For me the timing with MIDI drums is not the problem, it's the lack of the different tonalities from each drum.
A good drummer can get plenty of different sounds from his snare, toms, and cymbals. A good hand drummer can get plenty of sounds from each conga.
Doing pitch shifts can help, but each drum should be on it's own channel or else they all shift the same, and that doesn't work either.
But this comes from someone who plays the drums. I'm sure guitarists have the same problem with MIDI guitars, and sax being my primary instrument, I have the same problem with MIDI sax (although the Physical Modeling Yamaha VL series does a better job in that respect than more sample based sax patches).
Music in the digital 'machine age' is different, not as nuanced as it used to be, so we do the best we can with the tools we have at hand.
Charlie Parker is quoted saying: "You don't play the sax, you let the sax play you." I interpret this as exploiting what the individual sax can and cannot do. Play with it, experiment, see and hear all the different sounds you can make with it. Then indulge yourself in what it does well, and don't try to force it to do something it is totally incapable of.
I feel the same way about all instruments, including individual synth patches. Make the best music you can with the tool you have in your hands.
So my drum patch may only have one snare sound, a little detuning alternate strikes can help and I can still do flams, diddles, paradiddlles, flamacues, ratamacues, and so on. The basic drum rudiments that most drummers use can go a long way to making your drum tracks sound more interesting.
Emulating any instrument is like a comedian doing an impersonation of a famous person. They don't have the same voice as the famous person, but still they sound like them. They do this by finding the speech nuances that famous person uses, finding which ones they can do well, use and sometimes slightly exaggerate the nuances they can do and stay away from the ones they cannot.
Same goes for emulating instruments. Craig's advice for watching and listening at the same time is excellent.
Insights and incites by Notes