changeups will get gobbled up by the infield. Without driving the ball with authority, his BABIP will continue to be low and underwhelming. If he’s swinging defensively or off-balance, he may shoot one in front of the outfielders every once in a while, but he won’t have a .300 BABIP.
Call it “bad luck” if you want to, but the only “bad luck” that can occur on a ball in play is when a roper gets snagged on a line by the second baseman. Choppers to short are not hits 30 percent of the time.
The real “bad luck” lies in the contributing factors that create circumstances for batters to fall into traps, such as in Drew’s case, where he runs into a freakish stretch of bad counts. Once he gets into more hitter’s counts, he’ll be able to drive the ball more often and with more authority, which will lead to the rebound in BABIP.
Remember, BABIP is not some universal constant that regulates by virtue of its own gravity. It’s a number that batters have to earn and is a benchmark they won’t achieve if there are other mitigating circumstances.
Either way, the BABIP could come around tomorrow or it could come around two weeks from now — it’s very hard to tell. However, if the other indicators regulate, it should correct itself sooner rather than later — at which time all will be well in the world of J.D. Drew.
After taking Boston by storm in his first week with the team, people have begun to ask who Darnell McDonald is and what he can do. As per the question, he has the chance to be a pleasant little surprise, within reason, for the Red Sox while he’s with the team.
2010 will mark McDonald’s fourth stint in the big leagues. After being drafted in the first round (26th overall) by the Baltimore Orioles in 1997, it took him until 2004 to crack the O’s roster. However, playing in just 17 games that year, he was forced to wait until 2007 before reaching the majors again.
2009 was his first prolonged stint with a Major League club — 47 games to be exact, at age 30 with the Reds. Batting .267 in 105 at-bats, his 31 strikeouts and five walks proved a bit underwhelming for even Cincinnati’s standards and he was granted free agency this past off-season.
Picked up by the Sox on November 24, he had performed well in Pawtucket (.341/.372/.683, 2 HR, 7 K, 41 ABs) before getting the call to Boston to fill in for injured outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron.
For what he is, McDonald could be a nice filler player until Ellsbury and Cameron make their way back from the DL. He still shows some of the tools that made him Baseball America’s 21st overall prospect in 1998 – and at his age he may still be able to steal 20+ bags. However, he strikes out far too much and has too little power to make up for it.
Still, there is a lot to like for a player called up to fill in from AAA. With his speed, its conceivable that he post a batting average north of .260 and an OPS of over .700. For injury filler, this would be more than adequate, making him a valuable commodity and insurance policy. However, his strikeouts will always be the rub and he’ll never be anything more than a reserve outfielder.
Either way, when you are forced to dip into AAA for an emergency injury solution, you can do far worse than Darnell McDonald. Though people will always be asking what his name is, be glad we have him for the next couple weeks he’s on the team.
Jeremy Hermida at Catcher: Getting the Most Out of Tim Wakefield While Channeling Our Inner Bill Belichick
Nine stolen bases on April 20th. Nine.
Something has to be done about that, but, at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be any solution save for getting a new catcher –- which surely isn’t an option with both Varitek and V-Mart taking up space on the 40-man.
However, there may yet be something that can be done.
Catching a knuckleballer is nothing like catching any other pitcher. The ball dances, it hangs, and it dives, making it almost impossible for any ordinary man to catch.
However, as we’ve seen time and again over the past few years with Doug Mirabelli’s expertise catching the pitch versus Jason Varitek’s utter ineptitude, there are some people who can catch the offering and those who can’t.
Given that Varitek, a catcher with years of experience handling hard breaking balls, is unable to catch the pitch, while Mirabelli can do it with relative ease, could this mean that handling a knuckleball is a skill independent of normal catching expertise?
In addition, there isn’t nearly as much strategy involved in calling a game for a knuckleballer as there is with a regular hurler.
Do you use the curve in the dirt on 2-2 or stick with the fastball away? Will the batter chase another slider down and away?
The answers to these questions, which come with years of experience handling pitchers, would also be negated somewhat as Wakefield’s arsenal lends itself primarily to one pitch while sneaking in a fastball here and there.
Could this mean that a non-catcher could adequately call a game for Wakefield, considering that Wake could shake off the “catcher” if need be?
If so, then why not give the strongest, readily-available arm on our team a catcher’s mitt and see if they can catch a knuckleball and make a dent in the running game?
At the very least, they’ll be an improvement over the current battery which has caught just two basestealers all season. In addition, it will be an opportunity to get a non-catcher’s bat into the lineup, one that would be an upgrade over how V-Mart has hit this season and how Varitek has in the past.
While this endeavor may already be moot as Wakefield is headed to the pen once Daisuke gets back, it may regain some merit when one of our starters inevitably goes down and we call upon the elder statesman again.
So, in reality, it may not be a bad idea.
Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be very many options on the team to fill the role of Wake’s personal caddy.
Bill Hall, though likely having a strong enough arm as he plays on the left side of the infield, can’t hit a lick so wouldn’t be an upgrade.
Mike Lowell, another candidate with a strong third-baseman’s arm, probably wouldn’t be able to hold up under the physical demands of catching.
J.D. Drew starts in right, while Ellsbury’s arm wouldn’t be strong enough even if he were a bench option.
However, one option persists.
Though no one here has ever seen him behind the plate, Jeremy Hermida may have the requisite arm to handle catching duties, seeing as he was the Marlins starting right fielder for most of his career, while also being available while serving as 4th outfielder when Cameron and Ellsbury return.
In addition, he’s an athletic outfielder who could, given some work behind the plate, improve his footwork to the point where he could throw out at least one of those nine Texas runners that the current BoSox battery could not.
To further his case, sliding in Hermida’s bat for either V-Mart’s or Varitek’s would be a veritable upgrade given how well Hermida has hit thus far — allowing the team to strengthen both the lineup and the defense at the same time.
Nevertheless, what it comes down to is whether Hermida or anyone else on the team could actually catch Wake’s knuckler. If he proves able, the upgrade in controlling the running game would almost be a foregone conclusion, seeing as the team’s regular catchers have caught only two runners in 39 attempts all season.
Whatever the case may be, at this point anything is worth a try -– and this may be the perfect storm, the perfect set of circumstances to give a crazy idea like this one the go-ahead.
At the very least, it will be fun to watch — while also giving Jayson Stark something to throw in his column about the wacky world of baseball.
After all, what have we got to lose anyway?