Season Preview

2014 Season Preview: Ryan Ludwick

No one’s 2013 season went wrong more quickly than Ryan Ludwick’s. He blew out his shoulder sliding on the first day of the season and that was that. He came back late in the year, but was far from fully recovered and even farther from productive. In 38 games, Ludwick managed to be worth almost a full win BELOW replacement. That is not good.

So what should we expect from Ludwick this year? Let’s take a look.

Ryan Ludwick
2013 Slash Line: .249/.293/.326
2014 Projection: .250/.310/.415

2013 WAR: -0.8
2014 Best Guess WAR: 0.5
Projected Difference: +1.3 WAR
2014 Floor: -2.0 WAR
2014 Ceiling: 2.5 WAR

I realize this projection is going to raise some hackles, so let me try to take the arguments one at a time.

1. No, he is not going to be above average. Ryan Ludwick was a really good ball player for exactly one season. That season was six years ago. Other than that he has had either one (FanGraphs) or zero (BBRef) seasons above 2.5 WAR. And even that one FanGraphs season was just a 2.6.

2. Yes, it is possible he’ll hit better than this. But look, shoulder injuries can be rough on power and all of Ludwick’s value is tied up in his power. This projection has him as basically a league average hitter. He may be a bit better than that. However he is also 35 this year, and that is not an age when players typically come back like gangbusters from serious injuries.

3. He is really bad at defense. Like really bad. He figures to be at least a full win below average for a left fielder, which like saying a particular sloth is slow for a sloth. He’s not good in the field.

So, basically, if Ludwick were a league-average fielder at shortstop, he’d be an all-star. But, as he plays left, he figures to be more or less replacement level. There is also a real possibility that his offense doesn’t come back at all, in which case, he turns into a total disaster in left.

There has been a lot of handwringing about the Reds’ bench this year, but don’t be surprised if Ludwick ends up as the least valuable player on the roster. It probably won’t happen, but it might.

33 thoughts on “2014 Season Preview: Ryan Ludwick

  1. Ludwick is a huge wild card, as the range of Jason’s floor and ceiling indicates. Maybe the largest possible swing on the 2014 roster. I do believe that Ludwick is considerably stronger now than he was last fall, when he first returned from his shoulder injury. The long-term prognosis on shoulder injuries is better than the short-term. He’s also in a contract year, for what that’s worth.

    The miscalculations made in relation to Ludwick by the Reds’ front office last year, first to stand pat when Ludwick injured his shoulder on Opening Day and second, to do nothing at the trade deadline while hoping the Ludwick of 2012 would return, were among the most awful of a terrible season of organization decisions.

    I’m afraid the best we can hope for is a repeat of 2012, when Ludwick had awful months (wRC+ of 73 in April, 95 in May) but also months (wRC+ of 187 in July, 167 in August) where he carried the team with his bat while Joey Votto was on the DL. A repeat of his full 2012 season .275/.346/.531 feels like wishful thinking at this point.

    I guess my head is with Jason on this, while my heart hopes that Luddy proves us wrong like he did overall in 2012.

    • @Steve Mancuso: Yeah, I think people forgot that aside from a 1 or 2 month stretch, 2012 Ludwick was pretty awful. And hasn’t been good for most of his career. Odd that so much has been made of Billy Hamilton, eternal destroyer of lineups (because sabermetrics), yet the absolute failure to upgrade LF was kind of a non-issue. Last year’s season was doomed the moment we decided to count on him for anything after the injury. His head will be called for many times leading up to the trade deadline.

      • @Dino Cox: I’ve been saying for months that we’re hinging our entire season on Hamilton and Ludwick, both of whom could easily be complete disasters. If they both tank we’ll probably finish under .500. Hopefully Ludwick does just enough to keep that from happening, but it’s going to take that and a ROY campaign from Hamilton to make this team a legitimate contender.

    • @Steve Mancuso: I hope now with Price as the Manager Ryan Ludwick’s roll on the team is changed. Even when fully healthy Ludwick can carry a team with his bat for small amounts of time, however he is a major liability with his glove. I think the Reds have been missing a good pinch hitter for a long time and now with Ludwicks situation and poor season last year he can feel that roll nicely. Whats not to like about Ludwick 50 to 75 pitch at bats a year with also about 50 or so spot starts to relieve our outfields. that would still grant him about 250 to 300 plate appearances for the year. The bottom line is I don’t think its best for the Reds as a team to scale down his roll from a everyday player to becoming our go to pinch hitter. Here is a list of the leading Reds pitch hitters last year. Hannahan 38 at bats, Paul 33, Robinson 31, Lutz 23. Izturis 22. I don’t know about all of you but to me that’s ugly.

      • @Baseballhomer21: Sorry typo. I do feel he’s roll on the team should be scaled down. Although I think he is overpriced the importance of having him as a pitch hitter as well as a DH will be very helpful in inter-league games and hopeful the World Series.

  2. Imagine how much better he’d be defensively with an average number of full fins!
    #thingsspellcheckwontcatch

    Realistically, Ludwick is the Red most likely to be replaced via some means mid-season. A right-handed hitting outfielder on the back end of a 2-year contract is more easily replaceable than most, and just about all but one scenario (a fast start for both player and team) lead to his departure from the starting lineup and/or Reds.

  3. I think this is too harsh. He looked very good in 2012 all the way up to game 5 of the NLDS. What he did in 2013 shouldn’t have any bearing on what he’s capable of this season. If his strength is back, which I assume was the main focus of his off season, then I expect more than what’s expected here.

      • @Jason Linden: No maybe about it. 2012 was absolutely his 2nd best season. And now he’s 2 years older with another reconstructed shoulder. Holding out hope that he’ll perform at a 2012 level is not a safe bet. That being said, I still don’t think the contract was a mistake. Without the injury it wasn’t absurd to think he could put up close to 2012 numbers for another two years and that would have made it a very good contract for the Reds. Unfortunately I think that ship has sailed.

  4. Perhaps my vision is tainted by watching Adam Dunn patrolling the greensward for however many seasons it was, but I didn’t really think that Ludwick was so bad defensively. It’s not a point I would argue, largely because one doesn’t see a whole lot of defense from a left fielder, in any event, so it’s a small sample size. I was a little surprised by Jason’s evaluation, is all. In spite of being a very long-time fan, I’m also puzzled by the general (and evidently correct) assumption that right fielders are better defenders than left fielders and need better arms. How come? There are more right-handed batters, so it seems logical that more balls would get hit to left. Anyone?

    • @greenmtred: it’s a lot farther from right field to 3rd base than from left to 3rd. Hence the right fielder needs a stronger arm than the left fielder. Without that the runner goes first to third on every single to right.

      • @Chris DeBlois: Thanks for the explanation. I had, at one point, considered the distance to third, but was distracted by the similar distances to home. What you say makes sense. How come, though, it’s also assumed that the right fielder needs to be a better overall defender. Same thing?

        • @greenmtred: At the MLB level, slightly more balls are hit to LF than to RF. At lower levels, that split is even larger, with LF getting quite a few more balls hit in that direction. The reason for having a better defender in RF as far as the MLB level tends to be due to ballpark design rather than number of balls hit. In most MLB parks, RF is a tougher field to play as it is generally the “sun field” and has more irregularities as far as how the walls are built at MLB parks.

  5. Ludwick would be great as a 4th OF and the main right handed PH off the bench. That should be his role. Now we just need to of out and get a LF.

  6. I’ve seen it stated that the Reds will probably pick up Ludwick’s option for next year. He’s due a 4.5m buyout, but his option is 9m. So essentially it’s a 4.5m dollar decision to keep him or not. Even if he has a decent year, I don’t think the Reds should keep him. It would almost seem as sentimental move, as he’s surely not going to be worth 9m in 2015. These contracts (Hannahan’s is a good example, 4m option w/ 2m buyout I believe) are bad business, in my opinion. We are essentially paying players half their salary to go away or overpaying to keep them.

    • @hotto4votto:

      We are essentially paying players half their salary to go away or overpaying to keep them.

      Or more accurately, deferring (backloading) the contract. The Hannahan contract was realistically a 2 year, $4MM contract with $1MM from 2013 and $1MM from 2014 deferred until 2015. The Ludwick contract was realistically a 2 year, $15MM contract with $4.5MM from 2013 deferred until 2015 and $1MM from 2013 deferred until 2014.

      Such a contract structure makes a commitment between the players and team for the length of the contract since such contracts are virtually impossible to trade. The deferred salary as a high cost option serves the same purpose as a full no-trade clause with a financial benefit to the team for spending future value dollars.

      The issue is whether the proper players were signed with the contract. Personally, I thought both contracts were reasonable, low-cost options for the Reds when the contracts were signed. The problem became shoulder injuries to both players, early in the first year of the contract. Unfortunately, injuries happen but low-cost and short-term of these two contracts mitigated the impact of those injuries. Imagine if the Reds had signed someone for LF in 2013 to a 4 year, $60MM contract who went down with a possible/probable career threatening shoulder injury.

  7. I have said this a few times on this site, but count me among the Ludwick believers.

    When Ludwick first came to Cincinnati, he had said many times that playing in San Diego seriously messed up his swing. I was a bit skeptical, but he seemed to rediscover his St. Louis magic in 2012 and it seemed he was telling the truth. His stats in 2012 are what you would expect from that player in St. Louis who suddenly plays all their home games at GABP. I also remember Ludwick always killing the Reds when he came to GABP with the Cards, so he seems to like hitting there.

    The problem is, a lot of people look at JUST the stats and not the human element. Ludwick is a guy whose story tells more than the stats alone can. Anyone who projects his 2014 stats based on 2013 is overlooking major elements altogether.

    That said, I think he won’t quite duplicate 2012, but I see no reason he can’t match his 2009 numbers with St. Louis (.265/.329/.447, 22 HR). Not an All-Star season, but certainly not a liability with the bat.

    Regarding defense, I think having BHam out there might help smooth over some of Ludwick’s rough patches and, as others have said, LF is one of the least defensively demanding positions anyway.

    I think people underestimating Ludwick is one of the major reasons many experts are picking the Reds to do poorly this year. In LF, if Ludwick is healthy, I feel very comfortable predicting a +2.0 WAR swing from 2013.

  8. According to MLB, Reds episode of 30 clubs in 30 days is on tonight at 7:00PM. However, it doesn’t show when looking at my DirecTV guide. Any hear anything?

  9. I’d like to strongly disagree with Jason’s pessimism. But I can’t. … The Reds have spent years and years treating LF like anybody can do it, and it has to be a bargain purchase at that. Jonny Gomes, anyone?

    Couple that with what appears to be a hard-headed determination to NOT make upgrades during the season, and it’s hard for me to see a positive outcome here. Hoping Ludwick surprises me!

    I’ve seen a few references possibly comparing the Reds to the 2010 Giants, as far as succeeding with great pitching despite light hitting. My concern there is that the Giants play in a pitcher-friendly park, so while the Giants weren’t killing the ball, other teams wouldn’t necessarily have much fun there either. But at GABP, a mistake or two by even a great starting pitcher can be lethal.

    I hope the Reds’ offense surprises me!

  10. I pretty much agree with this. I don’t think Ludwick’s bad defensively. If he was, he probably wouldn’t be playing at all. For, his bat isn’t that good to carry his contract including before we extended him. But, it wouldn’t be hard to find someone better defensively.

    I would probably give him about 10 more points on his number averages, but that would be about it. Just like with Hamilton, anything more than that would only be gravy.

    The thing with Ludwick that many forget/forgot, if we bring someone else in, that means we would be having $7+ million on the bench in one player. This club can’t afford that luxury. Second, we need someone to trade with. It’s easy to say we need to bring someone in. It’s a lot more difficult to get the deal done. The other team has to agree.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing “the club” concentrate less on the major league team in order to develop the minors more. I could understand the Latos trade, even though I would have tried to keep it to 3 players instead of 4. I still can’t believe the Marshall trade. And, I can’t believe we traded for Broxton. I can understand why we brought in Marshall and Broxton; I just wouldn’t have given up that much for them, including the one extra player I stated for Latos. “The club” needs to make sure we are going to have players who can step in as regular players for these players when the time comes. For example, with BP, we have no one coming up in the system. And, bringing in a FA can be expensive.

  11. @Jason Linden: I thoroughly enjoy reading and dissecting your player projections each spring (or late winter as the case may be). The complete lack of any move to improve the team after the loss of Ludwick last season and the loss of Choo this offseason has left the Old Cossack frustrated and desperate for something to hang his hope on for 2014. Those two options for a successful 2014 season were big impacts by Hamilton and Ludwick and in order to believe in those scenarios, the ‘Rose’ colored glasses came out of storage. Now you are forcing me to remove those glasses and look realistically at the prospects for 2014.

    Looking back to the 1st 6 weeks of 2012 when Heisey and Ludwick were vying for the starting LF job rekindles bad memories. Unfortunately I see the same type of situation developing this season. In 2012, through 33 games Heisey had a .539 OPS and Ludwick had a .613 OPS. Both players were healthy and the opportunity was waiting for someone to grab it and run with it. Ludwick finally did seize the opportunity, big time, producing a .935 OPS for the remainder of 2012. That carried the team to the playoffs.

    This season LF is again a big question mark. Ludwick (if healthy and capable) and Heisey (as the first option if Ludwick can’t) are expected to be the option for LF. Ludwick is 2 years older and coming off a serious shoulder injury and surgery. I want to see at least a career average season from Ludwick (.262/.332/.460) and have to believe Ludwick can and will produce such a performance, despite the ‘Rose’ colored glasses. I don’t think that Heisey can answer the bell as the starting LF after his calamitous decline in offensive performance during the past 3 seasons. If Ludwick can’t be the man in LF, then I’m not holding out much hope for the 2014 season.

    With that said…

    Ludwick proves the naysayers wrong and puts up a slash line of .262/.332/.460 with 25 HR and 92 RBI hitting 5th behind Bruce. The Reds and Ludwick exercise the mutual option for 2015 and after another offseason of serious conditioning and strengthening, puts up one last season with a 120 OPS+ for the Reds.

      • @Jason Linden: I thought they indicated last season that they did not really see Heisey as as CF guy anymore. Add to that Heisey looks more bulked this year than last.

        Especially with it looking like Hannahan might not be physically ready coming out of camp, I think Bernadina has a pretty good shot at sticking as a LH bench bat and stand in CF.

        • @OhioJim: They did. I’m speaking from a purely statistical place. Historically, Heisey’s had enough D to play center, while not having quite the O to play left, where fielding that matters less.

      • @Jason Linden: Heisey has the glove for any OF position. Bats could come from any position. For example, no one would look for or expect a 2nd baseman to drive in 100+ RBI’s, but we had one last season. If any team gets enough bats in other positions, having a lower bat in LF wouldn’t be a problem. All teams have some lower bats.

  12. I think that whoever is in CF for the Reds can play more of LF and so Ludwick will not matter as much in LF. In addition, Bernadina can play there, Heisey can play there, and Schumacker can play there. It is a long season and if the Reds can play .500 ball for a time, it is not impossible to believe that there could be help coming from AAA. I mean, specifically, Earvin or Yorman. If Yorman has turned the corner, the Reds may have a good choice for anywhere you want to put him in the OF. Earvin could be close behind. I do not think that is out of the realm of possibility.
    I am also optimistic that Hanahan and Ludwick will be more productive this year. We are, what, 4 games into ST so jumping ship is a little premature.

  13. Let me explain the first part of the posting. I think that Hamilton or Bernadina or Yorman or Earvin can play CF and their range will cut off more balls in the gap than Choo did. This diminishes some of the liabilities in LF. I see no reason why a platoon or a decision on, perhaps, Heisey in LF would not be a possibility. Whatever the Reds get in LF will be more productive than last year, Ludwick or no Ludwick.

  14. Is this the time when I mention that through 4 games, Bailey is the only pitcher who’ll make the Opening Day 25 man who’s given up an earned run, just to mess with Steve?

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