Though the Reds and Ludwick have been exchanging numbers for a few days now, Jon Heyman of ESPN first reported on Friday night that they had signed an official deal, and that it was worth $15 million over two years this morning, with an option year (Fay reports that it’s done pending a physical on Monday). Having Ludwick firmly in the fold solidifies the Reds plans for 2013, and for a pretty reasonable rate, at that.
I admit that last year, I was none too excited about the prospect of Ryan Ludwick, but he made me eat crow, becoming an important part of the lineup. His .373 wOBA says he was the second best hitter on the team – and the best right-handed batter. His defense, of course, is probably sub-par, but we easily got far more value from Ryan Ludwick that we paid him in salary, with the 2.8 WAR he put up. If he can keep up that performance level, it’s definitely a great deal for the Reds, but that’s still a big if.
Yes, I’ve turned around on Ryan Ludwick, but that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about what he’ll do next year. It’s hard to read a player history like Ludwick’s. He’s had one really spectacular year. He’s had decent years. He’s had terrible years. He may have really suffered from playing in pitcher-friendly PetCo Park. Certainly, he’s unlikely to significantly improve on his 2012 season; 2012 was his second best season ever, and he’s not quite as young as he used to be.
The Bill James projection, for example, is not kind to Ludwick. But it’s no surprise that projection systems don’t like a 35 year old outfielder with some pretty rough years between 2009 and 2011.
On the other hand, I think there are some positive signs for Ludwick a season like 2012, or at least kind of close to it. He was even better than his season numbers when he started regularly in June, July, and August. He had an average BABIP at .299, so he probably wasn’t ‘just’ lucky – and that BABIP is in the range of his historical norms. His BB and K rates were also very similar to what he’s done in the past. Where he really excelled compared to every other year of his career that wasn’t 2008 was when it came to slugging. His 26 homers were the second most on the Reds, and the second most in his career. But that’s very easily explained by the fact that he’s now in the most homer-friendly park of his career.
You can look at the map of his home run landing spots with an overlay of GABP’s dimensions here. On one level, Ryan’s clearly benefitting from hitting at GAPB. On the other hand, our ballpark isn’t going anywhere. Plus, Ryan still had 9 ‘no doubter’ homers – good for 5th best in the NL. He also hit the longest home run in Great American in 2012 - this beauty at 469 ft true distance. This all gives me a feeling that Ludwick can definitely kinda-maybe-almost maintain his 2012 power levels in 2013.
Then, you add in the clubhouse chemistry factor. I’ve always been skeptical on the value of chemistry for a single player, over, say being good at hitting and fielding, but as far as the intangibles go – I think Ludwick’s got a lot of value there, comparatively, at least. So, overall, the Reds probably have a pretty dang good deal on their hands.