Reds in 2013: Ryan Ludwick


One of very few questions surrounding the Reds and 2013: Would Ryan Ludwick return? The bullpen was still in tact aside from the proposed move of Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation from his 2012 closer’s role. The only other question surrounding the everyday players was that of lead-off. Outside of those two “issues”, a return of Ludwick had its “sides”. Actually, I counted four.

You had one hoping for a Ludwick return while the Reds would not “overpay” for his services. There was another that wanted Ludwick to return regardless of cost. You also had a few that maybe preferred not bringing back Ludwick regardless of contract number for fear of regression seeing as he would turn 35 during the season. Then, there were those feel the Reds front office could use the monies “allotted” for Ludwick and gone after, say, Michael Bourn (that was never going to be in the cards for the Reds), or another bona fide lead-off hitter instead (that would have been the route taken without a Ludwick return).

Well, in the end, it was the first that “won”. Ludwick elected to re-sign and the Reds did reportedly receive a bit of a discount as Ludwick had offers paying him as much as $3MM more than the Reds offer. One reason Ludwick chose to return because of team chemistry. We’ll see how that shakes out in light of the trade with the Cleveland Indians.

Here’s a peek at what Ludwick has done in his MLB career…

If you’re going by OPS+ alone, 2012 was Ludwick’s second best season of his career with 128. His best (151) came on the heels of his breakout season of 2008. If you’re one that prefers WAR, 2012 was his third best with a 1.7. His previous best were 2008 (5.3) and 2010 (2.3). Those numbers are from Baseball Reference. Fangraphs shows 2012 to be his second best season in wRC+ (133) and WAR (2.8).

Upon checking Fangraphs and their publication of the Bill James projections, here’s what we could look forward to from Ludwick in 2013.

As you view these projections, it would appear that those that feared a regressing Ludwick would have legitimate concerns. In using the Simple WAR calculator, Ludwick’s WAR for 2013, based on the James projections, would be 1.2 (v. 2.1) to 1.3 (v. 1.1.1).

A common theme, or if you prefer to call it, a possible myth, that develops whenever a Reds player sees offensive success or a jump in offensive production compared to a season or two previous is owning stats that are GABP inflated, enhanced or dependent. Consider Ludwick a bit of a case study.

2012 home: 66 G, .268/.341/.555, 16 HR, 46 RBI
2012 away: 59 G, .282/.351/.505, 10 HR, 34 RBI

July 23, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Ludwick is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

The only “inflated” stat is Ludwick’s SLG. The batting average and OBP are higher when away from GABP. Not as enhanced as one might think. Sometimes, the preverbial “change of scenery” does come into play. Ludwick admitted that PETCO Park played with his head and his swing. That had to translate when he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 2011 season.

Back to the projections and that one word some have feared: regression. It’s written across the board here. Were the Reds too desperate to fill the clean-up spot by bringing back Ludwick? The above projections suggest that, but projections also do not take into account the human factor.

Ludwick knows his role, how he hits at GABP, where he will be penciled in the everyday lineup (being between Votto and Bruce isn’t such a bad thing, huh?), what is expected of him, and how his clubhouse manner figures into the success of the 2013 Reds. It’s easy to see where Ludwick could suffer that regression. He was, after all, potentially playing for his last “big contract” last year even though that deal held a mutual option for a second year.

But that one year in Cincinnati did something to Ludwick. It reinvigorated him.

And 2013 could either display that dreaded regression, or, more positively, show the continuation of what new foundation Ludwick constructed in 2012.

(Catch other entries from the “Reds in 2013” series:
Joey Votto
Brandon Phillips
Jay Bruce
Shin-Soo Choo)