Which position player leads the Reds in OPS (on base percentage + slugging) over the last 30 days?
(If you don’t specify ‘position player’ the correct answer is Mike Leake.)
Joey MVP at .925? No, but that’s a solid guess and when he has two healthy knees is invariably right. How about Super Todd Frazier? Nope. Another smart guess though, he’s hit .955. Is the answer clean-up hitter, Brandon Phillips? Kidding. He’s at .750. Maybe it’s All-Star outfielder, Jay Bruce? No, he’s OPSing .786.
The correct answer is Ryan Ludwick at 1.026. That may be surprising, but the fact is, that after a painfully slow start, Ludwick’s OPS has improved every month and has arguably been the team’s best hitter lately. Mr. Clutch, Jay Bruce, leads the club with 17 RBI over that period, but Ludwick has had some big hits, including Friday and Saturday against the Cardinals. Ludwick’s OPS is even better in high-leverage (clutch) situations at 1.091. His walk-rate is a tick above league average at 8.6%, which makes him a Jedi Knight of the free pass for the Reds. He co-leads the team with Joey MVP in WAR for the past 30 days.
Apply the usual caveats, and there are many. One month is a small sample. Thirty days is an arbitrary cut-off, although not one I cherry-picked to make him look especially good. The compelling Ludwick of June and July may quickly revert to the lackluster April or May Ludwick. And the 2009-2011 stat lines jangle around on his baseball card. All those things.
But suppose June and July are close to what the Reds can expect the rest of the way from Ludwick, what are the implications? Dramatic ones, actually.
1. Playing Time. You have to play that Ludwick in LF most every game. Meaning, Chris Heisey will see playing time in center field, if at all. More importantly, Ludwick’s emergence complicates the idea that an easy solution to the Todd Frazier/Scott Rolen conundrum is to give Frazier 3-4 starts per week in left field. Ludwick’s bat may lock Frazier and Rolen into a strict zero-sum competition for playing time.
2. Batting Order. I know, you can’t discuss this rationally with Dusty Baker filling out the card. But just maybe, Ludwick becomes a viable option for the Reds manager to use as the right-handed hitter preventing the Votto and Bruce streams from crossing. If Baker wants to use Brandon Phillips as #1 or #2, then June/July Ludwick can step ably into the clean-up spot. One small thing that arrangement has going for it is that Ludwick is, you know, a considerably better clean-up hitter.
3. Trade Needs. A month ago, most of the Reds trade discussions concerned upgrading left field, or at least left and center field roughly equally. That was before the Stubbs über-slump and Ludwick’s Cardinal-slaying heroics. Today, it’s really hard to imagine the Reds will trade for a left fielder with the effect being to bench their best hitter over the past month. The outfield target, if there is one, is clearly center.
General Manager Walt Jocketty told Hal McCoy yesterday that the Reds are looking for a lead-off and clean-up hitter, but could probably only do one or the other. If Walt has been keeping up with current events, and I’m confident he has, especially where former Cardinals and recent free-agent signings are involved, he’ll get that the new acquisition will have to be a center fielder either way. That rules out Carlos Quinten, Justin Upton, Josh Willingham and (dear God, please) Juan Pierre. Shane Victorino and Denard Span move up. Trading for a center fielder may be difficult to accomplish at a reasonable cost. The Yankees and Harpers are looking, too.
On the other hand, if you don’t believe in June/July Ludwick (and that’s perfectly sensible) then never mind.
But if Ryan Ludwick continues to hit close to this way, the Reds will have suddenly become a much different and better team.