Change-UpOctober 05, 2009
JD Drew
By Patrick Sullivan

Over the weekend I happened across this Joe Posnanski blog entry on Theo Epstein after Posnanski heard the Boston Red Sox GM on a local radio station with Boston sports media personalities Tony Massarotti and Michael Felger. You can listen to that interview here. The money excerpt takes place beginning at the 15:55 mark or so, when Theo asks Mazz and Felgy, who typify the mindset of the average Red Sox fan in so many ways, why they haven't asked him about J.D. Drew.

As Red Sox fans will probably remember, Drew has been treated unfairly in Boston since before his signing was even announced in the off-season prior to the 2007 season. Bob Ryan famously remarked on a media conference call, “On behalf of an eager constituency, let’s hope the rumor is not true" in reference to the possibility that the Red Sox would sign Drew. It wasn't limited to the mainstream, either. Our friend Chad Finn was very much against the deal, and you can see here in this Baseball Think Factory thread, Sox fan Jim Furtado says "this will not end well for Drew or the Red Sox".

Now, we are three years in. And let's just list out his record:

  • Drew started slowly in 2007 but finished strong, hitting .342/.454/.618 to close out the year from September 1st through the end of the regular season. In Game 7 of the 2007 ALCS, the first Game 7 at Fenway Park since the Red Sox defeated the California Angels in the 1986 ALCS, Drew easily led the team in Win Probability Added, thanks to his 1st inning grand slam to center field off of Fausto Carmona.

  • Since 2008, Drew's OPS+ of 132 is second best among all AL outfielders with at least 900 plate appearances.

  • According to UZR/150, Drew was the second best defensive right fielder in all of baseball in 2009.

  • Over the life of his Red Sox contract, he has been the third best defensive right fielder in baseball.

  • As a Red Sox, Fangraphs has him as worth a total of $44.5 million. The Red Sox have paid him $42 million. In his worst season with Boston, they won a World Series. In all three of his seasons in Boston, they have qualified for post-season play.

    Not that any of this will silence Drew's critics but seriously, by what measure was the Drew signing anything but a great one?

  • Comments

    Awesome. Thanks for sharing, Sully. I give Theo a lot of credit for taking these guys on. With respect to Drew, he really went after Massarotti and Felger and didn't back down even though they continued to fight him all the way to the end of the interview. Gotta love it when Theo schooled them on RBI and said the most important thing an offensive player can do is "not make outs." Bravo.

    It is odd, how Sox fans dislike him. He's quiet & undemonstrative and has a rep for being injury prone (read: he's a wimp). But he's an excellent player.

    The only legit concern, IMO, is injury. When Drew is playing, he's really really good, and there's nothing to gripe about. I haven't paid close enough attention to know if, during his current contract, he's missed much time. Given the $ value he's produced, he can't have missed all that many games. I watch a lot of Sox games (Yankees fan married to a Sox fan) and I see him out there most of the time.

    Drew has been great, and I actually think after that grand slam in the ALCS in 2007 people backed off quite a bit. I'm not sure we can evaluate his contract completely until the entire 5 years are out, but so far, so good.

    I will say, though, I do understand why fans get frustrated with him even though it's irrational. He does have a weird affect when he plays. The lack of emotion might serve him well, and I respect the approach, but it makes it harder to attach to him as a fan. It is also simply more difficult to watch a guy who swings so infrequently. Again, it's a great approach, but ceteris paribus I think fans are more comfortable with somebody who swings a bit more.

    Regardless, I'm a fan, and god am I happy that the Red Sox have a GM who says things like Theo said in that interview

    It's amazing how JD Drew boosters completely ignore the fact that he just doesn't play enough games. Why not look at the VORP data? Well, that's because it will show that JD Drew is 9th or 10th among only right fielders over the past two years, in large part due to him only playing 109 games last year.

    Drew is a good player, and it wasn't a terrible signing. But it certainly wasn't a 'great' one.

    The problem with VORP is that it ignores defense. Despite missing 53 games last year, Drew ranks third among all RF and eighth among all OF over the past two seasons in WAR.

    Indeed. It's just amazing.

    Follow along. His play has been worth north of $44 million since his contract started. He's made $42 million. Boston won one WS and came a game shy of another since Drew joined the team.

    What's tough about this? Everyone knows he needs to miss time every now and then. That's why you employ Rocco Baldelli.

    "As a Red Sox, Fangraphs has him as worth a total of $44.5 million. The Red Sox have paid him $42 million... but seriously, by what measure was the Drew signing anything but a great one?"

    I don't get it. By what measure was this anything but the definition of an (slightly above) average free agent signing?

    And even though it's been an (slightly above) average free agent signing over the first three years of the contract how sure are you that the contract will be an even deal by the end of five years? Would you be willing to gamble $13M/year on an injury prone 34-5 year old outfielder who's been worth $14.86M over the last three years?

    Average deal so far (and maybe for the full five years)? Yes. Great deal? No way.

    As a Red Sox fan, there were two reasons I didn't like the Drew signing:

    1) I didn't like how he opted out of his contract. Given that baseball contracts are already guaranteed, it seems pretty weak that the Dodgers were getting their money's worth, only to see the player blow out of town. Good for him for getting the clause, but given his somewhat greedy financial history it showed a side to his personality I didn't like

    2) I didn't think he could live up to the money. Given his tendency to put up what I saw as good but not elite numbers, and his penchant for injury, he grabbed an elite salary for a non-elite player in (this shouldn't be overlooked) a down market

    I'm still not sold on his personality, but it's become pretty clear that I sold Drew's abilities short. He did underachieve in 2007, but I joined many in saying his whole season was worth that one grand slam. And since then I have learned about his excellent defense (which totally does not pass the eye test) to go along with what I understood was his strong offense. Given that the Red Sox can afford to fill in the games Drew misses, due to their financial strength, he has gotten the job done. Now, he isn't a GREAT signing, as that label should be reserved for people who outplay their contracts, but I never thought he'd be worth the dollars he got and to this point I have been wrong.

    "I don't get it. By what measure was this anything but the definition of an (slightly above) average free agent signing?"

    The unrestricted free agent market is such that, if you're getting your money's worth, it constitutes a great signing. If you win a WS, reach Game 7 of the ALCS and qualify for the playoffs yet again in the third year of the first three years of a given player's contract, all the better.

    There were nine outfielders in Drew's free agent class signed to multi-year deals. I will list their name, the amount paid to them, and their Fangraphs salary value output figure.

    Soriano, $51M, $32.5M
    Roberts, $18M, -$0.8M
    Pierre, $26.4M, $14.8M
    Payton, $9.5M, $3.2M
    Matthews, $30M, -$6.7M
    C. Lee, $50M, $39.2M
    Drew, $42M, $44.5M
    Dellucci, $11.5, -$6.8M
    Catalanotto, $13M, -$1.5M


    "The unrestricted free agent market is such that, if you're getting your money's worth, it constitutes a great signing."

    Well I guess our disagreement comes with whether we believe in the concept of WAR as defined by FanGraphs and used by many other sites including this one. Quite simply you get one WAR per $4.5M, by definition, that is an AVERAGE signing. 2007's OF free agent class many very well have been a disappointing group but there is no reason to restrict our analysis to simply those players. WARs are also fungible across different positions which means that there were better deals out there. Of course the Sox were limited by the positions that they needed free agents to play so maybe OFs were their only option. But that doesn't negate the fact that they've paid $42M for $44M of production making this the very definition of an average signing so far (with plenty of reason to believe that it won't end that way).

    Now if you want to argue with the very concept of WAR and their proper value on the free agent market please go ahead. Many intelligent people have created strong arguments and proof of their validity. Here's a good starting point if you want to disprove it:

    BTW - Why would people point to Drew's 2007 post-season as proof that he was worth it? His .345 wOBA and 0.05 WPA for a corner OF seem the very definition of (below) average as well.

    If the fangraphs salary values consistently underestimates how much players are actually paid on the free agent market, what is the point of it? For the valuations to make sense, there has to be a large population that vastly over-performing their salary. Unless they're including pre-FA players, which doesn't make much sense to me in this context: what's the point of allowing a large group artificially undervalued talents in a salary estimator?

    For the record, I like Drew a lot now, and I was wrong about the signing. Yeah, he's frustrating from time to time -- Francona has had problems with his reluctance to play when he's not completely healthy -- but on the other hand, he is one of those players you appreciate more the more you see him. (For instance, he is a GREAT baserunner.)

    There are not many that make the game look so easy. Drew is one of them. his calmness and nack for being in the right place at the right time is remarkable. Money well spent. especially if you have it.

    His grand salami was Game 6, not Game 7.

    No Dodger fan could call Drew a great baserunner after the 2006 playoffs. How many times have two baserunners been thrown out at home on one throw? Having the Windmill as third base coach was no complete excuse.