At long last, it’s that time of year again. Spring training is officially upon us. Pitchers, catchers, and some position players have begun reporting to training sites in Florida and Arizona, and so have the baseball beat writers that cover them.
For the next month and a half, baseball diehards can wade through an ocean of feature stories on just about any player invited to a big league camp. New acquisitions, established fan favorites, top prospects, and veterans fighting for one last chance to earn a spot on a roster will all get their fair share of ink as scribes for teams across the league file their daily reports.
Almost all of these articles are fluff pieces. This guy is in the best shape of his life. This guy will definitely benefit from a change of scenery. This guy worked with coaches and is tweaking his mechanics. If you buy in to the tone of most of them, you’ll come away thinking that every single player you read about just might be better than people think this year. Obviously this isn’t always the case.
With that being said, I think Ryan Ludwick just might be better than people think this year.
It has little to do with ballpark dimensions. At least not directly, though I do think that he will see a spike in power numbers moving from Petco Park to Great American Ball Park. I think that this year Ludwick will perform close to the level he did in St. Louis because he will adjust his approach at the plate.
This quote from this post by the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay stuck out to me:
“Playing in San Diego really screwed me up. I’m not using that as an excuse or a crutch, but it turned me into a dead pull hitter. I got away from what I was as a hitter.”
That does sound exactly like he is using Petco as an excuse or a crutch, but it made me curious. So I looked at his numbers and I found something that may back him up.
One thing that jumped out to me when comparing his splits from his outstanding 2008 season and his terrible 2011 season is the difference in his ground ball and line drive rates. For his career, Ludwick has a .727 batting average on balls in play for line drives and a .275 BABIP for ground balls.
In 2008, he hit ground balls in 17.7 percent of his plate appearances. In 2011, he hit ground balls in 23.1 percent of his plate appearances. Conversely, in 2008, he hit line drives in 18.5 percent of his plate appearances compared to just 12.4 percent in 2011. His approach at the plate could possibly be to blame, as a hitter who tries to pull an outside pitch is unlikely to hit the ball squarely and is more inclined to hit the ball weakly and on the ground.
Ludwick was one of the best players in the league in 2008, when he hit .299 with 37 home runs and 113 RBI. His numbers dipped in 2009, but he was hitting .281 with an .827 OPS in 2010 before he was traded to the Padres. He hasn’t been the same player since.
I think if Ludwick tries to drive the ball more this season as opposed to trying to pull the ball, the Reds may have found a bargain. Hopefully Ludwick will spend spring training working on his swing and he gets his share of starts in left field.