Change-UpDecember 30, 2009
J.D. Drew, Bargain
By Patrick Sullivan

Engage a J.D. Drew detractor, try and dissuade him, try and convince him Drew might be a good player, and the conversation will go something like this:

Supporter: J.D. Drew is very good at baseball.

Detractor: Drew is hurt all the time, doesn’t hit many home runs and doesn’t drive anybody in. What am I missing?

Supporter: Well, you’re missing that he is on base all the time, that he hits with quite a bit of power and that given the type of player he is, one that puts the ball in play more seldom than most, he’s bound to have smallish RBI totals. Also, he plays great defense.

Detractor: Fine, fine. Maybe it’s his demeanor that gets me. But you have to admit, he’s overpaid.

And it’s right about there that the legions of Drew supporters – and they’re out there – lose their energy. It seems we have arrived at a place on Drew where fans who think he’s not a very good player have come around on that front while the olive branch from the pro-J.D. side is to concede that Drew may be overpaid. To get a good sense for the mindset of the Drew detractor, check out this August piece from Bleacher Report. Keep in mind that Bleacher Report is all bloggy and of the intertubes and forward thinking and part of the future. Drew hate is not limited to the broadsheets and tabloids. Here’s a little taste:

The Red Sox are probably wishing that Victor Martinez was a right fielder so they could sit Drew and his $14 million salary for the rest of the season.

Instead the Red Sox will keep trotting Drew out to right field while Martinez will have to check the lineup everyday to see if he is catching, playing first base, DHing or sitting on the bench.

The Red Sox front office is probably counting the days till Drew’s contract ends in 2011. Until then they are liable for the $28 million they still owe Drew.

Drew and Boras are probably laughing all the way to the bank thinking of how they duped the Red Sox into thinking Drew would actually earn the money they are paying him.

This is nothing new, either. Here is something called JT the Brick responding to news of Drew’s signing in Boston:

Christmas has come early to every member of the Boston sports media as J.D. Drew has agreed to a new five-year, $70 million contract. There is no doubt in my mind that Drew will eventually get run out of Beantown by the Red Sox fans and several members of the media after they figure out what he is all about.

Drew comes to Boston as one of the most hated players in the modern history of the game and with a reputation as a player who always gets hurt and rarely smiles.

Boston sports media institution Bob Ryan wasted no time, saying to Theo Epstein on a conference call announcing the Drew acquisition, "“On behalf of an eager constituency, let’s hope the rumor is not true" before Epstein could even speak. Boston Dirt Dogs, in one of its characteristically bland posts lacking any sort of wit or creativity, described Drew's role this way:

Media Gathers In Anticipation of Press Conference to Introduce the Man Who Would Replace Trot Nixon at Five Times the Salary

Oh, how Steve Silva loves him some Trot Nixon. Anyway, you see the point. Many do not like J.D. Drew. Those who concede he might be decent at baseball will complain of his injuries or how much money he makes. That he's hit .276/.390/.485 since joining the Red Sox, or that he's a terrific defensive player, are no matter.

I imagine those reading this are familiar with the Fangraphs practice of assigning a dollar value to each Win Above Replacement (WAR). Baseball Analysts’ Sky Andrecheck has his own methodology as well. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs has already addressed the question of whether or not Drew is overpaid (he's not). This piece will not set out to determine whether or not Drew was worth the money per se – that discussion is subject to countless variables which are specific to individual team needs and budgets, and even how one assigns a dollar value to a player's performance.

Instead, we will just have a look at how his performance has stacked up against the other free agents in his class. After all, given the CBA, there is no sense in comparing Drew to a pre-arb player like Matt Kemp or guys who have never been unrestricted like Matt Holliday or Albert Pujols. By the same token, it’s not fair to evaluate Boston’s choice to ink Drew to a 5-year, $70M contract by pointing out cheaper players that might have put up comparable value. Unrestricted free agents are paid differently, and we should evaluate Drew vis-a-vis this peer group in determining to what extent he has “earned” his money. The Red Sox needed an outfielder heading into the 2007 season, had nobody they felt could fill the role internally and did not wish to make a trade. They turned to the free agent market.

So let’s see how Drew compares to his 2006-2007 free agent class. Then we can assess whether the Red Sox made a good decision, and if Drew has held up his end of the bargain. We will start first with a look at every free agent that signed a contract for a total value of more than $9.5 million in the off-season preceding the 2007 campaign. For Kei Igawa and Daisuke Matsuzaka, I have included posting fees in their respective total contract values. "Duration" is in years and "Total $" in millions of dollars.

Player	        POS    Duration	  Total $ Value
Soriano, A.	OF	  8	       136
Zito, B.	SP	  7            126
Matsuzaka, D.	SP	  6	       103.1
Lee, C. 	OF        6            100
Ramirez, A.	3B	  5	        75
Drew, J.D.	OF        5     	70
Meche, Gil	SP        5     	55
Matthews, Jr.	OF	  5     	50
Schmidt, J.	SP        3	        47
Igawa, K.	SP	  5	        46
Pierre, J.	OF        5      	44
Suppan, J.	SP	  4	        42
Lilly, T.	SP	  4	        40
Lugo, J.	SS	  4	        36
Padilla, V.	SP	  3	        33.75
Batista, M.	SP        3	        25
Eaton, A.	SP	  3	        24.5
Mussina, M.	SP	  2	        23
Marquis, J.	SP	  3             21
Huff, A.	1B        3     	20
Edmonds, J. 	OF        2             19
Baez, D.        RP        3             19
Garciaparra, N.	1B	  2	        18.5
Thomas, F.	DH	  2	        18.12
Roberts. D.	OF        3	        18
Speier, J.	RP        4	        18
Molina, B.	C	  3	        16
Pettitte, A.	SP	  1	        16
Bonds, B.	OF        1	        15.8
Gonzalez, Alex	SS	  3	        14
Durham Ray	2B        2             14
DeRosa, Mark	3B        3	        13
Catalanotto, F.	OF	  3	        13
Mulder, Mark	SP	  2	        13
Williams, W.	SP	  2	        12.5
Hernandez, O.	SP        2	        12
Walker, J.	RP	  3	        12
Dellucci, D.	OF	  3	        11.5
Schoenweis, S.	RP        3             10.8
Bradford, C.	RP	  3	        10.5
Glavine, T.	SP	  1	        10.5
Maddux, G.	SP        1	        10
Kennedy, A.	2B	  3	        10
Payton, J.	OF	  2	         9.5

Prior to the 2007 season, Drew signed the 6th richest free agent contract as reflected by total value over the life of the deal. Bob Ryan was aghast. I recall LA Times columnist T.J. Simers booked solid for a full week on Boston sports radio to rail against Drew.

I want to frame Drew's relative value as clearly as I can here, so I will next present a list of players who have provided negative or no value at all - replacement level value or worse - over the life of their respective deals signed. Let's try and contextualize the term overpaid as it relates to Major League Baseball players for folks like JT the Brick. We will use Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement to measure on-field contribution.

Player     POS  Duration  Total $   WAR since '07
Schoenweis  RP	   3	   10.8	        -1.5
Dellucci    OF	   3	   11.5	        -1.5
Matthews    OF	   5	    50	        -1.1
Walker      RP	   3        12	        -0.6
Baez        RP	   3	    19	        -0.5
Mulder      SP	   2	    13	        -0.4
Igawa       SP	   5	    46	        -0.2
Speier      RP	   4	    18	        -0.2
Garciaparra 1B	   2	   18.5	        -0.2
Williams    SP	   2	   12.5	        -0.1
Roberts     OF	   3	    18	        -0.1
Catalanotto OF	   3	    13	        -0.1
Schmidt     SP	   3	    47  	 0
Eaton  	    SP	   3	   24.5          0

That's $313.8 million (!) paid out to players that have provided less value than your typical AAAA Minor League veteran kicking around just about any organization. You see that list right above this paragraph? THOSE guys are overpaid. Prior to the 2007 season, Ned Colletti saw fit to guarantee Nomar Garciaparra $18.5 million, in part to replace the offense J.D. Drew had provided. The Nomar deal was a masterstroke in comparison to his signing of Jason Schmidt. The Dodgers had decided they did not want to try and re-sign Drew once he decided he wanted to exercise his opt-out. Said Colletti:

"He wants out, he can have out. He's moving on, we're moving on. We'll find players who like playing here. If he doesn't want to be here, he has the right to leave, and he's exercising that right."

But Drew didn't necessarily want to leave Los Angeles. He just wanted more guaranteed money, and had every right to exercise the option in his contract. Here's Drew's agent, Scott Boras from the same ESPN article:

"J.D. was very happy in Los Angeles. He liked the players. He liked the team. & He's not opposed to going back," Boras said. "We let the Dodgers know we're interested in returning and discussing a new contract. Obviously, it was something we had to do in free agency."

Bill Plaschke chimed in:

Losing J.D. Drew is the best thing to happen to the Dodgers since they lost Milton Bradley...

They can take the $33 million that he just dropped in their pockets -- $11 million annually -- and use it to get stronger and tougher and better.

So instead of entertaining re-signing Drew, how did the Dodgers address their roster prior to the 2007 campaign? They dished out $109.5 million to Nomar, Schmidt and Juan Pierre, three players who contributed a combined 3.4 wins in three seasons. You don't need to be Tom Tango or Sky Andrecheck to figure out that $32 million per win is not great value.

Ok, so we know there were a bunch of atrocious contracts handed out in the 2006-2007 off-season, by the Dodgers and plenty of other teams, so right off the bat we know Drew is going to be looking better than those that provided negative or no value. Well what if we set aside money for a moment and just try and assess who the best players of that class have been since the beginning of the 2007 season?

Player     POS  Duration  Total $   WAR since '07
Ramirez     3B	   5	    75	        12.3
Meche       SP     5        55          10.9
Drew        OF     5        70          10.3
Lilly       SP     4        40          10.0
Mussina     SP     2        23           8.2
DeRosa      IF     3        13           8.1
Soriano     OF     8       136           8.0
Matsuzaka   SP     6       103           7.7
Marquis     SP     2        21           7.3

If WAR is to be believed, J.D. Drew has been the third most productive player of his class since 2007, just behind Gil Meche and a ways behind Aramis Ramirez, who is just a terrific baseball player. Since we know he signed the sixth largest contract that off-season, checking in as the third most productive player suggests Drew has offered the Red Sox considerable value. To distill his peer group even further, how about we look at other outfielders, this time with a cost per win calculation included.

Player	Duration Total $  WAR	$ per win
Bonds	    1	  15.8	  3.9	4.05
Drew	    5	  70	  10.3	4.07
Lee	    6	  100	  9.2	5.43
Pierre	    5	  44	  3.6	7.33
Edmonds	    2	  19	  1.9	10.00
Payton	    2	  9.5	  0.7	13.57
Dellucci    3	  11.5	 -1.5	NA
Matthews    5	  50	 -1.1	NA
Roberts     3	  18	 -0.1	NA
Catalanotto 3	  13	 -0.1	NA

This list tells us that, outside of Barry Bonds and the one-year deal he signed in his last season, no team that signed a free agent outfielder before the 2007 season has enjoyed a better bargain on a per-season basis than the Red Sox have in paying for Drew's services.

Successfully negotiating the free agent market is a critical component of Major League Baseball roster composition. You can promote from within your organization, you can make a splashy trade, you can lock up your pre-arb players and buy out a year or two of their free agency. But you also must dabble in the free agent market in order to assemble a championship caliber club. Given this fact of life for MLB General Managers, it is useful to evaluate the "value" of a certain deal vis-a-vis other free agents and more specifically, other free agents that were available that year. Supply matters when evaluating value. And if you think of the J.D. Drew contract in this light, not only has his contract turned out to be a worthwhile one for the Red Sox, but it's been a full-fledged bargain.


I'd be interested to see a chart comparing $/win across multiple free agent years to see if there are any trends in the market. Does collusion actually happen? Has the "Moneyball" approach created less variance? These are questions I'd love to see answered by people who are much better at research than I am.

I like this idea a lot, Jason. Thanks for raising it!

I think the sorts of people who call J.D. Drew overrated and overpaid are the sorts of people who don't give a damn about WAR. What to make of that?

That Bleacher Report article was just weird. It was written like the whole saber movement didn't exist, only mentioning BA and RBI. Oh, and his July '09 slugging percentage (ok...). And to suggest that Drew might be the most(!!) overpaid player in baseball when there are contracts like those of Vernon Wells, Soriano, etc. is clearly absurd.

Hunter, look at the lists above and forget that it says "WAR". Instead, imagine it says awesomeness. Would you care to argue that Gary Matthews, Jr has been more awesome than JD? Or that Aramis Ramirez isn't one heck of an awesome player? When you look at those lists, what looks off to you?

those of Vernon Wells, Soriano, etc. is clearly absurd.