It’s hard to believe, but a full quarter of the baseball season has come and gone. The Indians are in first place (albeit barely) and the team has mostly lived up to expectations: solid offense, shaky starting rotation, stellar bullpen. One of the biggest changes from 2011/2012 to 2013, however, was the addition of a great outfield defense anchored by Michael “Dr. Smooth” Brantley, Gold Glove winner Michael Bourn, and a scrawny guy acquired from the Reds in Drew Stubbs.
I admit, I didn’t know a lot about Drew Stubbs before the Reds included him as a throw-in as part of the Shin-Soo Choo/Trevor Bauer deal. The first discussion I really had about Drew took place at a blackjack table in Biloxi, MS, when a Reds fan drunkenly exclaimed that I “was going to love Drew Stubbs.”
Here’s the weird part: I’m positive that my blackjack buddy was expressing a sentiment widely known as “sarcasm” but there is nothing sarcastic about my love for Drew Stubbs.
The key to loving Stubbs? Having appropriate expectations.
If fans want to view Stubbs as the heir apparent to Shin-Soo Choo, they will be sorely disappointed by almost everything he does, as it is inferior to the Korean sensation. Personally, I like to compare him to Jack Hannahan.
“Jack Hannahan? That career journeyman third baseman? Well, both Stubbs’ and Hannahan’s bats are terrible, so that’s a fair but weird comparison” -This is generally the sentiment I hear when I tell someone to think of Stubbs in relation to Hannahan. For both players, their value is obscured by talents that aren’t borne out in traditional statistics. I also like the comparison because both ostensibly played the same role within the offense: hitting 9th with very low expectations. With that said, I’m going to attempt to briefly show how Stubbs compares to Hannahan and comes out on the other side smelling like roses.
First, let’s look at Hannahan’s career in Cleveland. He was acquired as a free agent (minor league deal) prior to the 2011 campaign and managed to ride a hot spring into a mediocre 2-year career on the North Coast. In his two years he hit .247/.323/.363 with 12 HRs and 2 stolen bases. To his credit, Hannahan struck out in under 10% of his plate appearances, but this is a very minor claim to fame.
SIDE TANGENT: This is something I should put out there whenever I analyze players, because everyone values different statistics differently. Generally, I value production statistics (AVG/OBP/SLG) more than I value looking at the methods of production (HR vs. singles — Strikeouts vs. GB/FBs). While I believe the methods of production do bear fruit, they are not as independently useful as raw output numbers. If a player hits too many singles as opposed to HRs, for instance, we will see that reflected in his slugging percentage. In short, I don’t put a TON of stock into how much a player strikes out. It is one unproductive out, which hurts no more or less than when a batter fails to hit situationally elsewhere during the course of a game. Strikeouts can be frustrating and do reflect (to a degree) the ability of the player to make contact, but I will donwplay the impact of offensive strikeouts moreso than a lot of statistically-minded people. End tangent.
Jack stuck around in Cleveland because he possesses a major-league quality glove, not because he was a good (or even particularly serviceable) hitter. Hannahan possesses a .968 career fielding percentage at 3B, which is good but unremarkable. I don’t want to trash Jack Hannahan in this space because I accepted him for what he did for the Indians teams he played on (and I know a lot of fans had a soft spot for Jack in their hearts). Manny Acta never asked Hannahan to carry the team offensively, and this relationship worked well.
So, what’s the appropriate expectation for Drew Stubbs? Let’s look at his career offensive numbers, and then his 2013 numbers:
CAREER: .241/.311/.384 62 HR 115 SBs 29.3% K-rate (5 seasons)
2013: .243/.295/.368 3 HR 5 SBs 30.4% K-Rate
Basically, the Stubbs you see is the Stubbs you get. The drop-off in OBP and SLG is a little worrying, but I’ll chalk it up to two reasons 1) the transition from Great American Ballpark (Hitters park) to Progressive Field (pitchers park) and 2) Small sample size.
The thing that I want to stress is that Drew Stubbs is, at worst, as skilled offensively as Jack Hannahan. I say “at worst” because we haven’t seen his power or speed translate into raw statistics yet, but I believe that it is still coming. Stubbs has a much higher ceiling offensively than Hannahan: he should hit far more home runs than and steal significantly more bases than the departed third baseman.
Speed is a part of Stubbs’ game that I can’t stress enough. When Jack Hannahan got a 2-out single during the last two years, it didn’t have an impact on the game in the way that a 2-out single from Stubbs does. Stubbs can easily steal his way into scoring position, and that sets the top of the lineup up to succeed in run-scoring situations. While Stubbs is not the guy I want batting during RBI chances, his presence significantly increases the number of RBI chances for his teammates.
Stubbs’ glove is also an asset that never gets the appropriate amount of discussion. His career fielding percentage in the outfield is .989; he’s only made 14 errors in 525 games. So, if Stubbs gets to a ball, he almost always catches it. With the speed that he has, he gets to a lot of balls that Choo never could, meaning that while he isn’t driving in a ton of runs at the plate, he’s creating them on the basepaths and saving them in the field.
Yeah, the strikeouts suck. Watching a player struggle to a .240 average with multiple strikeouts every night is frustrating, but it’s not necessarily bad. Stubbs has a lot of holes in his swing, but the Indians seem to be okay with that. When deployed at the bottom of the lineup the impact of his strikeouts is diminished (fewer players on base = fewer chances for a strikeout to screw up a run chance), and the impact of his speed is maximized. For the power, speed, and fielding that the team gets from Stubbs on every play, the subpar hitting ability is something the team can live with.
This is a reality of a small-market team. Teams don’t pay big bucks for fast guys with a reliable glove, and so that’s one of the angles the Indians have to exploit when they have the chance. I hate when Francona bats Stubbs at leadoff when Bourn gets a day off, because I believe it saps Stubbs of all the positive value he has at the bottom of the lineup. If it were my team, I’d make sure Drew never bats higher than 8th, I’d tell him to swing away and swing hard and don’t get caught up in strikeouts, and I’d tell him to be aggressive on the basepaths and in the field.
And that, my friends, is how I stopped worrying and learned to love Drew Stubbs.
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