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Swing Starters: Is Drew Stubbs primed for a comeback year?

Swing Starters: Is Drew Stubbs primed for a comeback year?
March 27, 2013
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I was looking at an early March IBI Power Poll addressing best offseason addition, a tremendous piece as usual, and after realizing the culture shock we all experienced at the variety of quality additions I seemed to settle on the Choo-Bauer deal.

Of course I decided upon the distinction in my mind between player acquisition and leadership acquisition. One can’t deny that Terry Francona has and will continue to have the largest effect on the overall talent on the Indians roster over his tenure in Cleveland.

Returning to the Choo deal, almost any talent evaluator would say that the one year of Choo for five years of Bauer as well as the transaction of any other negligible talent not including Stubbs was already a tremendous win for the Indians.

The night of the deal I was elated about the acquisition of an elite pitching prospect with a seemingly unlimited ceiling but not knowing what to think about Stubbs.

Upon looking into the two players, one thing struck me as being somewhat similar between both Stubbs and Bauer, being that they were two high ceiling players being given up on by their draft teams a little too soon.

Situation: When looking at the situation alone it is hard not to envision a vast improvement from Stubbs. Drew spent the majority of his three seasons as a misused or at least miscast entity. Although Dusty Baker has an excuse for using Stubbs in the leadoff role purely because Cincinnati lacked anyone who represented a good fit at the top of the order, it simply did not work.

The misuse caused fans and the media to place heavy pressure on Stubbs to do things that he is not good at, a la getting on base at a rate expected of a leadoff man. It is relatively clear to both Stubbs and those who were in the clubhouse with him that he pressed to fit the mold of the leadoff hitter which probably suppressed or sapped other parts of his production.

Couple this with the inevitable pressure of coming up as a first round pick tasked with being a franchise cornerstone moving forward and you can understand how one could get weighed down by the pressure. One thing to consider as well is that the overarching feeling in Cincy when they acquired Choo was that they had fixed the one thing between them and being a championship contending team, the leadoff guy/centerfielder (apparently they never watched Choo play right or looked at defensive zone ratings).

Digressing, this is a tremendous situation for Stubbs; he gets a fresh start in an organization that acquired something just above a throw-in and has no in-lineup pressure. Stubbs’ speed makes him an ideal nine-hitter but without the pressure at the top of the order. When you consider who hit in the bottom of the order last year - be it Damon, Cunningham or Duncan - it makes you salivate over Drew’s floor. What is more incredible is if Stubbs returns to anything near his 4 WAR season in 2010, the Indians could have lineup depth many teams would envy.

Mechanics: During the offseason before being dealt to the Indians and since his acquisition Stubbs has spent a sizable amount of time trying to change his swing-trigger. Much like Santana in 2011 when he hit only .239, Stubbs had trouble with balance in his swing and keeping his weight back. In order to remedy this issue Stubbs is making the same fix as Carlos did, attempting to eliminate his large leg kick and substitute a small toe tap. While I do not wish to espouse that I have a scout level understanding of swing mechanics like Tony, I do think that this might help improve Drew’s contact rate and if that does not drastically affect his power output this could be a very valuable adaptation.

Statistical Analysis: This is where the argument for a bounce back season from Stubbs gets incredibly easy as almost every indicator shows that last season was a production outlier and the Reds may have overreacted thus undervaluing him as a commodity.

Year

Walk Rate

Batting Average

BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play)

2010

9.4%

.255

.330

2011

9.3%

.243

.343

2012

7.7%

.213

.290

Average

8.7%

.241

.323

Last year’s production in both BABIP and walk rate were so far outside of Stubbs’ normal production that they decreased his OBP by over 35 points compared to his career average. There are a couple of things we can infer from this data without stretching it beyond reason’s capacity.

Without any preconceived notions it is easy to assert that Stubbs was simply unlucky last season. The only time when a shift in BABIP that large can be explained is when a fast guy ages or just with the rapid deterioration of hitting skills at the end of someone’s career like Johnny Damon last season. These explanations are clearly not the case when it comes to the young and amply speedy Stubbs. Therefore it would be irrational not to expect some regression to the mean as it relates to batting average on balls in play. In which case a .235 season with 15 homers and 25 steals would be a fairly conservative projection.

However, the walk rate is not a statistic that one can simply explain away. The decrease was vast and somewhat surprising as one would expect most league corrections based on pitchers adapting to Stubbs to occur in his sophomore season where he maintained his rookie level batter’s eye. It may simply be a cyclical effect which we have all witnessed when watching hitters press through cold streaks, where the ball simply won’t fall or sneak through the infield.

Indeed, it is not rare to see hitters expanding the strike zone during seasons when simply nothing goes right for them; which judging by the tremendous variation in BABIP had to have occurred.

Therefore, be it entering a new pressure-less opportunity, improving his balance at the plate and swing mechanics, or simple regression to the mean in terms of baseballs luck factor it is clear that Drew Stubbs is set to get better in 2013.

I in no means will attempt to assert that Stubbs will post a season like 2010 again because I don’t know if the 24 home run power is really there. However, do I think that he could post a .235/.310/.380 slash line with 15 homers and 25 steals?  Absolutely. Considering we would be lucky if we got that out of the sixth slot last season, it is unbelievable to consider how much deeper this team has become.

Interact with Michael by email at  michael.hattery@gmail.com and on Twitter @MichaelHattery

User Comments

Tony
March 28, 2013 - 9:01 AM EDT
I agree that Stubbs is a wildcard. Boy, the Indians have a lot of those this year. Guys throughout the rotation and a few in the lineup that all have the potential to be damn good or painful to watch. Looking beyond Michael's H's very good breakdown of the numbers and some of the additional analysis in the comments, I still believe that what ultimately helps Stubbs is a change in scenery and moving to the end of the lineup. No longer is he under the pressure to live up to his prospect status with the Reds, now he is simply one of the guys the Indians acquired along with Bauer in the Choo trade. Also, no longer is he being forced to leadoff, a spot that is tough for a lot of guys to hit in. Now he can settle in and hit in the 8-9 spot in the order on a nightly basis and just be himself. I think he is going to have a solid bounce back season.
Tommy
March 27, 2013 - 6:36 PM EDT
Looking at his PitchFx numbers, about the only thing that stands out in 2012 compared with 2 prior years is that he saw fewer fastballs and more 2 seam and sliders. So great point on Stubbs getting more fastballs where he can drive rather than swing at junk to make contact. If on the other hand he can't get the ball out of the infield he will have more GIDP batting late in the order. Stubbs is an enigma, it will be fun to watch what he does this year.
Seth
March 27, 2013 - 3:51 PM EDT
yeah, I mean I pretty much agree with you on what we can expect from him, and what Adam said, that he's probably not THAT bad. I just don't think it had much to do with luck, that last year he was just awful and making poor contact, which is somewhat evidenced in his batted ball profile. I just think the whole BABIP/luck this is overplayed, some of it is luck, but when you see BABIP take a dive along with things like BB rate and line drive rate, it's more that player putting up some bad at bats. Like Casey Kotchman and his .233 BABIP last year. It sure seemed like most of his actual hits were "lucky". When you're hitting ground balls to the second baseman 50% of the time, not too many of them are going to sneak through. Hafner, on the other hand, his .233 BABIP was partially not getting under balls and hitting easy ground balls, but also some "bad luck"/hitting it hard into the shift.
Jwahoo
March 27, 2013 - 2:16 PM EDT
Canadian Joe.


Good point but I think thats a good thing. He should get alot of fastballs. Why would you want to walk a 30 or 40 plus SB player to get to Bourn and the rest? It should allow him to see more fastballs. Especially if Chiz and Brantley can get on base alot in front of him. I see good things.
Mike H.
March 27, 2013 - 2:08 PM EDT
Seth I took a look at his GB% LD% FB% before publishing and in generalities I agree that these should temper our expectations; which is why I only projected his batting average to return to around .235. But I think you may be overvaluing the LD% as his highest batting average season occurred during his second lowest line drive percentage of his career. I absolutely must admit however, that his constantly elevating GB% is a concern. However, one's BABIP does not typically nose dive 35/40 points simply because of 4% increase in ground balls. And unfortunately like you articulated we have no measure for what is or is not a hard hit ground ball thus his contact quality could have been way better or way worse then we may expect from last year. So he could have been jammed/fight dribblers off a lot or it was simply an outlier of a year. Love your input.
Seth
March 27, 2013 - 1:46 PM EDT
Stubbs batted ball profile was much different last year. Only 14.9% line drives, 51% grounders, 33% FB. Ground balls would be better than fly balls for a guy like Stubbs' BABIP, but that looks like a guy who when he was making contact, was beating the ground, and weakly. He will hopefully bounce back some, but you can't really blame last year on bad luck, he was just swinging the bat worse and for a longer time than you'd expect from a major league player. So you'd expect him to not hit that badly again, but I wouldn't expect miracles either. Maybe a different hitting coach and different environment will help. I hope Stubbs bounces back and is useful, but if I were of the betting persuasion, I would wager that by July he's lost his starting job and Swisher's the primary right fielder.
Adam
March 27, 2013 - 1:45 PM EDT
Hoping for a 2011-ish year from Stubbs. Bill James projects him to .246/.319/.386 with 16 HR and 33 steals. Those are almost identical numbers to what he did in 2011. I would say 2010 and 2012 are the two extremes of what you could get from Stubbs in any given year, but 2011 might be the happy medium. If he gives us those numbers with great defense, he could be a 3 WAR player.
Canadian Joe
March 27, 2013 - 12:11 PM EDT
Cannot really see his walk rate improving, especially batting 9th. Can, however, see average and Hrs. increasing, the reason being pitchers will not want to put him on base with his speed, and the top of the order coming up behind him. He should see more fastballs, especially if he can lay off the breaking pitches out of the zone. Overall, I think he can have a solid year, with a bump in average (.250-.260)and home runs (15-20) to be expected. With his defense, that should translate very well.
Jwahoo
March 26, 2013 - 10:55 PM EDT
I am calling a break out year.

As long as he players GG defense, helps balance the lineup vs lefties, steals 25 bases and hits 15-20 homers I will be very happy though.

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