Appreciating the Tantalizing Talents of Drew Stubbs

When the Cleveland Indians acquired Drew Stubbs from the Cincinnati Reds in the Shin-Soo Choo deal in December, he appeared to be a nice addition to the outfield, allowing Michael Brantley to slide over to left while solidifying the defense. Then, when the Indians signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, he nearly became a fourth outfielder; however, it appears that Swisher will be spending a majority of his time at first base, while Stubbs will become the primary right fielder.

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With three center fielders  manning the outfield, the Cleveland Indians’ outfield defense looks to be substantially better than it was last year. Even though Stubbs has never played another outfield position besides center, his presence in right is a clear advantage over Choo, whose -16.1 UZR/150 last year made the second-worst right fielder in the league. Stubbs, meanwhile, had an 8.5 UZR/150 in center field (a harder position than right), good for third-best in baseball.

But Stubbs isn’t just a defensive guru. While it is easy to look at his 230/.302/.350 batting line since the start of the 2011 season and see a failure, you can’t forget that he managed to hit 29 home runs (tied with Melky Cabrera for 11th among center fielders) and has stolen 70 bases (fourth among center fielders) in that span while collecting 42 infield hits, which can be a game-changing ability.

While Stubbs is repeatedly criticized for his nearly 30-percent career strikeout rate (including 371 strikeouts in the last two seasons), he has a place as an everyday player. In Cincinnati, he was miscast as a leadoff hitter, having started 182 games in that spot and hitting .243/.320/.369 line over 869 plate appearances at the top of the order. By contrast, batting at the bottom of the order—as Stubbs will almost definitely do in Cleveland—will give him the ability to swing away with men on base and see more fastballs, which would allow for higher contact rates and more power.

Interstingly, Stubbs’ swinging strike percentage fell to a career-low 10.9 percent in 2012, while his O-swing percentage (swings at pitches outside of the strike-zone) fell to a career-low 24.7 percent. So while his walk rate fell to a career-worst 7.7 percent and his strikeout rate was a career-worst 30.5 percent, Stubbs might actually be improving his plate discipline.

Stubbs’ disappointing 2012 might have to do with his low BABIP, which was at just .290 after sitting at .325, .330, and .343 in his first three seasons. Maybe it was leading off? Maybe it was batting second when Joey Votto wasn’t there to protect him due to his knee surgery? Maybe it was Dusty Baker?

For what it is worth, Drew Stubbs has some pretty solid highlights since arriving full-time to MLB in 2010. He ranks eighth in stolen bases (100), 31st in runs scored (258—in front of names like Adam Jones, Shane Victorino, David Wright, Dustin Pedroia, Jimmy Rollins, and Melky Cabrera), and 46th in BABIP (.323)—so if he makes more contact, maybe he can improve his actual batting average and other numbers. Also, Stubbs hit 22 home runs and stole 30 bases in 2010 and is just a year removed from swatting 15 home runs and swiping 40 bases.

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Certainly, Stubbs can be a frustrating player to watch, and teaming him alongside fellow whiff machine Mark Reynolds in a lineup featuring players with solid on-base skills, such as Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana, may make Tribe fans call for his scalp as quickly as Cincinnati radio hosts seemed to. However, the Indians can make up for that weakness by plugging Stubbs into the No. 9 spot in the order, allowing Terry Francona to have a potential 120-stolen-base tandem (with Michael Bourn) on base when the lineup resets.

Despite his inability to make consistent contact, Stubbs still possesses tremendous speed and power. I like to think of Stubbs as like all-or-nothing outfielder Mike Cameron, who, it just so happens, went to his first All-Star game and won his first Gold Glove in 2001, his age-28 season. Drew Stubbs is entering his age-28 season, and while he can’t match Cameron’s overall production in his first four seasons (62 home runs, 112 stolen bases and a .250/.344/.424 line), there is still potential within Stubbs’ Louisville Slugger.

While the Cincinnati Reds didn’t think he could do enough to get the club over the hump, so much so that they’re playing someone in center who didn’t have range in right, Stubbs can surely provide something to the upstart Cleveland Indians in 2013, and when he does, fans can look forward to having him around, as he is under team-control through 2015.

Topics: Cleveland Indians, Drew Stubbs

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