The plan was simple enough entering the season. The Red Sox had signed Mike Cameron to a two-year deal to play center field entering 2010, but the veteran was injured for much of the year and proved completely incapable of hitting right-handed pitching. Meanwhile, J.D. Drew had gone from having nearly even splits in 2008 to being routinely frustrated by left-handed pitching in '10.
So with Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury taking up two of the outfield spots as guaranteed starters, the question of what to do with the third spot seemed to answer itself. J.D. Drew would take the righties, Cameron would take the lefties. If their typical splits came even close to their usual levels, the Sox could expect some very solid production out in right field.
What they've received has been anything but. Of the 30 teams in the MLB, only the Detroit's right fielders have been less valuable than Boston's. In fact, based on fWAR, the Sox would be better off grabbing some random Quadruple-A player and throwing him out there than they would be with their typical mix of Cameron and Drew.
So what's gone wrong? Pretty much everything.
We'll start with J.D. Drew, who is oddly hitting lefties better than righties so far this year--so much for that platoon plan. But much of that can be attributed to a 70-or-so point difference in BABIP in his splits. Unfortunately, not all his issues can be blamed on BABIP. While Drew's figure is down from his career average, it's not hard to see why: Drew is making terrible contact in every way possible. His line drive rate is down, his ground ball rate up, and when he hits fly balls, 15% of the time they don't even leave the infield--by far a career high for Drew.
Much of this could also be chalked up to luck given the small sample sizes (especially the line drive rate), but when you factor in 2010, things look worse. He's started swinging at more-and-more outside pitches, with his outside swing rate of 25% being a sharp spike from last year's 20% figure which had represented by far the highest figure of the last 7 years. Perhaps as a result of that his HR/FB% is way down. Given the trend, Drew looks like the very picture of an aging outfielder on the decline.
The good news is that the Red Sox might at least be able to salvage Mike Cameron as their answer to lefties for the last four months of the season. While there's no question that Cameron is not the player he used to be, his struggles against southpaws can be explained by his .180 BABIP against them. He's still walking and striking out at reasonable rates against them, and his three homers come in rather fewer at bats. If Cameron can keep the rest of this up, than his BABIP should normalize.
But who should the Sox use against righties? The answer may already be with the team, as Josh Reddick made his 2011 MLB debut a week ago. After a terrible season-and-a-half between Triple-A Pawtucket and Boston dropped Reddick's stock like a rock, the young outfielder seems to have made some dramatic improvements to his game in 2011 centered around a much more patient approach at the plate. The results are an OPS of .871 despite a BABIP of .241, with his .271/.365/.602 line against righties coming from a slightly more normal .252 BABIP. While he's only spent a very short time with the Sox so far this season, it's been easy to see that he's more relaxed at the plate.
While J.D. Drew is uncharacteristically popular around Over The Monster, it might be time for him to pass the torch. Right now, the Sox are stuck in something of an enviable conundrum with both Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick fighting for the starting right field spot in 2012. With Kalish still not quite ready to return to action, though, Drew's struggles in right field could provide the perfect opportunity to solve the question by giving Reddick the lion's share of the playing time in Boston.
I'll turn it over to you, though, readers, and ask what you think. Josh Reddick's first two seasons in the MLB were ugly, ugly affairs. Do we have faith enough in him now to be, for any significant period of time, the starting right fielder? Can Mike Cameron still hold down a role against lefties? And is J.D. Drew well and truly done?