Stephen Drew could rejoin the Diamondbacks as early as Wednesday and, when he does, it will be interesting to see how Kirk Gibson chooses to use him.
Drew, of course, has spent the last 11 months recovering from the right ankle injury he suffered while sliding into home plate in a game against the Brewers last July. Due to the severity of the injury -- specifically, a broken ankle -- his recovery has been slow and, at times, controversially so. But the veteran, who will be entering his seventh year in the majors, is currently on an extended rehab assignment with the Triple-A Reno Aces and he has fared decently, going 9-for-36 (.250) at the plate with a double, a triple, two home runs, four walks, and a .325 on-base percentage. And Reno Manager Brett Butler has also given a handful of good reports on Drew's defensive play.
Meanwhile, Willie Bloomquist is having the best season of his 11-year major-league career. Bloomquist, who has occupied the Diamondbacks' leadoff spot for most of the season, has the second-highest batting average among all National League shortstops (.288) and he's on pace to hit 28 doubles and 12 triples.
When compared to the previous 10 seasons of his career, it's clear that the 34-year-old Bloomquist has done much more than what anyone in the Diamondbacks organization could have expected, as he's poised to set career highs in every major offensive category except home runs and stolen bases.
Despite Bloomquist's up-year, it seems the Diamondbacks are still viewing Drew as the (eventual) everyday shortstop, as Kevin Towers seemed to indicate earlier in the week.
I'm no General Manager nor Manager of the Year but, in light of Bloomquist's hot hand and Drew's delicate ankle and rusty conditioning, I think an indefinite platoon situation at shortstop should, at the very least, receive consideration. Here are some reasons why:
Bloomquist isn't only having a career year in general; he's eating up left-handed pitching at a remarkable rate. The right-handed batter is 20-for-64 (.313) with three triples, four doubles, and four walks versus lefties this year, good for a .353 on-base percentage and a .463 slugging percentage.
On the other hand, Drew -- a left-handed batter -- has a history of struggling against lefties, hitting just .224 against them last year, .200 in 2009, and .247 overall in his career. In contrast, he has a .278 career batting average versus right-handed pitching.
Platooning Bloomquist and Drew at shortstop would mutually put the two in ideal plate situations -- situations that they have a history -- and a recent history, at that -- of thriving in.
Willie Bloomquist has earned playing time
As an 11-year veteran, it's evident that Bloomquist is highly respected around the Diamondbacks clubhouse and all throughout the organization. He brings an uncommon leadership dynamic -- one of intensity and energy -- to the team, which has surely paid dividends this year, as the Diamondbacks have struggled and scuffled through their first few months of the season. And now, as the team's Opening Day and current everyday shortstop, Bloomquist is playing better than ever.
With Drew's post-injury effectiveness yet to be seen, Bloomquist deserves regular playing time. He has been one of the most consistent players on the Diamondbacks' underachieving 2012 roster and, as I previously mentioned, his batting average is second-best among NL shortstops. If Gibson ends up going with a platoon at shortstop, one of the main contributing reasons will be Bloomquist's play thus far this season.
*Kevin Towers has also mentioned that both Bloomquist and John McDonald could get some time at third base, and the pair have already been taking groundballs over there during batting practice. Bloomquist's third base defense shouldn't be too much worse than what Ryan Roberts has been able to offer thus far this season and he has 85 career starts at third base, so this may be an alternative long-term solution if the Diamondbacks are looking to keep both Drew and Bloomquist in the everyday lineup.
The success of Drew's return could be the deciding factor in the Bloomquist-the-third-baseman scenario. All in all, the left-side of the infield is about to get a little more crowded, given McDonald's additional solid play.
"You're not going to replace Stephen." That's what Kevin Towers said the day after Drew broke his ankle last July. But numbers would suggest that, while Bloomquist hasn't been a carbon-copy Drew replacement, he has added near- equal value to the Diamondbacks' batting order.
Before his injury last season, Drew was on pace to hit .252 with 134 hits, eight home runs, eight triples, 35 doubles, 74 runs batted in, 73 runs scored, and eight stolen bases. This year, Bloomquist is on track to hit .288 with 12 triples, 28 doubles, 68 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases. While Drew is clearly a more valuable in categories like RBIs and slugging percentage, Bloomquist offers tangible value from the leadoff spot, as he hits for a higher average and steals more bases. (And if he was getting more help from the three-hole and cleanup hitters, Bloomquist would certainly be scoring at a much higher rate, too.)
*An important note: the numbers above reflect projections based on Bloomquist's current production and Drew's pre- injury, 2011 production. Can injuries, recovery periods, and new seasons skew a player's production? Ask Chris Young and Justin Upton.
Saying a player is overrated can be harsh. That -- harshness -- is not my aim here, but I do believe Drew is a tad overrated. The Diamondbacks' early-season offensive struggles seemed to trigger a lot of unnecessary "wait until Drew comes back" and "we need Drew" talk. Such seems misguided.
Numbers may not tell the whole story, but they don't lie. As detailed above, Bloomquist has filled in at the starting shortstop role with convincing success. And, without the early struggles of Justin Upton, Miguel Montero, and the team's other key bats, no such "we need Drew" talk would be heard. Rather, Bloomquist would be seen as the valuable offensive complement that he has been.
The fact of the matter is, much ado has swelled around the return of Drew, who is being pinned as some kind of antidote to an ailed Diamondbacks offense.
Here are some Drew facts that may offer some perspective:
• Drew has never been an All-Star • His career high in home runs is 21 (in 2009), followed by 15 in 2010 and 12 in two other seasons • He has never had more than 67 RBIs in a season • In 733 career games, he has stolen just 33 bases • He has never had more than 178 hits in a single season • Only Washington's Ian Desmond had a higher strikeout percentage than Drew among NL shortstops in 2010 and 2011 • His 2011 batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage were significantly down -- lower than every year since his second year in the big leagues (2007).
In the field, Drew was on pace to commit 13 errors (based on a 162-game average) last season. Overall, that's solid, but Bloomquist can one-up that, as he's on pace to commit only 10 errors, based on the same such trajectory. (Obviously, we haven't discussed basic range and zone here but, if anything, Drew's mobility will be down when he returns to his position.)
Don't expect Stephen Drew to be the same when he returns. The 2012 Diamondbacks have seen first hand that it isn't so easy to bounce back from injuries. Case in point: Chris Young, who was hitting .410 with five home runs prior to injuring his right shoulder but has gone just 14-for-93 (.150) with no home runs since returning to the lineup. Based on sheer observation, Young's throwing arm also seems to have been negatively effected by his injury.
Just the same, it may well take Drew a while to ease back into his former production and defensive prowess. An understandable desire to protect his right ankle may limit his aggressiveness on the basepaths -- creating awkward sliding and extra-bases scenarios -- while turning double plays and making off-balance throws may also be a cumbersome and unwieldy issue for the 29-year-old shortstop.
The Diamondbacks are a sub-.500 team that simply cannot afford to run experiments at this point in the season, given their division and wild card deficits. So, throwing a player whose post-injury efficiency is unproven into an everyday role too quickly may not be the wisest decision. Too much activity too early could quite easily lead to a plethora of other issues -- muscle strains, fatigued and unenergetic play, additional ankle problems, etc.
The Diamondbacks have no idea what Stephen Drew of 2012 will bring to the table. But Willie Bloomquist of 2012 has demonstrated his worth over a span of 52 games this season. While his play isn't quite All-Star material, Bloomquist has certainly been solid and consistent thus far.
Platooning the two shortstops -- Drew versus righties, Bloomquist versus lefties -- ought to be a serious consideration on the Diamondbacks' part, for a variety of reasons.