If you hadn’t heard, the Cincinnati Reds are having a tough start to the season. After dumping most of their best players off to contending teams, they sit at 8-24, the worst record in baseball. Somehow, the Brewers are already 12 games ahead of them, and they have one starter with an ERA under five (Connor Overton in three starts). Hey, at least they are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Don’t let this team get hot!
Another thing going around baseball that you probably know of is the overall lack of offense. For example, Oakland’s Chad Pinder has an OPS+ of 100 and a .656 OPS. Sure, weighted stats like OPS+ have always heavily favored hitters in pitcher-friendly parks like the Oakland Coliseum, or… RingCentral Coliseum? The original name is better. However, it is still possible to have a good OPS+ with a terrible OPS. Look at Josh Donaldson. He won’t tell you that his .722 OPS is good, but OPS+ has him eight percent above league average.
The Reds have managed to have just three hitters over the 100 OPS+ line over a month into the season. One is Tommy Pham, who at 110 is about where you would expect him to be. Young catcher Tyler Stephenson is off to a monster start, with a 1.036 OPS. We certainly were not expecting him to be that good to start the year, but Stephenson being a great hitter was foreseeable considering his former status as a top prospect. Then, there is Brandon Drury.
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For those unfamiliar with Drury’s story, it starts as a 13th-round pick back in 2010 by the Atlanta Braves. Three years later, he was packaged with four others, including Nick Ahmed and Martin Prado, and sent to Arizona for Chris Johnson and Justin Upton. He debuted in 2015, became an average hitter with defensive versatility. He was then traded to the Yankees before the 2018 season in a three-team deal with the Rays. The hope was for Drury to be the stopgap third baseman until prospect Miguel Andujar was ready.
Drury played just 18 games for the New York before he was plagued by head injuries. By the time he was ready, Andujar was well on his way to a Rookie of the Year nomination. The Yankees sent Drury and Billy McKinney to Toronto for J.A. Happ. Drury would be a Blue Jay through 2020, then became a decent bench player for the Mets last season in 51 games. Now, he is a member of the Reds, making the team after signing late in Spring Training.
Early Season Star
As per usual, it has to be noted that everything Drury has done with the Reds is in an extremely small sample size. We are just over a month into the season. Drury’s .864 OPS this season does not mean that he is a star. But overall, the numbers are good. He has six home runs with a 17.2 barrel percentage (95th percentile in baseball), a 51.6 percent hard-hit rate (90th), and a .397 wOBA (93rd).
The most surprising development is that Drury is hitting fastballs. That should sound obvious, but Drury has struggled with heaters in his career. Between 2018 and 2021, he was just 32-for-186 (.172 average) against 4-seamers. This year he is 10-for-28 (.357). Bunched with that are a few other trends that you would expect. Drury’s 12.5 swing-and-miss percentage is well below his career norm (in other words, good). His groundball rate on fastballs is a career-low 24.4 percent, and he is barreling heaters a lot more frequently.
Whenever a batter is hitting like a completely different person, for better or worse, we have to look at any physical adjustments that they made at the plate. You have heard the stories of J.D. Martinez and Justin Turner altering their approaches. Did Drury make any with the Reds? Looking at tape from previous years and 2022, there is a noticeable difference. Here is Drury taking one of the best pitchers in baseball deep in Brandon Woodruff:
Now here he is doing the same thing in 2019, tying the game up in the 11th inning versus Blake Treinen:
Notice that with the Reds, he is standing straighter with his elbows in less, compared to the knees and elbows-out approach of the past. For reference, here is another Reds homer:
And another from Toronto:
You can see the shift towards present-day beginning to form when he was a Met. Drury did enjoy success there, with a .783 OPS. Here he is last year, doing a bit of a hybrid between the two:
What does any of this mean? Probably nothing. Drury has too much history of being a mediocre hitter for one good month to change everything. But when you factor in his lackluster performance with juiced baseballs and now his good start with dead ones, an open eye has to be kept. No one would be surprised if Drury fell off the face of the Earth for the remainder of 2022. But his changes to start the season have left a lot to be happy about.
Follow Carter LaCorte on Twitter @CarterHudBlog
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