Why can’t Drew Sutton stay anywhere for long? Sutton, 29, has several things going for him. He’s a decent hitter with experience at all four infield positions plus the corner outfield spots. He’s not a star or even a starting-caliber player for a team with any hope of contending, but why can’t he even stay with a team for an entire season? Sutton has now played for seven organizations including six in the last three years. How is that possible for anyone, let alone a player who has played pretty well? In 232 big league plate appearances over the last three years, Sutton has posted a .270/.313/.414 line, an even 100 OPS+ that is fine for a utility player. In 820 Triple-A PA’s over the same span, Sutton has posted a solid .271/.374/.397 line. Sutton is a solid hitter who plays all over the field. There are plenty of worse-hitting utility players that have experienced relative stability and haven’t had a whiff of the minor leagues over the past three years!
Is it Sutton’s defense wherever he plays? Per UZR, Sutton has downright awful in right field and terrible as well at second base. However, he’s been above-average at third base and shortstop and average at first base. Taking out right field, he has a -0.4 career UZR and even including right field, FRAA has him at 2.1 runs above average. He’s an average defender, and that’s all a super-utility player needs to be. But you can basically throw all those stats out the window because the sample size is just so small. Sutton hasn’t played as many as 30 games at any single position in the major leagues, but in any event, he looks like a decent defender.
Is there something the overall numbers aren’t showing us about Sutton’s hitting? For his career, Sutton has a .256/.309/.399 line, a 93 OPS+. The big problem for Sutton is that he strikes out too much and doesn’t walk enough- his career strikeout rate is a bad 28.6% while his walk rate is just 6.2%. But he hasn’t stayed in one place long enough to work on his approach at the plate and he has actually been very good in that regard at Triple-A, posting a 19.6% strikeout rate and 13.0% walk rate. Sutton even has some other tools that have failed to materialize as he has bounced around from place to place. In Sutton’s last full season anywhere, his 2008 season at Double-A, Sutton was excellent, posting a .317/.408/.523 line with 39 doubles, 4 triples, 20 homers, 69 RBI, 20 stolen bases in 27 attempts, and 98 strikeouts versus 76 walks. He was doing that as a 25 year old at Double-A (league average: 24), but it was still a very impressive season. Does Sutton have the potential to put up that type of numbers in the big leagues if someone actually gives him an extended chance? Almost definitely not. But he has never had the time to adjust to pitchers enough to get his approach right at the plate the past three years. Nevertheless, he has still been a .270 hitter. He has been solid versus both righties (92 sOPS+ in the big leagues), and especially against lefties (126 sOPS+) albeit in a small sample, just 73 PA’s. He has even been incredibly clutch, posting a .424 batting average with runners in scoring position, although again in just 74 plate appearances. But despite all of that, Sutton keeps wandering from place to place, never staying anywhere for long.
Drew Sutton is a victim of circumstance and small sample sizes. He is a decent big league player. He is nothing special but has the ability to contribute to a big league team in a utility role. Why doesn’t anyone give him a chance? Because the same story happens everywhere he goes- he arrives with the new team, plays decently at the start but strikes out too much and doesn’t walk enough, starts to struggle, takes his frustration into the field, and then gets sent packing. He hasn’t been given time to adjust to his new location and the new pitchers he’ll be facing, but just as important is how nervous Sutton has become knowing how quickly he can be sent away if he doesn’t play well. You look at the stats on Sutton and they say that he’s a vintage Quad-A player, playing well at Double-A and Triple-A but getting overmatched by big league pitchers, hitting for a decent average but striking out too often, not walking, and not hitting for any power, limiting what he can do at the plate in the major leagues. Maybe Sutton is really nothing more than that. But he’s never been given a real opportunity to prove otherwise.
This offseason, Sutton will sign with yet another organization or maybe even one of the same ones. He’ll likely head to Triple-A to begin the season before injuries or poor performance to the teams’ major league infielders give him a chance. 2013 is a pivotal season for Sutton as he turns 30 in June. Will he finally get enough playing time to adapt to his surroundings and show that he deserves to be in the big leagues?