I know what you’re thinking: how could Stephen Drew, this Stephen Drew, the .208 batting, pop-up inducing, banana-eating Stephen Drew be the New York Yankees’ best option at second base? If you dig deeper into the advanced metrics, as well as just the pure eye test, it becomes clear that the Yankees’ most productive and dependable second sacker is already on the roster. He wears number 14, bats .208, and eats bananas during baseball games. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Stephen Drew, your best playoff second baseman.
But how is this possible? Stephen Drew is horrible! This is simply not true. It is important that we all assess Stephen Drew with a clear mind, without thinking about his ugly 2014 and somehow more putrid first two months of 2015. If you heard that the Yankees’ second baseman was batting .246 since the beginning of June with a .317 OBP and 12 homers, you’d be thinking that while the Yankees don’t have no Robinson Cano, they’ve got a solid second baseman. Well, what if I told you that Robinson Cano’s season stats read as follows: .280 AVG, .327 OBP, 14 HR. This is a second baseman that is considered among the league’s best, and his slash line over the whole season is remarkably similar to Stephen Drew’s since June, with the exception of average.
Now we cannot compare these two players completely because Stephen Drew was atrocious in April and May. While there were 5 homers peppered in, his average stood at .160, he had committed an uncharacteristic 4 errors, and he was just generating nothing but weak contact. This version of Stephen Drew was bad, and had to be replaced. But who to replace him? Rob Refsnyder, who had been raking in AAA? Jose Pirela, who had impressed in Spring Training? Brendan Ryan, who was injured? Ben Zobrist or Martin Prado, who were both on other ballclubs? Well how about good old Drewski himself? Drew’s performance since summer began has been representative of a totally new ballplayer, one that the Yankees can win with.
Indeed, the numbers back it up. Drew’s season WRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus, where 100 is league average) sits at a modest 84. But his WRC+ since June has been an exceptional 115, and his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play, which is usually higher than your average and indicates good/bad luck) is actually lower than his AVG, standing at .241. This tells us that Drew has had some bad luck in even these successful months. Drew’s fielding has also settled down. He has only made 1 error since June began, and he has even made more than his career averages in “routine”, “likely”, and “even” plays at second base, meaning that his range and comfort at the new positon has actually improved. Throw this all together, and you’ve got a player worth 0.7 WAR (wins above replacement), even including the rough start. And if you were to just gather WAR since June 1st, the figure would be somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5, a good big league starter.
But what’s most important here isn’t Drew’s turnaround, it’s more about if he’s the best option for the Yankees in October. And the answer is yes. Rob Refsnyder has had a good year at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with a .271 AVG, 9 homers, 12 steals, and a .761 OPS. But these numbers at AAA are only what Stephen Drew has put together since June 1st (minus the steals). Jose Pirela has been even better at AAA, batting .325 with 3 homers and a huge .390 OBP, as well as showcasing the ability to play anywhere. However his big league trial didn’t go all that well from May-July, where he batted .221 with a measly .239 OBP. Both of these players mainly struggle with defense at second base. Refsnyder has committed 18 errors in Scranton, and Pirela has amassed a whopping 5 in only 31 MLB games. Meanwhile, Stephen Drew has hit at a respectable clip and has fielded like a Gold Glover in their stead. And while Ben Zobrist and Martin Prado are attractive names, their batting production is similar to Drew’s. The value of these players is more in a super-utility role, not as a starting second baseman.
So while Stephen Drew has not been the MLB’s best second baseman by a long shot, he has been productive enough for the Yankees, batting ninth and playing second base against righties, that he deserves to be here not only today, but in October, when the team will need someone as dependable as Drewski himself. His Yankees teammates refer to Drew as “Dirt” affectionately due to his grinding mentality. So while Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela are more exciting, the Yankees need dependability right now, and that’s why the .208 batting, pop-up inducing, banana eating Stephen “Dirt” Drew is still here, starting at second base, and silently being a key part of a winning ballclub.