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.

Follow Adam on Twitter (@palagoon) for more Indians related analysis and humor.


  • The Doctor says:

    i wouldn’t go as far as to say i “love” drew stubbs, but he doesn’t infuriate me nearly as much as i expected him to, which is saying something (presently i’ll reserve the bulk of my loathing for cabrera, giambi, and the thankfully demoted chisenhall). i’m certainly with you on wanting to pull my hair out when francona bats him leadoff.

  • DP Roberts says:

    Here’s a followup question for you – do you love Drew Stubbs or Ryan Raburn more? Obviously, Raburn is off to a stellar start this year. In most offensive categories, Raburn has been more productive during his career than Stubbs. Their fielding percentages in RF are nearly identical (.969 for Raburn vs. .970 for Stubbs).

    Stubbs is also known for striking out a lot, averaging 127 Ks per year vs. 55 for Raburn – however, Stubbs has had about twice as many ABs per year as Raburn, so if you average them out it’s closer, but Raburn still wins. When you consider Stubb’s increased ABs per year, Raburn beats him in every category except stolen bases.

    • Adam Hintz says:

      Stubbs. Raburn is over 30, he’s shown that he’s incredibly feast or famine his entire career, and he’s not particularly valuable on the basepaths.

      I’d say Stubbs plays the better right field… he has such a small sample there that his fielding % is skewed, but his overall fielding % in the outfield is much higher (.996 or something).

      I think Stubbs has the higher ceiling, is more consistent, and a better fielder. I take Drew.

  • Steve Alex says:

    Right on. Stubbs has been solid beyond the stats. What doesn’t show in the box score is the pitcher who freaks out and throws a meatball or chucks a pickoff throw into the dugout because he’s worried about Stubbs stealing a base, or him taking an extra base on a routine out, or the other ways speed can change a game. In addition, Stubbs’ 7 total bases tonight pushed his slugging percentage over .400 for the season. He also has only one fewer RBI than our $56 million cleanup hitter who bats 4th every night. He’s also under team control longer than Choo would have been and brought three other good players with him in the trade. So I’m definitely down with appreciating Drew Stubbs.

  • DP Roberts says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Stubbs – he is performing exactly as advertised. And so far, I’m loving the trade that got him. As I was just saying on another forum, Matt Albers is doing better than expected, Bryan Shaw has been outstanding with an ERA of 1.54 in 18 appearances – if Bauer can be half the pitcher we’re all hoping he’ll be, I’d call it an outstanding trade.

    I was not trying to say that Rayburn is better than Stubbs, or that he should be playing right field. I’m just saying that the guy is performing nearly as well as Stubbs so far, and better in some categories, and we paid nothing for him (he’s making a third of what Stubbs is making). So, I like Stubbs for being exactly what we hoped he would be. I love Raburn for (so far) being much more than we hoped he would be. If he can keep it up anything near this pace for the rest of the season, I’d call that him more successful acquisition than Stubbs just because he’s beating expectations.

    Secondly, as many in the national media pointed out tonight, Raburn is part of a bench that is outstanding as a whole. If the Indians are going to need to trade for some more pitching (which seems likely), they look like they have the depth to do it. If Raburn can be a guy that the Indians buy low & sell high, I like his value even more.

  • DaveR says:

    Alex throwing down the random stat that wakes me up. With all this offense you’d think Swisher is right there but he’s sitting at 16 RBI which is currently 6th on the team. Also he is batting .189 with RISP compared to 2012 when he hit .301. Hmmmm. But I do remember a pre-season prediction post claiming we’d love-hate-then love Swisher this season and it’s only May. He has time.

    • Adam Hintz says:

      You know what’s funny about Nick Swisher? He’s doing nothing exceptionally but doing everything well. There’s nothing wrong with the .274/.382/.493 he’s put up, and if you believe OPS+ is a good measure of skill relative to the rest of the league, then Swish is having his best offensive season yet with a 143 OPS+ (100 is average). In the last three years he’s been between 120-129 OPS+ with the Yankees.

      Just some food for thought.