J.D. Drew is a Better Baseball Player Than You May Remember

In his 14-year Major League Baseball career, J.D. Drew hit .278/.384/.489 with 242 home runs. His glove was worth 69 runs in the outfield according to the advanced defensive metrics from TotalZone. For his solid bat and above-average glove, Drew was worth a substantial 44.9 Wins Above Replacement. 

His career numbers and advanced statistics make Drew comparable to Hall of Famer Edd Roush and Indians & Tigers legend Rocky Colavito. Drew has also more career WAR than early 20th-century hall of famers Hugh Duffy and Roger Bresnahan. I’m not saying that J.D. Drew belongs in the Hall of Fame. But, at one time, there is a possibility that he could’ve gotten there.

Drew’s 1998 Fleer Update Rookie Card is a really nice looking piece. His card #U100 in the set got plenty of attention from prospectors in the baseball card hobby. As a can’t miss prospect, over six thousand J.D. Drew Fleer Update cards were sent in to PSA. As of May 2019, there are 819 PSA 8, 3477 PSA 9, and 2066 PSA 10 copies in existence. Today, you can buy a copy of a PSA 10 graded J.D. Drew rookie card for $4 to $5 plus shipping. What happened?

J.D. Drew and the St. Louis Cardinals Years

Actually, J.D. Drew turned out to be extremely good. After murdering AA and AAA in 1998, Drew had a torrid 14 game introduction to the major leagues, hitting .417/.463/.972. But, in 1999, after hitting well in AAA, his first rookie season was actually pretty mediocre with the bat (91 OPS+) but exceptional with the glove in center field (17 runs above average). So, in real life, he was worth 2.7 WAR, but that had to be a let down for everyone who had invested in his rookie card.

The 2000 season was a good one, though, for Drew. He’d hit 18 HR, steal 17 bases, and have a .880 OPS, good for a 121 OPS+. 2001 was a monster year, as he hit for a 160+ OPS. But even then, he started missing games here and there with nagging injuries. This would be a theme throughout his career. He would only play more than 140 games in a season three times. Even so, he racked up 18.1 WAR in 6 seasons with St. Louis.

J.D. Drew and His Career Year With the Atlanta Braves

After the 2003 season, Drew was traded along with Eli Marrero for Ray King, Jason Marquis, and Adam Wainwright. It would be a good trade in the end for the Cardinals as Wainwright blossomed into an ace pitcher. But it was also good for the Braves, who got Drew’s biggest season and the only season in which he hit more than 30 HR – .305/.436/.569 with 31 HR and 12 steals for 8.3 WAR.

Drew was looking pretty good at this point with 26.4 WAR in 7 seasons  Interestingly, though, Drew had zero All-Star game appearances, despite being an All-Star level player in all but 2003, and he only played 100 games that year and still collected 2.5 WAR. That’s because his power numbers were good, but not great, and he missed a lot of games with nagging injuries.

J.D. Drew, the Dodgers, and the Red Sox

A two-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers proved fruitful as he posted 3.2 and 4 WAR seasons. What’s most impressive is that his 3.2 WAR season was in an injury-marred 2005 campaign in which he played only 72 games. The Red Sox really liked what they saw in 2006 and gave Drew a five-year, $80 million contract.

While many Red Sox fans seem to remember only the beginning and end of that contract ,Drew actually was pretty good with the Red Sox. After an injury-marred 2007 in which he still managed to play 140 games but diminished at both the plate and the field, he was actually an important piece of the Red Sox’s run to winning the 2007 World Series. In 2008, Drew played very well and earned his first All-Star game appearance, and then he got hurt again…  

Fortunately, Drew managed to be just as good in 2009 and actually played 140 games. But in 2010, despite playing 139 games, his nagging injuries were clearly eroding his ability at the plate, although he was still a 3 WAR player thanks to still being above league average and very good on defense. In his first four seasons with the Red Sox, he collected 12.2 WAR. That’s not a horrible return on investment for $64 million over four years.

Unfortunately, at age 35 in 2011, the wheels just fell off for Drew. He would actually be “worth” -0.9 WAR for the Red Sox in 81 games, a season in which the wheels fell off for the Red Sox in general. Had he not been hurt, Drew could’ve helped save that 90-win season. But, he was clearly a washed-up player at that point. A lot of people remember the broken down Drew, and it’s too bad because he actually was a pretty good player.

Could J.D. Drew Have Ever Gotten Into the Baseball Hall of Fame?

The problem is that being “pretty good” doesn’t get you in the Hall of Fame, nor does it help you do well in the baseball card market. Drew was a very calm and quiet player and many people had the impression that he refused to play unless he felt one hundred percent. But, as someone who watched Drew a great deal, I can say that when he did play, he played very hard. He had a great batting eye and a great swing that could do a lot of damage when he was locked in.

Drew was also a very underrated fielder, I feel. His power numbers such as home runs and RBI weren’t eye-popping, but he made up for those with his on-base skills and overall ability to hit for extra bases. He was a perennial All-Star level player that just missed too much time and never really became beloved by any fan base.

Had Drew not missed substantial time in several seasons, it’s quite likely that he would be on the Hall of Fame bubble, right? It’s more likely that Drew’s quiet demeanor and unimpressive power numbers would’ve pretty much eliminated any chance of people seriously considering him for the Hall. Drew actually had a great career, considering how many injuries he suffered.

Despite his injuries, Drew never stopped playing hard and he stuck with the game he loved for nearly a decade and a half in the Major Leagues. That’s worth remembering. So, his rookie card being worth only $5 in top condition is actually quite a shame, although as far as the card market is concerned, it’s probably correct.

Still, J.D. Drew is a better baseball player than you may remember. I know he was better now than I realized back then. But, from a sports card investment standpoint, wow, did he let a lot of people down. Of course, it’s not Drew’s fault that over 6000 copies of a piece of cardboard were submitted to PSA for grading. (Plus who knows how many more to Beckett?) He just played the game he loved hard, and made the Cardinals look pretty good for choosing him fifth overall in the draft.

Writing words, spreading love <3

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