Drew Stubbs Will Be An Asset If Deployed Correctly
Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
For his whole career, Drew Stubbs has been deployed incorrectly. Drew Stubbs is not an uncommon player in that he is a right handed hitter who is much better against left handed pitchers than he is against righties. This is usually the case, as right handed hitters can usually see the ball more clearly coming out of a southpaws’ arm than they can out of a righties’ arm. It’s also harder to hit a breaking ball thrown by a same-handed pitcher, so right handed hitters will have more trouble picking up a breaking ball from a righty pitcher. There are some exceptions, with the Rockies’ own Michael Cuddyer coming to mind. Last season, Cuddyer’s wRC+ (average being 100, explained here by co-Rox Pile writer Eric. I strongly recommend the linked article, because it taught me a lot about all kinds of stats and is really well written and thoughtfully conveyed) was 111 against righties and 151 against lefties. This hasn’t been the case throughout Cuddyer’s career, but the point stands.
Drew Stubbs, on the other hand, is not very good against right handed pitchers. He has a career batting average of .226 against them, to go along with a .652 OPS. The advanced stats don’t favor him either; his career .291 wOBA and 78 wRC+ are both well below average. So basically, Drew Stubbs should NOT be played against righties. The problem is that Stubbs has about three times more career plate appearances against RH pitchers than he does against LH pitchers. For a normal hitter, that would make sense. Since there are a lot more righties than lefties in the world, there are more RH pitchers as well. But there are some players who just can’t hit right handers (this is the same for lefties against other lefties, but right now we are concentrating on RH hitters because Drew Stubbs is a RH hitter). On smart teams, those players can be platooned to maximize their strengths. Last year, Danny Valencia, Gaby Sanchez, and Derek Norris were some examples of successful platoon players who raked against LH pitchers. Not surprisingly, those three players were on three fairly successful teams last year (the Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Oakland Athletics respectively) and in three fairly small markets (15th, 20th, and 22nd in 2013 payroll).
There is an old baseball myth that lineups should be set in stone on opening day and left for the rest of the season barring injury or terrible hitting. “Guys have to know that they will be in the same spot in the lineup every game to succeed, right?” Um, no, not at all. For guys to succeed, they have to be placed in favorable situations, and one way of doing that is through platoons. Platoons are an evolving part of baseball, with the chief evidence arriving on Billy Beane‘s team. Yes, that’s right; Beane’s Athletics have found at least one more competitive advantage. They finished with 96 wins despite being 22nd in payroll for a bunch of reasons, and one of them was their success platooning. Norris platooned with John Jaso to form the most prolific catching duo in baseball, while Nate Freiman matched with righty-basher Brandon Moss. And guess what: both of those platoons worked tremendously well. Norris had a 177 wRC+ against lefties, fourth highest among qualified hitters, while Jaso had a 133 wRC+ against righties. Freiman had a 125 wRC+ against southpaws, while Moss’s wRC+ against righties was 150, 14th highest among qualified hitters. Not surprisingly, the Athletics are heading into 2014 planning to continue relying on platoons.
It’s time to dispel another longtime baseball myth (there are a lot out there). Guess what, guys: a player doesn’t have to play every single day to be a valuable player. I mean, sure, it would be nice if every hitter could be like Miguel Cabrera and bash both righties and lefties, but that just isn’t realistic. In fact, throwing a guy like Drew Stubbs in against righties doesn’t make Stubbs a more valuable player, it makes him less valuable. In failing to recognize a player’s weakness and throwing him right back into the lineup each day regardless of results, you are dragging the player’s value down by letting him make more outs and have more bad at bats. Sometimes, a player is more valuable if their at bats are restricted, rather than uncapped. Moss is actually a great example of that. In his first five years (many of them disrupted by demotions to AAA), Moss had a total WAR of .1. Then in 2012, Moss joined the Athletics, and became a platoon player. In the past two years, Moss has just 150 plate appearances against southpaws, and 651 against righties. The result? 4.2 WAR in the last two years, which isn’t great but is definitely good enough to make Moss a productive MLB player. Before being platooned, Moss was a below-average MLB player. So having more at-bats isn’t necessarily better when those extra at bats are against pitchers a hitter can’t hit.
Back to Drew Stubbs and the Colorado Rockies. As you probably have guessed by now, I’m calling for Stubbs to be platooned with someone (there are a lot of candidates). If he’s platooned, Stubbs can be an asset for the Colorado Rockies. He is a centerfielder with speed and pop, which is even more important given that we have now heard that Carlos Gonzalez will be playing left field, and not center. What’s more is that Drew Stubbs can actually hit against lefties. I noted his horrible record against RH pitchers above. Against lefties in his career, Stubbs is much better: .274 average, .796 OPS, .349 wOBA, 117 wRC+. That there is a valuable line, especially for a player like Drew Stubbs who can also be valuable defensively. Guess how many qualified centerfielders had a wRC+ above 116 last season? Just eight, and none of them had a WAR below 2.9. Now, that’s not really a good comparison, because all of those guys had that success over 500+ plate appearances. I’m suggesting that Stubbs should get, say, 250 or 300 plate appearances. I narrowed the qualification to 250+ plate appearances, and guess how many CFs had a wRC+ above 116? Still only nine. So there aren’t very many centerfielders who can hit, which is why Stubbs is so valuable.
There is a need for players who can hit southpaws, especially in the NL West. Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Madison Bumgarner, etc… I just named some of the best pitchers in the division, and all of them are lefties. Drew Stubbs will be needed.
There’s another piece of good news when it comes to Drew Stubbs: it looks as if the Coors factor will help him greatly. Stubbs was much better in Cincinnati (another good hitter’s park) than he was away from home when he was on the Reds, but he was worse at home last year as a member of the Indians than he was on the road. A return to a hitters park, and the fact that it is even better for hitters than Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, might mean that Drew Stubbs can get his wRC+ against lefties up even higher, to the 120-125 range, which would just add to his value.
To sum this all up, I entered some reasonable numbers into Fangraphs for Drew Stubbs’ stat projection (345 PA, 11 HR, .251/.330/.423 with above average defense and speed) and Fangraphs gave him a WAR of two. Wouldn’t you accept a two WAR out of Drew Stubbs? Let me put it this way: given that a win is now worth between five and seven million dollars on the free agent market, it looks pretty good, as Stubbs is still under arbitration and has a $4.1 million contract this season. By contrast, I gave Stubbs a full season and shifted his numbers down accordingly, and Fangraphs gave Drew Stubbs a 1.3 WAR. So Drew Stubbs is definitely more valuable to the Colorado Rockies as a platoon player than he is as an everyday centerfielder. And that doesn’t even take the fact that Stubbs should still be getting better, given that he is now 29 and in his prime, into account. So if Drew Stubbs is deployed correctly, as a leadoff hitter and centerfielder against southpaws (he can get to 345 PA by playing against right handed pitchers when inevitable injuries strike, which is why I didn’t raise his projection further), then he can definitely be an asset for the Colorado Rockies, and can make him worth Josh Outman, which is what the Rockies traded for him (granted, it won’t be that difficult to be worth Josh Outman).
So Colorado Rockies brass, please listen and play Drew Stubbs, but NOT everyday, because baseball players don’t need to play everyday, and because smart teams platoon players who need to be platooned.