Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jason Bay and J.D. Drew

Probably because there's nothing else to talk about -- it's not as if Josh Beckett is pitching tonight and the Patriots are less than a week away from their final roster cut-down -- sports talk radio hosts today have decided, once again, to hammer J.D. Drew.

(Yes, I know: It's better to ignore it. Sometimes, though, it gets absurd.)

Paul Byrd had an awfully nice-looking line on Sunday: Six shutout innings in his first start in the major leagues in almost a year. That line doesn't look as nice, though, if the fly ball Jose Bautista hit into the right-field corner falls for a hit -- a fly ball hauled in on the run by J.D. Drew.

Many fans remember the lunging catch Drew made in extra innings at Yankee Stadium, a tremendous snag that would have become legendary had the Red Sox ended up winning the game. But that's not the only above-average defensive play Drew has made this season.

Here's the Fielding Bible's plus-minus leaderboard for right fielders:
1. Ichiro Suzuki, plus-22
t-2. Hunter Pence and Ryan Church, plus-16
t-4. Nelson Cruz and J.D. Drew, plus-15
t-6. Nick Swisher and Kosuke Fukudome, plus-13

That means Drew has made 15 plays this season that the average right fielder wouldn't make. Most of those plays have been in the deepest part of the ballpark -- he's plus-14 going back on the ball.

Compare that to, to pick a name at random, Jason Bay.

(OK, it's not random.)

Bay plays the game on an even keel. He smiles at jokes in the locker room and laughs with his buddies, but he doesn't express himself much on the field. Whether he hits a home run or strikes out -- something he does more than anyone on the team -- he has the same expression of stoicism on his face. He doesn't throw his bat when he pops up. He doesn't point to the sky when he hits a double. He answers reporters' questions thoughtfully and makes himself available to the media often without appearing to draw attention to himself.

In other words, personality-wise, he's Drew without the drawl.

Bay hasn't been an above-average defensive left fielder for years. He was a minus-11 two years ago and a minus-7 last year, and he's a minus-10 this year. He's particularly bad going back on the ball -- he's minus-16 going back on the ball this season as compared to plus-3 in each of the past two seasons.

That's right: He plays his home games in the smallest left field in the major leagues, and yet he's minus-16 on deep fly balls.

OK, so, defensively, Drew has a leg up on Bay.

At the plate, well, here's how the team stacks up in terms of OPS:

1. Kevin Youkilis, .980
2. Jason Bay, .915
3. J.D. Drew, .879
4. Mike Lowell, .855
5. Dustin Pedroia, .814

Bay has better numbers than Drew. He hits for more power. But would you ever have guessed that the gap between Youkilis and Bay is larger -- much larger, in fact -- than the gap between Bay and Drew? Would you ever have guessed that Drew has a higher OPS this season than Evan Longoria (.859), Ichiro Suzuki (.855), Victor Martinez (.844), Ian Kinsler (.842) and Nick Markakis (.836)?

Drew catches hit, it seems, mostly for his contract. He signed a five-year, $70 million deal that makes him the highest-paid player on the Red Sox.

But while Bay will earn just $7.5 million this season, he'll hit the free-agent market this winter with his eyes on a deal worth $15 or $16 million annually. If Drew can get $14 million, he and his camp will rationalize, why shouldn't he get $15 million or more?

Here's why: Drew, for all the grief he gets in Boston, is the better player.

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