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Don’t Hate the Player…J.D. Drew

I’m not sure if this is going to be a regular feature or not yet, but I’m leaning towards yes. “Don’t Hate The Player…” is my answer to Stu’s Gary Roberts Wednesdays. Consider it GRW, but for good players, or players people actually care enough about to feel one way or the other about. “Don’t Hate The Player…,” named after former five-time (five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time!) WCW Champion Booker T’s old catch phrase, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game!” is a segment where I shine a little light on a good player that maybe wouldn’t otherwise get that light.

Now…I know you would have all guessed, after reading that introduction, that Eric Hinske would be the inaugural feature of the almost-named Eric Hinske Thursdays. You would be wrong. Hinske, while appropriate as both a name sake and a Hall of Fame member, is not the first player I honor with DHTP.

People…feast your eyes on J.D. Drew.

Oh, yeah! One of the most hated players in baseball, you would be hard pressed to find a baseball fan out there who doesn’t dislike Drew. Whether it’s because he’s overpaid, because he’s a high-strikeout player (not really) who appears to be ‘unclutch,’ because he opted out of a deal with the Dodgers for more cash, or simply because he’s a Red Sock, Drew is the epitome of unlikable. Hell, even uber-Sox fan and friend B.J. O’Brien, who is borderline in love with almost every Sox player, hates Drew. Bill Simmons hates him, too. I can’t confirm this, but it’s rumored that his parents don’t like him, either.

First, he refused to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies and became the first ever two-time 1st round draft pick. Later, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa accused him of settling for being 75% of the player he could be. After being dealt to Atlanta, Drew quickly left for Los Angeles, signing a monster 5-year, $55M deal. After two years, Drew shocked the Dodgers by opting out after giving them nothing but signs he loved it there. He then signed with Boston, an increasingly unlikable franchise because of their rise from lovable loser to bandwagon central, for 5 years and $70M. After a mostly dismal year, Drew hit a key Grand Slam in the playoffs, coined the $14M Grand Slam, indicating it was the only thing of value he did all season.

So looking at his resume…yes, J.D. Drew is pretty much unlikable.

He’s also having one of the best seasons in Major League Baseball, a fact that should surprise nobody.

Drew is, after all, the only two-time first round draft pick ever. He’s also the only player to ever be part of two separate back-to-back-to-back-to-back home run sets (Dodgers in 2006 and Boston in 2007). He’s also made nearly $70M playing baseball. And, despite all reports that he doesn’t use his talent to its maximum, Drew has the 23rd best OPS among active players, 67th All Time.

Yes, Drew had serious injury trouble coming into this year and was vastly overpaid. His career highs of 31 home runs, 100 RBI, and a .323 average (none in the same year) are impressive but are what is expected out of a $14M man, not a best-case scenario. He can add in a few stolen bases and outfield assists, but he is hardly a true five-tool player.

And then David Ortiz went down, and the Red Sox needed someone to fill the void. So far in 2008, through 72 games, Drew is batting .299/.409/.570 (all well above his career averages), has 16 HR and 50 RBI, 58 runs scored, and nearly as many walks (45) as strikeouts (54). His OPS+ sits at 155, meaning he is performing 55% better than an average replacement would, and he currently ranks among the American League leaders in OBP (3rd), Slugging (3rd), OPS (3rd), Runs (2nd), Home Runs (6th), RBI (8th), Walks (8th), OPS+ (3rd), Runs Created (7th), Batting Wins (4th), Offensive Win % (3rd), and At Bats per Home Run (5th). This is, to the regular fan and the sabremetric one, an extremely impressive 2008 resume.

To the ‘clutch’ obsessed fan, he’s hitting .317 with runners in scoring position. While his stats admittedly decline in “late and close” game situations, you can argue that down by pointing out that he has improved in each month of the season, peaking with .337-12-27 in June, when the Sox needed him most in Big Papi’s absence.

Yes, J.D. Drew is overpaid. Yes, all accounts are that he isn’t a great guy and he’s not blood-and-sweat committed to baseball (though there is obviously no proof of that). Yes, his numbers decline in pressure situations. But is the baseball world really ready to write off a 29 year old who is in the top-25 among active players in career OPS, who is the 24th ranked fantasy player on Yahoo, and who by all accounts is coming into his own?

I’m not writing him off. Ask B.J…I even kinda like the guy.

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