Wednesday, July 22, 2009

J.D. Drew and the shift

(A tip of the cap to the fans at Sons of Sam Horn.)

J.D. Drew went 0-for-4 on Tuesday night and now is hitless since the All-Star break. He's 3 for his last 44 (.068), albeit with eight walks, dating back to July 4. For the season, he's hitting .239 with a .364 on-base percentage and a .453 slugging percentage. The last time he finished a season hitting under .260 or getting on base at a clip worse than .370 was in 2002 with St. Louis.

The entire Red Sox lineup has hit a horrific slump. Jason Bay has seen his OPS tumble from 1.120 on May 13 all the way down below .900. David Ortiz seemed to be back to his old tricks in June but is hitting .218 with a .279 on-base percentage in July. Jason Varitek has four extra-base hits in the last four weeks. No one -- no one -- seems to be able to do anything from the top spot in the order.

But you build a house one wall at a time, and you lay out a baseball diamond one base at a time. Let's start with Drew and go from there.

Many of J.D. Drew's peripheral stats remain the same as last season. His ground-ball percentage is the same. His fly-ball percentage is the same. His line-drive percentage is the same.

His strikeout rate is up from 21.7 percent a year ago to 28.6 percent this season, a jump largely attributable to a declining swing pecentage while pitchers are throwing an increasing number of pitches in the strike zone. But strikeouts haven't been his only problem this season.

What, then, is different?

Here's something to check out: Drew's batting average on ground balls, fly balls and line drives. These numbers usually don't mean much. Most players, of course, have spectacular batting averages on line drives and fairly mediocre batting averages on everything else. But let's take a look, anyway.

Drew's batting average on fly balls
2009: .284
2008: .269
Career: ..212

Drew's batting average on line drives
2009: .786
2008: .771
Career: .807

Drew's batting average on ground balls
2009: .148
2008: .281
Career: .234

There it is.

Drew actually is having better luck in getting his fly balls to drop than he has in the past. The ground balls he's hitting, though, are rolling into gloves far more than usual. He's getting hits on ground balls at half the rate he saw last season.

Why is that? Well, let's keep going: Let's look at where Drew's ground balls are going. This blog doesn't have access to some of the advanced spray charts out there, but if you just look at Drew's home games on, you get a pretty decent picture.

First, click "Ground outs."

Then, click "ALL."

Drew is capable of hitting the ball over the field. Just check out his 2008 spray chart, a graphic that shows Drew homering over the Green Monster twice, doubling off the Green Monster five or six times, and spraying ground ball after ground ball to shortstop.

This season, though, everything he's hit on the ground has gone to the right side of the infield. Everything. Drew has grounded out to shortstop twice all season. He has grounded out to third base zero times.

The Toronto Blue Jays responded to Drew's tendencies by employing a David Ortiz-esque overshift. Drew went hitless in three games against the Blue Jays; he grounded out to the right side of the infield five times. The more Drew insists on pulling the ball on the ground, the more he'll see teams employing that shift on him.

Why is that? In some ways -- and, again, we don't have access to the advanced "Pitch f/x" charts here at OneIfByLand -- there's reason to believe he is being pitched differently. Throughout his career, he's seen fastballs on about 55 percent of the pitches he's been thrown. This season, though, he's seeing fastballs 60 percent of the time -- all the while seeing fewer sliders, cutters and changeups. That's a pretty substantial jump.

The biggest hole in Drew's strike zone a year ago was on the inside part of the plate between his hands and his knees. He hit better than .300 throughout the rest of the stroke zone but hit .194 on pitches inside at the hands and hit .235 on pitches inside at the knees. If pitchers are attacking that zone -- particularly with fastballs -- it seems almost inevitable that he'd hit a lot of ground balls to second base.

Drew might want to go the other way. He did so with great effectiveness last season. But teams may not be giving him that option -- and if you try to go the other way with a pitch inside and down at the knees, all you're going to do is hit a soft pop fly to shortstop.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ryan at, we now know that Drew's batting average actually has increased significantly on pitches down and in but has dropped on pitches down and over the plate and down and away. Those are the pitches that, if you don't attack them the right away, are really easy to roll to second base for routine outs.

Opposing pitchers have made a terrific adjustment on Drew. It's up to him to make his own.


Anonymous said...

Hit zones last year

313 .. 350 .. 310
194 .. 325 .. 354
235 .. 315 .. 317

Hit zones this year

214 .. 427 .. 358
276 .. 374 .. 341
330 .. 296 .. 252

Hit zone BA point change

-99 .. +77 .. +48
+82 .. +49 .. -13
+95 .. -19 .. -65

Last year groundball hit zones

5.4% .. 6.4% .. 26.6%

This year GB hit zones

8.0% .. 7.0% .. 29.0%

So pitches middle-away, middle-down, and down-away have all seen drops in average and yet his groundball pull percentage is up [goes hand in hand]. Please, Magadan, get him to go left with those pitches, if even just as a slumpbuster.


Brian MacPherson said...

Thanks, Ryan, for those numbers. That's exactly what I was looking for.