Why Stephen Drew can help the Yankees

Stephen Drew is bringing his bat to the Bronx. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Stephen Drew is bringing his bat to the Bronx. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

In one of the more surprising trade deadline deals in recent memory, the Yankees traded Kelly Johnson to the Red Sox in exchange for Stephen Drew. The Yankees later designated Brian Roberts for assignment, giving Drew the full-time job at second base.

On the surface, this is what the deal looks like: The Yankees picked up a player that is hitting .176/.255/.328 this season and who has never played an inning at second base in his professional career (majors or minors) to be their regular second baseman for the remainder of the season.

Huh? That doesn’t seem like a move that would help the Yankees chances of playing in October.

But those facts don’t tell the entire story of why Drew is an upgrade over Roberts and has a chance to help the Yankees down the stretch.

Heating up in July
Drew was signed by Boston at the beginning of June, so essentially he was in “spring training” for the first 4-6 weeks after joining the Red Sox, and it showed in his performance at the plate.

He had a .417 OPS in his first 26 games through July 10, and his timing was clearly off as he struck out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances. Since then he has shown the 2013 form that made him one of the more valuable members of last year’s Red Sox team that won the World Series:

G PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS K% BB%
First 26 Games 26 92 0.128 0.185 0.233 0.417 31.5% 6.5%
Last 13 Games 13 53 0.267 0.377 0.511 0.888 18.9% 15.1%

 

So is this turnaround sustainable and is Drew back to be an above-average hitter with some pop? The key here is the improvement in his peripherals – he is striking out less and walking more, indicating that he is seeing the ball better and feeling more comfortable at the plate.

Those statistical improvements are backed up by the fact that he is also chasing fewer pitches out of the zone and making more contact. His plate discipline has clearly improved and he is fundamentally a better hitter now than in the first month of the season.

See the ball, hit the ball hard
Drew is also making “better” contact over the last three weeks, increasing his hard-hit rate from eight percent to 20 percent. Through July 10 he was pounding the ball into the ground more than half of the time. But since then his groundball rate is just 20 percent, while his flyball (51%) and line drive (29%) rates have skyrocketed.

Another indication that Drew’s recent hot streak is legit is the fact that his pull-side power has returned over the last three weeks.

Through July 10, Drew hit .217 and slugged .478 when pulling the ball, and the main problem was that more than two-thirds of those balls hit to the right side were on the ground and easily converted into outs.

Over his last 13 games Drew is pulling the ball with much more authority, and is 9-for-19 (.474) with two homers and three doubles on batted balls to the right side. That is a welcome sign for the Yankees, who likely hope that the lefty-swinger can get lucky on a few balls hit towards the short porch in right field.

Hello, second base
There are two obvious caveats to these numbers: a) it is still a small sample of just 53 plate appearances since July 11, and b) most of the damage has been done against right-handed pitchers (2-for-12 vs lefties).

Yet there is no denying the fact that the Yankees acquired a much better hitter than the .583 OPS on the back of Drew’s baseball card this season. He is also clearly an upgrade over Roberts at the plate, who was trending downward with a sub-.500 OPS over the last three-and-a-half weeks. But what about in the field?

Drew has never played an inning at second base as major- or minor-leaguer, yet he is a plus defender at shortstop (4 defensive runs saved this season), and thus an obvious candidate to be a solid defender on the other side of the infield.

He also couldn’t be much worse than Roberts, who led all AL second baseman with 10 errors and was the fourth-worst defensive second baseman according to Ultimate Zone Rating, costing the Yankees 4.6 runs with his glove.

Overall, it appears that Drew’s resurgence over the last few weeks is legit, and he is primed to become a key part of the Yankees lineup down the stretch as they make a desperate push for the postseason.

Former ESPN researcher; forever baseball and Yankees fan. Now living in northern Vermont and the color of the front door of our house is Yankee blue. Also write about college football and basketball and the NFL. Bleed Huskies blue (that's UConn, of course).