Stephen Drew isn’t a Met, and he probably won’t be. Here’s a good reason why:
At one point, that’s what it boils down to. Perhaps the Mets can’t afford Drew, perhaps they don’t want to. Rumors have surfaced that Sandy Alderson had offered Drew a one-year deal around $9 million that was declined. So they went with incumbent Ruben Tejada.
Of course, it may not be a solely financial decision. Tejada had very solid seasons in 2011 and 2012, and I’ve written ad nauseam about his 2013 season. Finances aside, there’s a question of value. Sure, on the surface it seems like Drew is the better bet at shortstop, and his career year against Tejada’s career year on-the-other-end-of-the-spectrum makes it seem a simple decision. Is it?
Let’s compare their value over the course of their careers, using the most comprehensive tool available: Wins Above Replacement. The charts below show each player’s career WAR scaled to 650 plate appearances (in order to level out for playing time). Also, to better see how their values have changed over time, it’s split up by month. In essence, each data point on the chart corresponds to each player’s career WAR through that month, scaled to 650 PA. The charts start in April 2010 and run through the end of 2013 (note that Drew starts at a non-zero value because of his playing time prior to 2010).(Forgive the crudeness of the graphs, I’m stuck using Excel 2003 for the time being)
Here we see more or less what we expect – Ruben Tejada’s 2011 & 2012 season push up toward Drew’s career line, but it trails off significantly in May 2013, when Tejada was worth -0.6 fWAR before suffering an injury and hitting the minors. One thing that should stand out further though, is where his line disappears off the chart. In July and August 0f 2010, Tejada was worth a terrible -1 fWAR in 101 plate appearances! For that to occur so early in his career (those 101 PA represent 57% of his total to that point of his career), it throws the scale off monumentally.
For arguments sake, we can take some things into consideration. Tejada, then 20, was the third youngest hitter to appear in the majors that season. He had only 218 plate appearances in AAA (where he was the second youngest hitter with at least 200 PA), the year after being the second youngest hitter in AA. (To put this into context, the first time Ruben Tejada faced a younger pitcher was in 2011, and only in 10 of his 607 total plate appearances between the majors and AAA). Could it make sense that such performance isn’t indicative of his actual talent level, that it was due to being in over his head?
To continue that argument, let’s adjust the chart, and pretend those two months didn’t occur. In full disclosure, that’s not entirely fair. They happened, and should be part of the discussion of his career. That said, that’s not necessarily what we’re looking at here. By cutting it out, we get a more fair look at the kind of player he’s been since then, without the line being so poorly weighed down:
Here, we can see how an argument can be made on behalf of Ruben. In August of 2011, Tejada made the jump above Drew on the chart, where he remained until this past August – three months after Tejada’s injury. On this scale, we see the difference between Drew and Tejada, as of the end of 2013, is only about 0.3 fWAR over a full season.
For another look: perhaps the second chart gives Tejada an unfair benefit: he gets the positive months from 2010, but not the negative. So let’s eliminate Tejada’s 2010 entirely from the chart, and compare his performance from the start of 2011 until now to Stephen Drew‘s career:
It’s not quite as distinct, but we see a similar effect. Ruben Tejada’s career trajectory, prior to last May, was outpacing Stephen Drew. The difference is a bit larger than in the second chart (roughly 0.6 fWAR / 650 PA), but that’s the effect of having your worst career month and not having an opportunity to bounce back.
Whether the fans like it or not, Ruben Tejada has been given that chance in 2014, and I’d argue he deserves it. The upgrade from Stephen Drew to Tejada is likely not worth Scott Boras’ asking price, and evidence suggests that it may not even be an upgrade. Given the difference in age and team control, the prudent decision appears to be to go with Ruben this year. 2015’s shortstop market possesses many worthwhile names, and the optimistic turn – Ruben putting it all together and continuing to develop along the curve he spent roughly 75% of his career establishing – is the most valuable outcome possible for Sandy Alderson and the Mets.