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Stephen Drew is right choice in short term

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  April 10, 2013 10:46 AM

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I suppose we can submit this much as circumstantial evidence that Jose Iglesias has progressed as a hitter:

His manager hasn't found it necessary to pinch-hit for him in the thick of an at-bat all season.

Of course, through all of seven games, we've already learned that such counterproductive strategic ego trips aren't John Farrell's style; they've gone the way of his predecessor, which is massive progress of another kind.

OK, now let me attempt to deliver the questions of the day with a smaller helping of snark and no more semi-gratuitous Bobby V shots:

Is the ongoing offensive evolution -- or perceived evolution -- of Iglesias, the elegant shortstop who takes away hits with ease but throughout his four-year professional career has struggled to produce them himself, legitimate?

And to take it a step further, does the 23-year-old, who was pointed south toward Pawtucket Wednesday afternoon despite a .450 batting average in 21 plate appearances, have a genuine claim on the Red Sox shortstop job that instead belongs to veteran Stephen Drew immediately upon his return from a concussion?

The answer to the latter question is available in three simple words:

No way, Jose.

I'll elaborate on that in a minute.

oylerrayfinn410.jpgBut let's begin with the first question:

Is Iglesias's offensive progress so far legitimate?

Well, I'm not going to dismiss it out of hand. After all, he already has more hits (9) and as many doubles (2) in those 21 plate appearances as he had during 77 PAs last year, when he had eight hits en route to an Ray Oyler-esque .118 batting average/.200 on-base percentage/.191 slugging percentage slash line.

(While 1960s/'70s Orioles defensive whiz Mark Belanger is often cited as a shortstop comparison for Iglesias, his tally of 20 home runs in 18 seasons and a .580 career OPS are statistical artifacts of a bygone era. And yet he's the high-end wishful comp for some. Oyler, who hit .135 with a .399 OPS in 247 plate appearances for the 1968 Tigers but found his lasting fame as a supporting player in "Ball Four,'' is the much more sobering comp.)

He has made some progress, and his current ZiPS projection of a .269 average and a .634 OPS would be perfectly acceptable given his Pokey Reese-quality defense. But his success in a small sample size exaggerates it, especially when you look just a little deeper at the numbers.

Iglesias is not exactly driving the ball -- five of his nine hits have not left the infield. And his batting average on balls in play -- currently standing at an insane .529, which isn't quite as insane as the .700 he had posted after the first five games -- suggests he has been far more lucky than good. (A normal BABIP is right around .300.)

It's funny, but despite Iglesias's limited major league exposure (41 games, 104 plate appearances), it seems he's actually more familiar around here than Drew, the established and superior all-around player who is making his Red Sox debut Wednesday night. It probably hasn't helped Drew's Q-rating around here that he spent the first seven seasons of his career playing out west, the first 6 1/2 in the National League.

The surname isn't an advantage in these parts either, but please don't hold it against him that he's J.D. Drew's brother. (I say that as someone who liked J.D. Drew but understands why others didn't.) Stephen Drew may not exactly be boisterous, but his passion for the game is evident, and his personality should fit with this remodeled Red Sox team that seems hell-bent on redemption and winning back the fans. To put it another way: He'll definitely react should he be at the plate when Jacoby Ellsbury steals home.

Plus, you know, when healthy, he's been pretty darned good. A gruesome ankle injury in July 2011 cost him the rest of that season and led to a prolonged road to recovery that didn't thrill Diamondbacks manager and grit aficionado Kirk Gibson. (Note: Justin Upton didn't thrill Gibson either, and he seems to be doing OK in Atlanta.) But if he can be, at age 30, a reasonable facsimile of what he was before the injury, the Red Sox will consider his $9.5 million salary a bargain. And you know what? So will you.

In 2007, his first full season, Drew had 44 extra-base hits -- or as many as Iglesias has had in his entire professional career, including the minors. The next season, Drew stacked up 76 extra-base hits -- 21 homers, 44 doubles, 11 triples -- then followed with seasons of 53 and 60 XBH before the injury in '11. He could -- should -- be a very good player, a capable defender who adds needed depth to the Red Sox lineup.

I'm looking forward to watching Drew play. Sure, it has been a pleasure watching Iglesias -- there are 155 games left in the season, and I've already run out of superlatives to describe his glove at shortstop. And stellar defense all over the field has been a factor in the Red Sox' fast start. Changing the recipe ever so slightly carries some risk of ruining the meal.

But if he goes down to Pawtucket (where he has a .589 career OPS in nearly 800 plate appearances) and proves there that he really has made progress, it seems to me the Red Sox will be left with nothing but appealing options. Stephen Drew can play. And should something go awry, Jose Iglesias and that mesmerizing glove are just a short drive away.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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