In the show, Epstein was very honest about how fans and media view the game and its players and how the Red Sox front office looks at them. We are beyond lucky to have a group of people running this team who truly understand the game and refuse to be swayed by any of the insane media circus that surrounds them. (I smoothed out some sentences and bolded some good stuff. I also typed out more than I needed to, probably. But why delete it now?)
Theo: Sometimes you guys get stuck evaluating players through home runs and RBIs. It's not the way most clubs do it these days. You look at the underlying performance of a lot of our guys, they bring more to the table than just the counting stats. J.D. is right up around a .900 OPS and playing really good defense in right field. ... He seems to be brought up only on certain stations when he's in a slump and it's time to pick on him.
WBCN: Obviously his OPS is always pretty high and yet when you look at his career performance based on runs scored and RBI -- and again recognizing those are traditional statistics -- it looks like it doesn't always lead to run production.
Theo: That's not true. In RBI, yes. Based on his skill set, he's always going to have underwhelming RBI totals. I couldn't care less. When you're putting together a winning team, that honestly doesn't matter. When you have a player that takes a ton of walks, who doesn't put the ball in play at an above average rate, he's not going to drive in a lot of runs. Runs scored, you couldn't be more wrong. If you look at a rate basis, J.D. scores a ton of runs, and the reason he scores a ton of runs is because he does the single most important thing you can do as in baseball, as an offensive player -- and that's not make outs. ...
Look at his runs scored on a rate basis with the Red Sox or throughout his career -- it's outstanding. And you guys can talk about RBI if you want. We ignore them in the front office. ... If you want to talk about RBI at all, talk about them as a percentage of opportunity, but it simply is not a way that we use to evaluate offensive players.
WBCN: Are you sick of defending J.D. Drew? You've been defending this guy before you even brought him here. Are you getting tired?
Theo: I'm not tired of it. I think it's an interesting case study in the way fans and media perceive certain players. Someone did a study where they asked fans to apply -- and I'm going to butcher this because I didn't read it carefully enough -- they asked fans and media to describe a certain player at two points during the season, once when he was hot and once when he was cold. They did it with different personality types. And the player that was not very emotional, just played the game, didn't have outward signs of passion, during those times when he was in a slump, he was described as aloof, uncaring, a dog. And during those times when he was really successful, he was seen as having ice in his veins and a cool customer.
Then you take the other kind of player, the player who wears his emotions on his sleeve at all times, throws his helmet, that type of thing. When he was performing really well, he was described as a passionate player, a dirt dog, exactly the type of fiery makeup you want, a team leader. And when that type of player was slumping, he was too emotional, he snaps, he can't control himself.
There's a tendency to pigeon-hole players or label them based on things we think we know about them, by the way they act. In J.D.'s case, you combine that with the fact that the things he does extraordinarily well, that actually really help teams win, are subtle. Home runs and RBI, just to keep it on the most basic terms, are really obvious to people. Everyone wants to say this guy is 30 and 100. The fact that J.D. is going to have close to a .400 on base percentage, close to a .500 slugging percentage -- no one talks about that, that's more subtle. So you combine his personality type with the tendency to label someone and extrapolate what he must be like as a person or a player based on the way he handles his emotions on the field, combine that with the fact that his game is subtle, and no matter what he does, he's not going to be a well-liked player. I find that fascinating.
And it doesn't matter one iota with respect to executing our business plan, which is to put ourselves in a position to win around 95 games as often as we can. Yet with respect to the narrative that surrounds the team [with the media and fans], it's meaningful, but it doesn't matter. From our perspective, being paid to get the team in the playoffs every year, it's meaningless.
Am I annoyed to have to defend him? No. But I like justice. So when players are picked on unfairly, when they are doing well, it shouldn't be ignored.
WBCN: Well, since you've gone here. What about pulling himself out of the lineup? What about that case, I think it was in Tampa [It was in Texas, August 14], and Terry talked about it after the game, where he's used his lineup card, he's got Clay Buchholz running around second base, it was that game, and J.D. at the end of the game is like "Ehhh, I got a little something, Tito, I need to come out." And Tito says "Look at my lineup, you can't get out." Now that's something that recurs with J.D. Drew.
Theo: That's happened two or three times with other players since then. I'll tell you this: when it comes to the player who guts through injuries and plays 155 games a year or the player who might want to take himself out of the lineup one day before he really aggravates an injury and ends up on the 60-day DL ...
One of the things we actually tell our players in the minor leagues is you need to be more honest with us about when you're hurting ... With the way we built this team, I would rather have a right fielder who plays at a very high level who plays in 130 games rather than someone who plays hurt, plays at a lesser level, and ends up playing 155. Because you know what? We have Rocco Baldelli ready to go out there. And look where we are when you combine those two and stack them up against the right field production of any other team. ...
Now I have respect for the guy who guts it out all the time, but sometimes they can cross the line and be fool-hardy. Everyone's personality is different, everyone has different thresholds, but look at the guy's performance on a rate basis and look at his performance when he complements it with who his backup is, who was specifically brought here to be able to play when he doesn't play, and look where we are and I think you'll see a correlation.
Among American League right fielders, Drew is #1 in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. (Before today's game, he was .002 behind Shin-Soo Choo in OBP (.394 to .392), but Choo had the day off and Drew went 2-for-3. Likewise, he was .002 behind Nelson Cruz in SLG (.524 to .522), but got eight bases in 3 PA.)
I also looked at what percentage of baserunners he drives in. Among AL RF with at least 400 PA, he's right in the middle of the pack (13.9%). He is behind Bobby Abreu (19.7%), Nick Markakis, Jermaine Dye, Alex Rios, and Choo, but ahead of Cruz, Ryan Sweeney, Nick Swisher, Michael Cuddyer, Magglio Ordonez, Ichiro Suzuki, and Willie Bloomquist (9.9%). ... He is also middle of the pack on the Red Sox.
I like what SoSHer CaptainLaddie says: "It's reached the point where I can judge someone's knowledge of baseball based on how they view JD Drew."
(That quote is from a lengthy discussion of Drew. It starts off slow, but it may be worth your time.)