Now that the Red Sox have a shortstop, it's time to figure out what he can do
Now that we know who will be playing shortstop for the Red Sox in 2013, it's time to figure out just what that player is going to be able to produce. Using Stephen Drew's last two seasons as a baseline is a bit tough, as 2011 was uncharacteristically tough for him, then a fractured ankle suffered during a collision at home plate ended his campaign and hindered his next one. It's not impossible to get a sense of what his short-term future has in store, though, given his past and what we know about Fenway Park.
First up, his platoon splits. Drew has not hit lefties particularly well in his career, but he's not flat-out awful against them, either. His career line against his fellow southpaws is .242/.299/.400, but much of that is due to late-game match-ups against relievers whose sole job is to get lefties out. In games with left-handed starting pitchers in his career, Drew is at .271/.332/.442 -- that includes subsequent plate appearances against relievers, sometimes against right-handed ones as well. But there's a lesson here: Drew is probably going to make an out in the seventh or eighth inning against a tough lefty relief specialist, and doesn't hit left-handed starters as well as a right-handed one, but he's dependable enough and should start at short if, at the end of the day, he's putting up those kinds of numbers. Plus, you'd rather his weak side be setup this way, given roughly three-quarters of all innings are thrown by right-handed pitchers, a group Drew has hit .274/.339/.445 against overall.
Shorter handedness splits: Drew is the exact opposite of Mike Aviles.
Drew is leaving a stadium that helped with power, but did more of that for right-handed hitters than for left-handers. As Drew is a lefty, that's pertinent when figuring out what he's going to do after leaving a park that's helped him. And, while Chase Field didn't necessarily boost Drew's home run numbers, he still saw a boost in overall pop, thanks to a 26 percent increase in doubles and triples for your average left-handed hitter while at Chase. That has helped lead to part of the 29 point difference in Drew's home and road Isolated Power figures.
Switching to Fenway could damage his home run power further, as, while Chase isn't great for the left-handed long ball, it's much better than Boston's park. Left-handers see a three percent increase in homers at Chase, while at Fenway, there's been a 20 percent reduction over the last three years. Luckily, Drew's power seems to work in most parks. Back in 2010, his last full campaign, Drew averaged 390 feet on his homers, with the majority of those going to right field according to Hit Tracker Online. We can overlay Fenway Park's dimensions over the landing spots for those homers, and while it's not a perfect representation due to weather conditions, wall height, etc., it paints a pleasing rough sketch:
One homer fails to clear the wall at Fenway, but it's pretty close. Drew might not hit homers very often -- he's averaged 15 per 162 games in his career -- but when he gets a hold of one, he seems to crush it. The results are much the same for 2009 (397 feet for average distance), 2008 (397 feet, 21 homers), and 2007 (394 feet).
Of more importance might be those lost triples from Chase. Drew hit 41 triples in 1,667 plate appearances in Arizona, and just 11 outside its walls. Fenway can help out there, especially since Drew goes up the middle so often -- nearly 56 percent of Drew's career plate appearances ending with a ball in play or a walk have resulted in that ball hit up the middle. The triangle in right-center, and all the extra space that makes homers for left-handers so difficult in Fenway to begin with, should make Fenway a familiar territory for Drew and his tendency to get extra-base hits.
It's pull power that's resulted in Drew's top production, though, as he's slugged .775 with a .357 Isolated Power on pulled balls. In 2012, your average left-handed batter was at .676 and .312, so Drew does have better-than-average power in that regard. He'll need to be a lot more like 2010 than the last two seasons in order to accomplish this, but, further removed from ankle surgery and in a park that can help him, that shouldn't be a daunting task.
It's a bit disappointing how little Drew goes the other way with any kind of authority, as he won't he able to utilize the short left field wall. That being said, though, if he lines the ball consistently up the middle, or puts hard grounders past the second baseman, that won't be a big deal. He's shown himself capable in the past, but it's to be seen if he still can, or if the ankle injury is masking legitimate decline in his skills at the plate.
While Fenway might not be a great fit for left-handed homers, Drew should enjoy visiting other AL East opponents, for the most part. According to Stat Corner, Yankee Stadium increases left-handed homers by 46 percent and overall run production by 15 percent, Orioles Park At Camden Yards boosts homers by 26 percent and doubles/triples by 13 percent, and the Rogers Centre, while neutral for the long ball, increases doubles and triples by 25 percent. Tropicana is the one park that isn't great for lefties in one way or another, but that shouldn't be a surprise, given it's a terrible place for hitters of either handedness.
There's a chance that Drew doesn't return to his past form, either because he's already started to decline, or because his ankle injury has sapped something from him that he'll never get back. That being said, he played well to end 2012, is further removed from the injury and surgery, and is now in a park that, while different from the one that's helped him over the years, is still hypothetically a good fit for his swing. For less than $10 million a one-year deal, at a position lacking strength league-wide, the Red Sox are taking a worthwhile gamble that he has something left in the tank.