Stephen Drew ended the first half of the season with a full year of disappointing offensive production as a Yankee. Since then, though, he has morphed into one of the better performing hitters on the team.
In 121 plate appearances after the All-Star break, Drew has hit for a .275/.336/.477 triple slash. He has a .349 wOBA, and a 122 wRC+ . This is better than Brian McCann, Alex Rodriguez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner over the same time frame. He's also outperforming Greg Bird in the early goings of the rookie's major league career.
This isn't to say Stephen Drew has become a better baseball player than most of the Yankees roster, just that he's had better results at hitting baseballs over the last few months. In fact, if you go back to June 1, and extend the sample size out to 229 plate appearances, you'll see a slash line of .251/.323/.483. That gives him a wOBA of .345, and a 120 wRC+. It would put him in the top-five of second basemen, had he been able to keep it up through the full season.
Of course, he hasn't done this for a full season. His April and May were awful–41 wRC+ through May 31st–which will, quite rightfully, drag down his stat line on the year. The runs he cost the team back in the first two months by being a terrible hitter might have cost the team a win or two somewhere along the line. He's now boosted his year up to 86 wRC+, which has him 25th among 34 second baseman who've had at least 300 at-bats. Still not great, but it's not in the bottom five! Small victories.
Anyway, Drew is helping the team now. Much like Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Didi Gregorius, he is having a better second half, which is useful, since the top four hitters who carried the team early have taken a step back offensively, or is indefinitely hurt in the case of Mark Teixeira. Fluctuations are to be expected in the marathon of the regular season, and having multiple hot hitters in the bottom of the lineup has worked out so far, much like having hot hitters at the top of the order worked well earlier in the year.
It would be nice to have some change in Drew's approach to point to here, but perhaps more interesting is the seeming lack of such a change in hitting profile. Unless, that is, deciding to have more of your flyballs go for home runs is a change in approach:
You can look at a version of this spray chart with every single batted ball here. The above chart is filtered to only have hits, and the red diamonds are home runs. He's hit a lot of home runs since the start of June. Some of those have been in blowouts, and perhaps they have less value than the boost of offensive stats might suggest. Certainly they have value though, as we've seen mop-up situations turn back into close games, so more runs are always worth having. Drew's offensive numbers are better in low leverage situations, but not so much as to be unreasonably skewed. Perhaps the difference between Drew's slugging-heavy production and a more Gregorius-like scatter ball approach comes down to how you view it.
In any case, he is quite evidently a pull-heavy fly ball hitter. The problems with batting average and singles are well documented, and he's had three extra-base hits all year that didn't go to right or right-center. He's in the ballpark for this, anyway, even if he doesn't seem the player type for such an approach. It's working for now.
Baseballs going further with the same fly ball reliance makes it worth looking at exit velocity. May is far and away his worst month of the year. It is also the only month where Drew never had a week of above-average exit velocity. His recent surge in performance correlates with the highest peak of the year. Exit velocity for week-long stretches can only tell us part of the story, especially for a player like Drew who is a bit hit-and-miss with his production. At least, though, here we see when Drew goes through a spell of good contact he is hitting the ball quite a bit harder than league-average. This, along with the stadium dimensions, likely helped some of those fly balls get out. It is worth noting Drew has hit eight home runs on the road, and ten of his blasts would have been out in 25 or more stadiums. He isn't solely a Yankee Stadium creation though it has certainly helped him significantly; six of his blasts would not have been home runs in at least 27 other parks.
Sometimes a role change can also be a reason for sudden improvement, but in this the quasi-platoon with Brendan Ryan might not be that big a factor. Drew has also actually been a better hitter against lefties on the year–90 wRC+ against 85 wRC+ for righties. It's not a particularly significant difference given the plate appearances, but saving Drew from facing same-handed pitchers isn't really what has helped him out. Perhaps it simply is the relatively unexciting answer of a Yankee Stadium swing and a somewhat unsustainable number of fly balls going over the fence. In any case, the long term sustainability of Drew's production might not matter as much as the games he has already helped the Yankees win between June and now. Or as any games he can help win in the next few weeks.
Yesterday Matt Provenzano took a look at what an offensively improved Gregorius could mean for the Yankees in 2016 and beyond. Drew isn't going to have the same type of impact far beyond this year. He could be brought back next year if the Yankees don't have any expectations from Rob Refsnyder and either can't or won't sign Howie Kendrick or Ben Zobrist. Eventually though, the team will hopefully find a way to upgrade the position; Drew isn't really part of the Yankee future. When it comes to a shot at winning this year though, the team might find itself relying on Stephen Drew to remain in his June-through-August form through September and hopefully October as well.