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Stephen Drew is a decent sleeper option in deep leagues for 2015

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Maddux used to say that hitting was timing, and pitching was disrupting timing. Maddux based his approach on changing speeds, changing eye levels, and throwing pitches with incredible movement. He built a first ballot hall of fame career primarily based on disrupting the timing of hitters.

There’s a good argument to be made that Stephen Drew’s problem in 2014 was a timing issue. Drew didn't sign with a team until late May. He went from October 30-June 2 without playing in a major league baseball game and had only 23 PA in the minor leagues to prepare for the season. His numbers in those minor league tune up games were poor and suggested that he was not ready for his 2014 MLB debut:

K%

BB%

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

39.1%

8.7%

.238

.304

.381

88

A 39% strikeout rate with a below average wRC+ in the minor leagues does not suggest that Drew was ready to take on MLB quality pitching.

Drew had been about a league average hitter for his career until last year. The drop off, at age 31, was massive.  Drew had the worst wRC+ in baseball at 44 (min. 300 PA), 52 points lower than his previous career wRC+ of 96.

Compare Drew’s 2014 season to his 2013 season:

Table 1

Year

wRC+

K%

BB%

AVG

OBP

SLG

2014

44

25.0%

9.0%

.162

.237

.299

2013

109

24.8%

10.8%

.253

.333

.443

Table 2

Year

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

Hard hit%

BABIP

2014

17.4%

31.3%

51.3%

12.0%

10.0%

.194

2013

25.2%

33.2%

41.6%

11.9%

15.0%

.320

You can point to his hideous batting average on balls in play and claim that Drew was unlucky in 2014, but BABIP is more than just a function of luck. Among hitters with at least 300 PA in 2014, Drew’s fly ball% was third highest in baseball, and Drew’s hard hit% was 12th worst in baseball. The high FB%, combined with his weak quality of contact, is a recipe for a low BABIP.

The good news for Drew is that his strikeout, walk and swinging strike rates were similar to 2013. It’s the type of contact that Drew made that was the biggest problem for him. Drew’s fly ball % in 2014 was 10 percentage points higher than his career norm to that point. It’s possible that Drew’s timing was off just enough all year that he was getting under the ball consistently. Baseball is a game of millimeters, a few millimeters lower on the ball can be the difference between a well struck line drive and a harmless fly ball that lands in the outfielder's glove.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman is hopeful that Drew can revert to his prior form:

"Hopefully, he can put last year behind him and be the player he was before then," Cashman said. "He has a history of being a really good player prior to a season that didn't play out the way anybody expected.

"It was just something that's so far out of the norm for his capabilities. The contract reflects that and we're certainly hopeful that he can revert back.

The Yankees, a 2.3 billion dollar franchise, are gambling on a bounce back year for Drew in 2015. Fantasy owners in deep leagues should consider it, too.

Drew will begin the season as the full time 2B for the Yankees and will have both SS and 2B eligibility. Cashman indicated that if Drew continues to perform poorly, his small contract will allow them to cut bait with him, so if he gets off to a slow start, have a backup plan.

Drew is a big risk, but for owners in deep leagues who need a sleeper at SS or 2B, he's a decent gamble.