It’s a matter of cause and effect. If you let Ryan Ludwick walk, you are essentially handing the clean-up role to Brandon Phillips, the guy that most Reds fans were begging to hit lead-off while Dusty Baker was running Drew Stubbs out to snag that elusive first out. The ramifications of not signing Ludwick are crystal – without Ryan Ludwick, Brandon Phillips is the only clean-up hitter this team has.
Some readers may be convinced that Jay Bruce can fill the void. A noble concept, and for what everyone is expecting this kid to be, it wouldn’t be far fetched; however, we’ve seen Jay Bruce attempt to protect Joey Votto and the results have been less than flattering.
Jay Bruce has had 396 plate appearances as the cleanup guy. He’s got a .236 BA and a .326 OBP to show for it. That’s not to suggest that Bruce won’t one day become the cleanup, but if the Reds plan on improving upon their 2012 campaign, they can’t have a question mark at this vital of a role.
Without Bruce, the de facto cleanup man becomes Brandon Phillips. In 2023 cleanup plate appearances, Phillips boasts a .282 batting average and a .331 OBP. He’s driven in just shy of 300 runs from that spot. Compare him to Ryan Ludwick, who has 1307 plate appearances batting fourth. He’s hitting .262 with a .335 OBP. But consider the body of work. Despite the fact that Ludwick has 716 fewer plate appearances batting 4th, he has only ten fewer walks than Phillips, just 14 fewer home runs, 70 fewer RBIs, plus, his OBP is higher.
I think Ryan Ludwick is the quintessential cleanup man, especially in a ballpark that can resurrect a power hitter’s career, provided the power hitter can put the ball in play. The problem is, if you sign Ludwick, that more than likely relegates Brandon Phillips to the lead-off. In 691 career plate appearances leading off, Brandon Phillips sports just a .265 average and a .325 OBP. Drew Stubb’s career OBP leading off? .320.
I want Ryan Ludwick in the left corner of GABP’s tiny outfield, but I want guys on base for Joey Votto even more. I won’t pretend to know the Reds’ budget, but if it’s between having Ryan Ludwick cleanup, which pushes BP to lead-off, and letting Ryan walk to let BP cleanup, which allows the Reds to sink money into a real leadoff guy, I’m thanking Ryan Ludwick for his services and wishing him well in his future endeavors.