There is very little doubt that this season has been a bit of a struggle for Josh Reddick. The surprising right fielder who burst onto the scene in Oakland in 2012 after coming over in the trade that sent Andrew Bailey to Boston, has seen his production take a dramatic dive and has left many fans wondering which Reddick is the real one. Of course part of what made Josh Reddick one of the faces of the rejuvenated Oakland Athletics franchise was not only his solid 2012 season, but his personality and likability that created a solid bond between him and the fans. His relationship with the fans in the right field bleachers has become especially notable as he plays off them, and they play off him.
It’s that bond that has given him a much longer leash in the minds of many fans than what has been extended to other struggling players like Chris Young. But it’s getting to a point that no rational fan can truly defend Reddick’s presence in the lineup right now. What’s to be done is a different discussion entirely, but what I would like to attempt to figure out is exactly what is going on with Josh Reddick in 2013.
Just on the surface, the numbers aren’t pretty for Reddick. In 315 plate appearances this year, he’s posted a .203/.287/.326 with just 5 home runs to his name. It’s a far cry from his .242/.305/.463 line with 32 home runs in 2012. At first look, he seems to be getting on base at roughly the same rate, but his power has taken a drastic downturn. In 2012 he posted an ISO of .221 and has seen that number drop all the way to .123.
For those who remain firmly supportive of Reddick immediately point to his .238 BABIP and simply chalk up his sub-par season to bad luck. There certainly can be an element of misfortune here, but luck doesn’t have anything to do with him not hitting the ball out of the ballpark. It is also my belief that BABIP cannot always tell the entire story, and sometimes you might have a low BABIP simply because you are not driving the ball. This is where I think we are beginning to uncover the underlying problems.
So I turned to some of the data on Fangraphs relating to batted balls, and looked to see if there was any trends. There most certainly were.
Reddick’s home run to fly ball ratio went from 14% in 2012 to just 5.4% this season. That speaks to a simple decrease in the distance of and force with which Reddick is hitting the ball in the air. His line drive percentage is almost unchanged, from 21.2% to 21.1, so he’s likely getting a lot of hits from within that 21.1 percent this year. What did strike me though was that his ground ball to fly ball ratio went from 0.59 to 0.85, and that is where we start to see changes from last year to this year. His overall ground ball percentage increased from 29.2% to 36.2%, and his fly ball percentage dropped from 49.6% to 42.7. In his career his ground ball percentage is 32%, and his career fly ball percentage is 47%; so his performance speaks to significant deviations from his career norms.
This is where the numbers stop though, and I have to turn to simply what I have observed from Reddick this season. He’s shown a propensity to roll over on pitches and try to pull pitches on the outer half of the plate. That leads to a number of weak ground balls, and a lot of pop ups. He’s popped up 14% of the balls he’s put into play this year though, which is actually down from 14.4% in 2012. So the key difference for Reddick is the increase in the number of balls he has been putting on the ground as opposed to in the air.
The fact that he’s putting so many balls on the ground also speaks to the drop off in power. I believe there has been an overall drop in Reddick’s aggression at the plate, and the pitches he chooses to swing at support the notion. While he has swung at 25.2% of the pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone, which is down from 33.6% last year, he’s swung at 67.6% of pitches in the zone, which is also down from 72.5%. Overall he’s swung at 43.9% of the pitches he’s seen, which is down from 50.2% last year. He’s taking more pitches, in theory to be more selective, but he may be costing himself chances to hit the best pitches he may see in a given at bat. With Reddick taking more pitches, pitchers gain the opportunity to get ahead in counts and dictate the rest of the at bat. They are making Reddick hit their pitch, and Reddick is letting them do it.
The wild card in all of this is the lingering cloud of the wrist injury Reddick suffered early in the season. While that injury doesn’t explain the slump he endured during the final two months of the season last year, it is conceivable that the injury has lingered throughout this season. But I don’t think anyone, or Josh Reddick himself would want to blame his struggles on an injury. Still, the fact remains that despite his good defense Reddick is not helping the team win. In a period of time when the Athletics are struggling to put runs on the board, his ability to throw out a runner once in a while and perhaps save a run with his defensive skills is outweighed by his inability to consistently contribute to the offense. Besides, a 4-1 loss counts just the same as a 3-1 loss. If Reddick can’t become part of the solution, he will continue to remain part of the problem and he will have to be replaced somehow.