2011 Reds

Drew Stubbs: Buyer Beware

Drew Stubbs is the first player I’ve looked at for this series who doesn’t have a huge Major League background. At this point, we’re dealing with not quite two full seasons of playing time, spread out over three years. That means we have to dig a little deeper to make predictions about what Stubbs is going to do in the future.

Stubbs also might be the player most likely to get a long-term extension from the Reds this winter. Lots of people here on RN (myself included) have been proponents of locking Stubbs up for the long haul. The question I’m going to address is whether or not they should. I’m going to go about it by looking at each aspect of his game and talking about what that means for his aging curve. At the end of each section, I’ll give a verdict of “Lock Him Up” or “Wait and See.” Let’s get started…

Age/Team Control

This technically isn’t an aspect of his game, but it is important. Stubbs is 26 and only in his second full year in the big leagues. He shouldn’t be arbitration-eligible until the end of next year, and the Reds will still have him under team control for three more years after that. That would take him to his age-30 season. Basically, the Reds already control him for what should be his prime years. Verdict: Wait and See

Position/Defense

Stubbs plays centerfield, the most glamorous position on the diamond. I don’t have to run down the names of the great players who have filled that position over the years. The best part for Reds fans is that Stubbs plays a very nice centerfield, and good defenders age gracefully.

That said, centerfielders peak early, typically during their age-26 season. This is because, while players like Willie Mays play center, so do players like Willy Taveras. That is, fast guys without any other real skills. Stubbs doesn’t look like a Taveras, but he’s certainly not a Mays. Without the benefit of more data, I think you have to wait and see what he does. This year might be the best he ever gets. Verdict: Wait and See

Speed

Stubbs is fast. He is often referred to as one of the fastest players in the league. Because of his speed, he’s a threat on the basepaths and a great defender. Fast players also age better than just about any other type of player, often staying near peak long after others have fallen off. Stubbs looks good here as he is super fast and should get plenty of benefit from that as he ages. Verdict: Lock Him Up

Hitting

This is the hardest aspect of Stubbs’ game to breakdown. For instance, BR.com has his most similar player through age 25 as Curtis Granderson. Indeed, if you look at Granderson’s stats from 2005-06, you see why. He and Stubbs were almost identical at ages 24 and 25. It’s enough to get a person excited. The difference, of course, is that Granderson took off when he turned 26 and Stubbs hasn’t. Granderson saw his power go up and his Ks go down. Stubbs has seen exactly the opposite happen. So much for that comparison.

Looking at the sample we have, there’s not too much to see. Stubbs is a tick above average with the bat. He plays a plus defensive position, so there’s no problem there, but he hasn’t done anything to set the world on fire yet. The reason is the one thing that stands out: his strikeout rate. Stubbs strikes out a lot. Really, a lot. He has struck out in 33% of his PAs this year, which is about the rate he struck out last year. Look, I’m an “an out is an out” guy, but Stubbs simply does not walk enough or hit for enough power to make up for that K rate.

The only thing keeping him slightly above average at the plate is his high average on balls in play (.358 this season and .337 for his career), and Stubbs does get his share of infield hits, especially when you consider he doesn’t bunt very much. One has to wonder if that high BABIP will continue when age slows him down just a bit and he starts to get thrown out on more ground balls.

As far as I can see, it comes down to two things: 1. Will he ever cut down on his Ks (or increase his BB and HRs)? and 2. How long will his speed last? We can’t know the answer to either question right now. Verdict: Wait and See

Taking a detailed look at Stubbs, I have to change my opinion. Right now, given that he’s still cost controlled for a while, I don’t see the value in trying to lock him up with a long-term contract. If he were a few years younger, I’d say jump on him, but as it is, there’s too much uncertainty. A smart club would, I think, wait at least one more year (probably longer) to see if Stubbs makes any progress or if he just sort of is who he is. Overall Verdict: Wait and See

45 thoughts on “Drew Stubbs: Buyer Beware

  1. Food for thought… Is Stubss worth trading high on right now? Can Sappelt be an adequate replacement with whatever a Stubbs trade might bring back in terms of LF, SS, or SP? Sappelt matches or betters Stubbs in the slash lines in AAA. Granted, Sappelt has only played in half the AAA Stubbs did (126 games vs 60 games so far). Also, they each have a K/BB ratio of right about 2 in AAA (2.0 for Sappelt, 2.1 for Stubbs).

    In a farily similar number of overall minor league at-bats (Stubbs: 1588 Sappelt: 1455), they each are consistent with about a 2.0 k/bb ratio, and Sappelt still rings in better or equal in most other categories. You lose the stolen bases of course, and I don’t know about Sappelt’s range in CF.

    But in Sappelt you could possibly get a lot of the same cost controlled production plus whatever Stubbs as a major league player would bring in return. I’d really consider doing it for the right upgrade. Not for say, two middle relief pitchers from Washington.

    • Food for thought… Is Stubss worth trading high on right now? Can Sappelt be an adequate replacement with whatever a Stubbs trade might bring back in terms of LF, SS, or SP? Sappelt matches or betters Stubbs in the slash lines in AAA. Granted, Sappelt has only played in half the AAA Stubbs did (126 games vs 60 games so far). Also, they each have a K/BB ratio of right about 2 in AAA (2.0 for Sappelt, 2.1 for Stubbs).

      In a farily similar number of overall minor league at-bats (Stubbs: 1588 Sappelt: 1455), they each are consistent with about a 2.0 k/bb ratio, and Sappelt still rings in better or equal in most other categories. You lose the stolen bases of course, and I don’t know about Sappelt’s range in CF.

      But in Sappelt you could possibly get a lot of the same cost controlled production plus whatever Stubbs as a major league player would bring in return. I’d really consider doing it for the right upgrade. Not for say, two middle relief pitchers from Washington.

      Drew Stubbs is a hell of a lot better than Austin Kearns.

  2. I asked this question the other day also. Why not consider trading him to a team like the A’s?

  3. @Dave Lowenthal: The more I looked at the numbers, the more I realized this is something that should be at least considered. What’s better than locking a cost-controlled player down? Trading him for working pieces and getting another cost controlled man to do the same work.

  4. When used in the #6 hole, he makes for a nice fit, and I believe you would see fewer strikeouts as well. It’s the same square-peg-round-hole argument that’s been floating around here before. He simply isn’t/won’t be a leadoff hitter, so stop forcing it. Let’s be patient and see what we have at the end of next year.
    As an aside, I wonder how much your analysis was skewed by the brutal month or so. In mid-May, he was on pace for 30 homers and 50 steals. To me, this leads to small sample size conclusions. I think we’ll have a more accurate read at the end of this year.

  5. @Matt WI: That’s a reasonable point. The problem is that the Reds are pretty thin in the outfield in general right now. Left is a train wreck, so trading one of our two productive outfielders doesn’t seem like a good idea to me right now.

  6. @Sultan of Swaff: Well, frankly, none of my analysis has to do with the last month (other than it making this season look like it will be a lot like last season. I tried to look at his overall skill set and see how likely he is to be worth locking-up.

  7. @Jason Linden: What about after the year, when there’s an offseason to figure out how to address one of them? Plus, you aren’t giving Stubbs away. I only trade the guy for something good in return.

    Stubbs didn’t reach the bigs at a young age; Steve Price would say he doesn’t project to a superstar for that one reason alone. I just think we might want someone else to take on his tremendous variance. If we can get good talent that has lower variance–maybe a lower ceiling, sure, that would be part of the deal, you aren’t going to get equal ceiling and lower variance, of course.

  8. @Dave Lowenthal: The only time there is risk is when you’re locked into a long term contract. By taking him year by year (at least thru next season), there’s no downside. This is one of those times when do nothing is a good choice.
    And Jason, I would argue that outfield is where we have the most organizational depth.

    • I would argue that outfield is where we have the most organizational depth.

      And the least amount of organizational/managerial common sense.

  9. @Sultan of Swaff: Yes, doing nothing is my close second choice. I just think the guy might be very attractive to teams with terrible offenses (SF, Oak, SD) who don’t care about strikeouts (Oak). Perhaps packaged with something else, we might be able to pry a pitcher.

    I think people get really excited when the guy does well and the first thing that comes to mind is lock the guy up. But Jason points out the key things, he is already locked up until 30.

  10. @Matt WI:
    I am a fan of Stubbs for sure, and while his strikeouts are certainly frustrating, IMHO he is above average in pretty much all the other aspects (defense, arm, power, speed). He’s basically a 4-tool player with all the ones except the most important tool – the hit tool. Like Jason said, this all adds up to a very good player overall, but his lack of a good hit tool will probably keep him from turning into a star.

    Now, with all that being said, I don’t think that moving him would be the worst idea in the world. I’m certainly not advocating trying to get rid of the guy at all, I just think that he is the type of talent that could really net a very good return in a trade. Consider the situation with Alonso, teams see a one dimensional player, and while I think most people believe he is going to be a good hitter, he probably isn’t going to net premium talent on his own because of his limitations. With Stubbs, I see just the opposite, a very well-rounded player playing a premium position on defense, and playing it well. By being a plus CF, very good on the bases, and being just slightly above average on offense, he is on pace for a 5+ WAR season. (I know people have issues with WAR ratings, especially with regards to defense, but I think his is pretty accurate at about 2 runs saved so far this year).

    The crux of the debate here is not whether one thinks Stubbs is a good player or not, just whether the upgrade they could get from trading him would offset the loss in going to Sappelt ( or Heisey, or whoever). For example, if the Dodgers would trade Kershaw for Stubbs, Alonso, and say lower level type with some upside (think DiDi Gregorius e.g.), then I would probably make that trade. I would certainly won’t like giving up Stubbs, but Kershaw is exactly the type of pitcher this staff needs. A bona fide #1 with great stuff. I can tell you I would feel a lot more comfortable trotting out a playoff rotation of Kershaw, Cueto, Bailey/Arroyo than what we have now. Also, this would give us a surplus of starters (up to 7) that we would then be able to use to trade along with some of surplus of AAA talent to bring in a solution at LF/SS (e.g Hunter Pence for Wood, Francisco, Grandal). These are exactly the type of moves that I can never see the Reds making, but also the type that I think would really help us go from a decent team in contention for a playoff spot, to one with a legit chance to win it all.

    I realize that we might not be “winning” these types of trades in regards to value giving up for what we receive. But, I think that the organization is at a point now where we are in position to win, loaded with prospects who are ready but have no position, that the best move may be to try to add some premium talent to push us over the top without really giving up too much off the active roster, even if that means having to “overpay” in a trade.

    • The crux of the debate here is not whether one thinks Stubbs is a good player or not, just whether the upgrade they could get from trading him would offset the loss in going to Sappelt ( or Heisey, or whoever).

      Exactly… so often people call for a trade because a guy isn’t performing, they don’t like him, whatever. In this case, it’s recognizing Stubbs is in fact a talent, and to get talent in return you have to be willing to let it go.

  11. @jkbetz07: I remember reading somewhere that Bruce had played a little center (Lord, help me if it was Leatherpant’s analysis), but looking at his regression in right this year I kind of wonder at that. Any chance that Jay plays a decent center?

    • @jkbetz07: I remember reading somewhere that Bruce had played a little center (Lord, help me if it was Leatherpant’s analysis), but looking at his regression in right this year I kind of wonder at that. Any chance that Jay plays a decent center?

      I think Bruce could handle center without embarrassing himself, but I don’t think that is a direction to go. Bruce certainly hasn’t been as good in right this year as last, but I still think that he is above average in RF. If you move him to center you have a below average fielder there at one of the most important positions, and also weaken RF. I guess if absolutely the right situation came up where you could do it for a year or two, but given the current circumstances of the team with the hole in LF I don’t really see that as an option.

  12. He is going to be valuable until potentially his arbitration years. It all depends on what kind of comp he gets on that to determine if he will be worth keeping. You say speed players age well, but once that speed isn’t there, he loses most of his worth. He isn’t a great baserunner, but speed makes up for it. He gets terrible jumps on balls, and at times his speed can’t even make up for it.

    I think, they should drop him to 6th in the lineup (Heisey/Lewis lead off) and then you will be able to see the most out of his value. I think with the power he showed last year, he is more valuable at a spot where he can drive in runs. He excelled in the 6th hole last year, and just because he is fast it doesn’t make him a leadoff hitter. You need guys that can work the pitcher and get on base, both of which Stubbs struggles with.

    My verdict is, drop him to 6th for the rest of the year and then evaluate. If he hasn’t improved, look to trade him to teams desperate for speedy CF (SD, Oak, etc…) for some valuable parts. I think Heisey and/or Sappelt can handle CF just fine and LF is going to have to be manned by Alonso or Frazier before long. All of those guys won’t cost as much as Stubbs will beyond this season. I just have a feeling that his run total and power will price him up in the arbitration process, beyond his true worth to the franchise.

    • He is going to be valuable until potentially his arbitration years.It all depends on what kind of comp he gets on that to determine if he will be worth keeping.You say speed players age well, but once that speed isn’t there, he loses most of his worth.He isn’t a great baserunner, but speed makes up for it.He gets terrible jumps on balls, and at times his speed can’t even make up for it.

      I think, they should drop him to 6th in the lineup (Heisey/Lewis lead off) and then you will be able to see the most out of his value.I think with the power he showed last year, he is more valuable at a spot where he can drive in runs.He excelled in the 6th hole last year, and just because he is fast it doesn’t make him a leadoff hitter.You need guys that can work the pitcher and get on base, both of which Stubbs struggles with.

      My verdict is, drop him to 6th for the rest of the year and then evaluate.If he hasn’t improved, look to trade him to teams desperate for speedy CF (SD, Oak, etc…) for some valuable parts.I think Heisey and/or Sappelt can handle CF just fine and LF is going to have to be manned by Alonso or Frazier before long.All of those guys won’t cost as much as Stubbs will beyond this season.I just have a feeling that his run total and power will price him up in the arbitration process, beyond his true worth to the franchise.

      I would actually bat him 5th. I would run this line-up out there almost every day.

      1. Heisey-LF
      2. Phillips-2B
      3. Votto-1B
      4. Bruce-RF
      5. Stubbs-CF
      6. Rolen-3B
      7. Hernandez/Hanigan-C
      8. Cozart/Janish-SS

      • Only two players in all of MLB last year hit 20 or more HR, stole 30 or more bases, and scored 90 or more runs.

        The other was Hanley Ramirez.

        Only one of those two players is well on his way to those targets again this year, and it isn’t Hanley.

        I would run this line-up out there almost every day.

        1. Heisey-LF
        2. Phillips-2B
        3. Votto-1B
        4. Bruce-RF
        5. Stubbs-CF
        6. Rolen-3B
        7. Hernandez/Hanigan-C
        8. Cozart/Janish-SS

        Is there somewhere I can sign up for this?

  13. Great write-up, Jason. The age and strikeouts are the two scariest things about Stubbs. He’s not really got years left to improve. I can live with someone who strikes out a lot, but this is a ton, and he doesn’t walk enough (or have enough power) to justify it. I keep trying to think of a comparable player. Could he end up a Jayson Werth (but speedier)? Never really a middle-of-the-order guy, and not coming into his own until late 20s early 30s?

  14. @jdm00: There aren’t very many Werth’s. The number of guys that well outperform their minor league expectations are few. I can think of Werth, Andres Torres, …?

    • @jdm00: There aren’t very many Werth’s. The number of guys that well outperform their minor league expectations are few. I can think of Werth, Andres Torres, …?

      Joey Votto?

  15. @Dave Lowenthal: Yeah, that’s the problem. When I tossed Werth out there, I was trying to think in terms of “what is the ceiling”? Stubbs seems to have all the potential in the world, but he’s 26, and years of baseball statistics indicate that he’s not likely to break out in two or three years. I can’t think of many guys who are “late bloomers” like we might be hoping Stubbs is. Werth would be what one might point to as the ceiling–liable to improve from this age and outperform minor league expectations, but even then never really a middle-of-the-order guy. Not saying that does not make Stubbs valuable, but it does make analyses on potential moves/extensions more pivotal (and should temper everyone’s expectations).

    One thing this write-up does for me is really crystallize the gulf between Bruce’s value and Stubbs’s. Bruce is a significantly better offensive player at a far younger age, with a greater ceiling. You could see Sappelt (or someone obtained in a trade for Stubbs) as a reasonable replacement; I don’t think we have anyone we can view that way for Bruce.

  16. wait and see is a great idea. maybe the reds will get a manager who will put in a spot in the lineup where he can be productive instead of sticking him the leadoff spot because he is fast. then when he has his breakout year the reds will no longer be able to afford him and he will leave as a free agent or be traded.yea the reds are weak in the outfield only because they refuse to give Heisey a real shot in left field.and by real shot I mean every day for a month at least.if they can keep putting gomes out there day after day no matter how bad he slumps then why not a young guy who was minor leage player of the year. oh wqait I forgot we don’t go by what we see only by what the new stats invented daily tell us and of coarse those always reliable projections.

  17. Stubbs is a cleanup hitter, and potentially a pretty good one considering his tools. Jay Bruce – Buyer Beware makes more sense.

    • Stubbs is a cleanup hitter, and potentially a pretty good one considering his tools. Jay Bruce – Buyer Beware makes more sense.

      Why would you say that with Bruce?

  18. Only two players in all of MLB last year hit 20 or more HR, stole 30 or more bases, and scored 90 or more runs.

    The other was Hanley Ramirez.

    Only one of those two players is well on his way to those targets again this year, and it isn’t Hanley.

  19. @Steve: Steve, I find those kind of stats quite arbitrary. Stubbs is a centerfielder with a 100 OPS+ who is an excellent basestealer and a good defender. That makes him an above average baseball player, maybe a good baseball player (assuming, say, you exactly project those numbers to the end of the season). I don’t put much stock in the 20/30/90 thing though.

    None of this is a shot at you or a condemnation of Stubbs. I like Stubbs. He should hit in the middle’ish of the order, like 5 or 6 (on this team, 5 until they call up Mesoraco). Maybe that would help him.

    Again, I think people here have to admit that as much as strikeouts “don’t matter”, if Stubbs continues to strike out at the rate he is striking out at, there exists the significant possibility that he will not be able to maintain even an average OPS+. I’m talking about over time, as in the next few years. And I’m the last guy to care about strikeouts.

  20. @jdm00: You’ve not been paying attention, have you? He does not like Jay Bruce…at all. He believes that Drew Stubbs is the better ballplayer. He has said it on a number of occasions.

  21. @secondguessingfanbase: I know others have replied to your comment already, but you do realize that, in considerably more playing time, Bruce has been a better hitter than Stubbs and equally good in the field. Also, Bruce is two years younger. There is just no way you should ever take Stubbs over Bruce.

  22. I wouldn’t trade Drew Stubbs. Even if he doesn’t get much better than he is now, the guy is a pretty solid CF when you take the parts together. They don’t have to extend him this year since they got 4 more seasons after this one before he can get free agency. The only risk they run is he might bust out big in that third year, which would be good for the Reds either way and then decides to play it out. I’d say that Jayson Werth and even more so Mike Cameron are pretty good comparisons.

    This isn’t broken, so I wouldn’t go about trying to fix it.

    I would move him down to sixth more often and when either Heisey or Lewis starts put them at lead-off.

  23. Stubbs has less major league service time than Bruce, I don’t care about him being older than Bruce. Jay has shown over a longer span of time that he is a wildly inconsistent major league ballplayer. Stubbs hasn’t even seen his second all-star break yet and guys are writing him off yet its patience, patience with Jay Bruce. Worship at the shrine of Jay if you’d like. I won’t stop you.

  24. It’s not a question of ML service time, it’s a question of age. Players don’t peak and decline based on service time, they do based on age. That’s the big issue. There are obviously outliers, and I desperately hope Stubbs is one, but the general thrust of the statistics is that he is what he is and we are entering the peak years already, as Jason’s article pointed out.

  25. I am a big fan of Stubbs, to me he is more interesting to watch than Votto, you dont know if he is going jack a HR or hit a routine ground ball and beat it out. Or whiff on a pitch outside the zone or watch a fastball right down the middle. The guy is just loaded in talent playing a prime defensive spot. But i am in the Wait-and-See camp like others. that K-rate is just bad. and still having him under arb control so no need to jump to quickly. I root for him to pull it together and be Grady-Sizemore-Cincy-style or close to it. If not and this is his peak, thats still a pretty good player to keep around. Especially if Reds do find a more legit lead-off guy and allow Stubbs power to better use lower in the line-up. Good topic and discussion.

    Go 2011 Reds.

  26. @secondguessingfanbase: Two things. First, I don’t think anyone is “writing Stubbs off.” I think that Stubbs is already a good (not great) player. I think it’s valid to have a discussion of what his potential is (or isn’t), and if he makes sense as a key piece long-term or not.

    Second, I think that Reds fans have decidedly not shown a lot of patience with Bruce. Bruce got sent down when he slumped in 2009, Bruce was the target of wrath in 2010 before he heated up in the second half, and Bruce was the subject of demands that he be demoted again already this year. I haven’t seen the same calls with Stubbs, and no one in this article is suggesting anything like that. (No one is suggesting that he be traded for a bag of balls, either.) If Bruce had 10 HR and 100 K’s on June 23 (like Stubbs does right now) I can only imagine the grief that Bruce would be getting.

  27. @jdm00: I’ve never understood this either, coupled with the fact that 1 in 3 people in the stands are wearing a Bruce jersey/shirt. I’ve never seen anything like it.

  28. @secondguessingfanbase: You are hilarious. Patience for what? *You* are the one who lacks any patience with Bruce, whereas people here that wanted patience with Bruce last year also are extremely patient with Stubbs.

    The plain fact of the matter is that you would rather have a player post a .734 OPS with lower variance (Stubbs) than a .859 OPS and higher variance (Bruce). And you don’t care that one player is 2 years older than the other. I just don’t know how to even begin to address that.

    And who’s written Stubbs off anyways?

    As an aside, the NL leader in OPS, Lance Berkman, has an identical variance in OPS between his best month and his other two months as Bruce (his OPS is 200 points better, so each month is 200 points better, but the differences are the same). Many players have hot streaks and cold streaks.

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