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Drew Stubbs and the mid-career crisis

With his demotion to triple-A, the struggles of Drew Stubbs have put his career at a crossroad.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Stubbs got sent down to Colorado Springs yesterday in a relatively surprising move. Stubbs is making almost $6 million this year, and has been a major league mainstay since debuting in 2009. He is not a bad outfielder. Wait, let's rephrase that. Drew Stubbs has not been a bad outfielder. In 2015, however, he's been awful. Like, historically awful

Last year, Stubbs hit .289/.339/.482 for the Rockies in what was his most productive season. A function of seeing his overall playing time decrease and seeing a higher percentage of lefties helped Stubbs to finally fulfill some of the promise he showed as a young outfielder with the Reds. That said, Stubbs hasalways inspired concern. Going into 2015, Stubbs's career strikeout rate stood at a pretty incredible 29.7 percent, but his walk rate (8.6 percent) was just barely above the MLB average. Stubbs simply did not make enough contact to be a productive hitter unless he was hitting .404 on balls in play, as he did last year. While his defense in center field could make up for some of that offensive shortfall in most years, there's really no level of defense that will make up for hitting .118/.182/.255 and striking out 31 times in 56 plate appearances.

For a minute, let's talk about that strikeout rate. It's impossible, for one thing. Stubbs is striking out in 55 percent of his plate appearances. Using Baseball Reference's Play Index, I created a list of the players with the most strikeouts per plate appearance ratios for batters with more than 50 PAs in a season. Guess who leads it:

Player

AB/SO

PA/SO

PA

Year

Age

AB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Drew Stubbs

1.65

1.81

56

2015

30

51

31

0.118

0.182

0.255

0.437

Carlos Peguero

2.00

2.04

57

2012

25

56

28

0.179

0.193

0.357

0.550

Dave Duncan

2.02

2.12

106

1967

21

101

50

0.188

0.219

0.376

0.595

Rob Deer

1.67

2.13

64

1996

35

50

30

0.180

0.359

0.480

0.839

Mark Bellhorn

2.00

2.22

82

2001

26

74

37

0.135

0.210

0.243

0.453

Henry Mercedes

1.88

2.24

56

1997

27

47

25

0.213

0.302

0.298

0.600

Brandon Hicks

2.06

2.26

70

2012

26

64

31

0.172

0.243

0.391

0.633

Rick Ankiel

2.13

2.27

136

2013

33

128

60

0.188

0.235

0.422

0.657

J.R. Phillips

2.04

2.27

116

1996

26

104

51

0.163

0.250

0.413

0.663

Jayson Werth

2.18

2.32

51

2003

24

48

22

0.208

0.255

0.417

0.672

That's pretty amazing. If Stubbs doesn't make it back to the majors this year, he will finish with the worst PA/SO ratio of all time. The list is actually a pretty interesting one, with some familiar names. Werth, Duncan and Bellhorn would both go on to have productive careers, and I suppose the jury is still out on Carlos Peguero. These awful campaigns came on the front end of those careers, however, when they could still be forgiven for not figuring out MLB pitching just yet. On the other hand, there's Deer, Mercedes and Ankiel, all in their final seasons, clearly with nothing left in the tanks. There's also Hicks, who "hit" .162/.280/.319 with 77 strikeouts in 242 plate appearances for the Giants last year and has played five games at triple-A Sacramento in 2015. J.R. Phillips parlayed his mediocre slugging percentage into 121 more big league plate appearances, in which he hit .196/.248/.366 and struck out 42 times.

The point is that major league caliber hitters simply do not perform like Drew Stubbs, and unless he is hiding an injury, his career is in real jeopardy. I mean, at almost 31 years old, it's not like he's on the upswing.

The Rockies, meanwhile, should probably be a little embarrassed to have placed so much faith (and $6 million) into a 30 year old outfielder with an 89 career OPS+. For now Brandon Barnes and Rafael Ynoa will serve as the club's de facto fourth and fifth outfield options, but neither provides anything in the way of upside. Somehow, both are more palatable options. Stubbs has, indeed, fallen incredibly far since he was one of the most exciting young players in baseball in 2010.