Will Middlebrooks started his rehab assignment in Pawtucket on Tuesday. When he’s ready to return, the Red Sox have a very interesting situation on their hands. With Stephen Drew more than adequately manning shortstop, and Jose Iglesias magically and incomprehensibly hitting the ball like a modern day Wade Boggs, where does that leave Middlebrooks? This according to John Farrell through Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald:
“As we sat down and talked with Will before the rehab started, this is not only a chance to make sure that the health issue is behind him, which everything points to that being the case, and that he’ll get his timing back, but also, let’s use this as an opportunity to get a little momentum going before he comes back,” Farrell said today. “We’re hopeful that this is sooner rather than later. It could very well be Saturday. It could be shortly thereafter.”
In a way, Farrell’s statements make a lot of sense. Outside of his three (nearly four) home run barrage against the Blue Jays at the Rogers Center on April 7th, Middlebrooks’s performance could most kindly be described as unpleasant. As poor as his .201 batting average has been, it really underscores the awfulness that is his .234 OBP. Sure, he’s still hitting for extra bases (8 homers and 12 doubles in 185 PAs), but that doesn’t mean a whole lot when you’ve creating outs 80% of the time. Even defensively, an area where he’s considered to have “plus” skills, he’s suffered by most advanced metrics and the eye test. I think we can all agree that taking some extra time in AAA, maybe even the 20-day maximum allowed for rehab assignments, to work on his timing would be beneficial. After all, he’s only seen 167 career PAs in triple-A, so it’s not like he can’t learn something from his time in Pawtucket. In the meantime, Iglesias can continue to play, and eventually enter into the extreme regression back toward the mean so many have predicted for him.
Speaking of the shortstop position and how it relates to the current situation on the left side of the infield, Jared Carrabis of Sports Reel Boston shared his thoughts on the subject. It seems that he feels pretty strongly about who should be playing shortstop:
“While it’s easy to say now, I’ll stick to my guns in saying that the Red Sox never should have signed Drew, which I said even before the season started. But now that he’s here, the Red Sox have given him enough of an opportunity to show what he can do, which has been mediocre at best. As a result of that, I believe that Farrell should play whoever is playing the best out of those three from here on out. Iglesias doesn’t deserve to lose his spot because of a game of musical chairs.”
Before I go any further, I want to point out that I have a great deal of respect for Jared. He’s a great guy, a good follow on Twitter, and contributes a lot to the Red Sox blogging community. In many cases, I agree with his opinions, Stephen Drew does not happen to be one of those cases. And although he and I rationally discussed this on Facebook last night, I wanted to revisit it in this forum–not to pick him apart, but to make a larger point in general.
I feel like many people in Red Sox view Stephen Drew as “mediocre at best”. Maybe it’s his .234 batting average. Maybe it’s because they wanted Jose Iglesias to be the starter. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s due to prejudice based on him sharing familial ties with J.D. Drew. Still though, I don’t see how he’s been mediocre. Yes, he started out of the gate slowly hitting .154/.267/.250 in April, but he’s since been one of the Red Sox most productive and consistent hitters, producing a .274/.366/.500 line after May 1st. In fact, when the Red Sox offense was sputtering along during at the opening of May, he was one of the few players producing anything at all.
Furthermore, if we were to take a look at where he fits among major league shortstops with at least 150 plate appearances, here’s where Drew stands in a few key indicators (out of 30):
OBP – .333 (tied for 8th with Jimmy Rollins)
SLG – .418 (10th)
wRC++ (similar to OPS+) – 100 (12th)
UZR - 4.4 (5th)
To which I ask, in what way is Drew “mediocre at best”? The issue hasn’t been Drew’s supposed mediocrity, it’s been that our expectations are way too high for what we should expect out of the shortstop position. We aren’t living in 1996 to 2004 anymore. Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Miguel Tejada are done revolutionizing the position by turning it into an offensive juggernaut. In fact, like grunge in the early-90s, that revolution appears to have been relatively short lived. As of the moment, there’s only one truly elite offensive shortstop in the game, and that’s Troy Tulowitski.* After him, it’s a really big drop off. In actuality, we should feel lucky to have someone as offensively productive and defensively strong playing shortstop. This is even more true given the never ending game of musical chairs the Red Sox have played at shortstop since Garciaparra was traded away.
* Yes, Juan Segura is having an outstanding season both at the plate and in the field, but he needs to prove he can do this long term before I’ll consider him in the elite category.
Further complicating the situation has been the presence of two home grown prospects. After wading along the edges of hot prospect status for a couple of years, Middlebrooks stormed through AA and AAA over a torrid season-and-a-half period before blowing up in the majors last season. Iglesias, on the other hand, has been our highly touted “shortstop of the future” for the past three-plus seasons. We’ve watched both men grow up over the last few years. We’ve seen them progress from lottery tickets to something more tangible and concrete. Understandably, there’s an emotional tie we have to both players that overrides the rational side of our brains. Even though we can see the holes in Middlebrooks’s swing, and extrapolate Iglesias’s poor offensive AAA performance into likely major league performance, the drive and desire to see them exceed far surpasses the steady day-to-day production of the carpetbagging Stephen Drew.
So as you can see, if you think about this logically, Drew’s supposed mediocrity is not the root of the problem. Instead, it’s our expectations combined with an overwhelming (and somewhat understandable) helping of bias that’s fueling our general distaste for Stephen Drew. You should probably get used to seeing him at shortstop, though. Barring an injury, he’s going to be the everyday shortstop for the rest of the season. Quite frankly, he’s more than earned that right.