Originally posted on The Flagrant Fan  |  Last updated 4/11/13
There was a time when I supported Stephen Drew as one of the most underrated shortstops in baseball. If you search my site, you will probably find a post or two on the subject. But that was before he broke his ankle and fell out of favor in Arizona. Since that injury, Stephen Drew has not yet been able to recapture his elite shortstop status. I waited for years for Drew to have that one big season and it never came. Now people are expecting Drew to be at least as good as he was despite not ever having the breakout season. I suspect they will be disappointed too. The Red Sox broke out of the gate this season in impressive fashion. A combination of good pitching, great fielding and timely hitting won them five of their first seven games. Jose Iglesias was right in the middle of all that. And to be sure, the batting numbers Iglesias put up in those first seven games were misleading. Five of his hits were infield swinging bunts. His ground ball rate rivaled Jeter's. And there is no way that Iglesias was going to have a BABIP over .500 for the season. But if you discount all of that, there was still his defense. Defense rarely goes in slumps. Iglesias has had a chance to rival Hardy and Ryan as the best fielding shortstop in the American League. Drew fell off to negative territory last season for the A's and sure, the ankle not being right is a big part of that. The 25.8 runs above average Drew put up for the Diamondbacks at shortstop between 2008 and 2011 were impressive. After a year of being below average in 2012, is it only fair to assume that Drew can improve to league average this season? Let us assume that Drew does field up to league average. The common theory is that his bat is much more reliable than Jose Iglesias'. But is that really the case? Fenway Park is not the hitter-friendly park that people think it is. To be sure, Drew will hit a few homers that Iglesias would never hit. Drew will probably receive a few more walks than Iglesias would have. But all that being said, Drew has not been much of a hitter in the 86 games before he broke his ankle nor in the 79 games since he has returned. Here is what ZiPS assumes: Stephen Drew will improve his fielding to league average, will be a slightly below league average base runner and will finish the season with 1.4 WAR. Now let's go over to the Iglesias side. ZiPS assumes that his defense would be worth at least eight runs above average. I think it would have been higher. ZiPS assumes that Iglesias would be a slightly above average base runner and that he would be a lousy hitter and accumulate 1.5 WAR. If you look at those two projections--and granted, what happens on the field can be far different--you come out to basically the same value. If you were looking at two different players and they both looked the same in value, would not you go with the better fielder? Pitching and defense is a lethal combination. It won the Giants a World Series title last season. It won a title for the Red Sox back in 2007. And it was precisely how the Red Sox were winning early this season. A middle defense of Pedroia and Iglesias is drool-worthy. It is only a coincidence that the Red Sox lost the first game Drew started since coming back from his concussion. But that is what some people will think. "Why mess with a good thing?" they will ask. I will grant you that Jose Iglesias is a terrible hitter. At best, he can hit an empty .250 and could be quite a deal worse. But I do not believe that Drew will be all that much better at the plate. Time could prove me wrong. But if I had a choice between two players of seemingly equal value, I would always go with the guy with the glove--especially a shortstop.
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