Note: this photo does in fact capture a 2012 event. - Dustin Bradford
A tough year for the young centerfielder leaves us asking: what next?
Always start with the compliment, right? Drew Stubbs ranks in the Reds' top-50 in both career home runs and stolen bases, making him one of the franchise's true combined power and speed threats. A bit more difficult to quantify, but no less true, is Stubbs's ranking as a flycatcher in centerfield, which must certainly rank with the team's historical best.
In other news, Stubbs may be on his way out of the game altogether. Let's look at some trends over Stubbs's three seasons as a full-time player:
- The most obvious is the decline in offensive effectiveness, with OPS+ marks dropping from 105 to 86 to 61.
- Similarly, Stubbs's comprehensive value has commensurately declined, with falling WAR values of 2.8 to 1.6 to -0.2.
- The glove has not been immune, in one of the more troubling trends. The number of balls Stubbs has gotten to, on a per-nine-inning basis, has dropped precipitously: 2.83 to 2.53 to 2.25. The pitching staff has become better at striking batters out, but a 20-some percent drop in putout rate is too big to be explained by just that.
- Most Reds fans know that in 2011, Stubbs led the NL in strikeouts. Nonetheless, his strikeout rate has actually increased year over year over year (28.8% to 30.1% to 30.5%).
- Stubbs's walk rate has fallen each year.
- Despite having a well above average HR/FB ratio, Stubbs has become more and more of a ground ball hitter each year, to the point that he might now be labeled an extreme ground ball hitter (GB/FB ratio of 1.07, compared to league average of roughly 0.8).
- As a function of the above, Stubbs's Isolated Power has also trended down (from a peak of .189 to this year's low of .120).
From a management standpoint, Stubbs presents a dangerous dilemma. Drew is clearly a talented athlete, perhaps the most naturally gifted athlete on the team. When he's on, the Reds take a completely new & improved identity. As 2010 showed, just bringing a league-average bat to the table presents a considerable amount of value when combined with his defensive skills.
The two competing streams are of memory and of reaction. On the one hand, it's difficult to forget how good Stubbs can look at times, and the desire is to assume he can somehow piece it all together again. On the other, baseball is a game driven by two non-negotiable forces: opponents making adjustments and players getting older. At this point, it may be fair to conclude-given Stubbs's trend lines over the last three years-that opponents have made adjustments that the centerfielder is incapable of counteracting. More specifically, Stubbs appears rather unable to hit right-handed pitching, owning a career OPS against them that's 160-some points lower than against LHP. Taken one step further, it may be fair to conclude that if he hasn't figured it out by age 27, he never will.
Given his relative youth and the sheer ugliness of 2012, it's reasonable to expect Stubbs to exhibit a dead-cat bounce in 2013 that is neither indicative of true growth nor good enough to represent a first-division centerfielder. Two years from now, Stubbs will either be strictly limited to a 4th outfielder platoon role or effectively out of the game altogether. A good chunk of the 2013 Reds' success may very well depend on the quality of CF contingency plan they piece together, and/or how quickly they're willing to pull the plug on the Stubbs-as-starter assumption.
In three-plus seasons with the Reds, Stubbs has only appeared in the field as a centerfielder, has hit .241/.312/.386 over 2004 PA (86 OPS+), has amassed 59 home runs and 110 stolen bases, and has scored 285 runs. Stubbs's 2012 efforts have nudged him up the all-time list from #196 to #173.