Midnight Player of the Week: Josh Reddick, A’s OF

This week: 6 for 22, 2 BB, 6 R, 5 HR (doubling season total), 8 RBI, .273/.333/.955

This image is self-explanatory and churlish.

Josh Reddick is in the midst of a bad season at the dish. So far in 2013 FanGraphs has him as a two-win player, a viable starter on a contending team, but almost all of his value has come from his stellar defense in right field. Even after his five-homer outburst this weekend, his on-base and slugging percentages remain under .300 and .400, respectively (.299 and .385, for the record).

But since this week’s award is undeniably his–becoming the 23rd player to ever hit five home runs in two consecutive games will do that–we might as well investigate what has made Reddick’s 2013 campaign so much worse than his breakout season in 2012.

As usual, fluctuations in BABIP can explain his drop in batting average. Reddick’s BABIP stands a meager .235, while the particular expected-BABIP calculator I use determines that it should be around .296. Plug in Reddick’s expected BABIP and you get a perfectly acceptable batting average of .256. That’s even 14 points higher than last year!

But that’s easy, too easy. I subscribe to dozens of forms of laziness, but not the kind where you wrap up an investigation by pointing to the luck dragons and saying, “It’s their fault.” That’s profiling, and those dragons deserve better than to be slandered all the time.

Looking at some finer details, though, it’s hard to see what has really changed. Teams face him with the same game plan: feed him pitches low and away. The following maps of the strike zone, from 2012 and 2013, are virtually identical.

So if the pitchers he’s faced haven’t changed, what has Reddick done differently? For one thing, he’s driving more balls into the ground. Last year he hit .59 ground balls for every fly ball, and this year that ratio is up to .82 (or if you prefer percentages, that’s 29.2 percent of balls hit to the ground up to 35.8 percent). Reddick’s fly ball percentage has decreased in kind, leading of course to fewer home runs.

reddickoutburstscreens

My best guess is Reddick wasn’t fully recovered from his wrist trouble when he came off the disabled list earlier this year, sapping him of power and bat speed. Now, however, Reddick is taking advantage of every pitch thrown into his wheelhouse. This week he was on top of his game. Next week we’ll see if it’s for real, or if the dragons deserve the credit.

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Midnight Player of the Week: J.B. Shuck, Angels OF

This week: .400/.391/.700 (8 for 20), 4 R, 1 HR (first of career), 5 RBI, 1 HR Stolen

All hail J.B. Shuck, whose name evokes corn and that’s it, Midnight Baseball’s inaugural player of the week.

Shuck began the week with his first career dinger off new Ranger Matt Garza and ended it by leaping into the stands to take one away from Jose Bautista, who just couldn’t believe it.

Jose Bautista and friend, surveying the Confederate dead.

Now let me pop some sunflower seeds in my mouth, hike up my pants and talk like an old baseball guy:

This kid Shuck, he, uh, let me tell you, he plays the game the right way. Here’s a guy, just made the best catch of his life, and he springs right back up, fires the ball in there, trying to double up the runner on first. Now that’s heads-up baseball. Your teammates notice that kind of stuff, and believe me, they appreciate it, because they know, “Here’s a guy who’s bustin’ his ass, playin’ to win.”

And after he’s thrown the ball back into the infield, he spits perfectly, with just a hint of contempt. It’s beautiful punctuation.

***

Say you’re intrigued. You are a baseball nerd, so you want to know more about the fourth outfielder on the fourth-place Angels. You’ll start at the beginning.

J.B. Shuck was drafted out of Ohio State in the sixth round (182nd overall) of the 2008 draft by the Houston Astros. Bobby Heck, scouting director for the Astros at the time, told the Houston Chronicle that Shuck was “the best player available” and had the “ability to be a regular at the major league level.” Heck praised Shuck’s energy and baseball IQ, calling him a “plus runner, plus defender, more of an overachiever type of player. We had a lot of good stuff about his makeup as well as his ability to play the game.”

Of course, you’re never going to hear a scout disparage a player he drafted, but Heck was mostly right about Shuck. Defensive metrics don’t love him in the outfield, but clearly he goes all out. Besides, Shuck has only played about 700 innings of defense in the majors. That’s a small enough sample for me to say how small a sample it is. You know the drill.

Four Astros fans bothered to submit a scouting report of Shuck’s defense from his only season with Houston, 2011. The reviews are in, and they’re not good. Let’s move on.

The Astros of the late aughts had one of the worst farm systems of recent memory, so bad that the franchise is only now getting over the talent drought. Still, Shuck never made it into anyone’s Top 10 prospects list. Baseball America ranked him No. 13 among Astros prospects in 2009. In 2010, Baseball Prospectus ranked Shuck No. 17, and gave him a sentence: “He has real on-base ability, but his center field defense is fringy.” John Sickels of SBNation ranked Shuck No. 15 in 2008, also praising his plate discipline.

Shuck’s good eye has so far stayed with him in the majors. Notice how rarely he chases, except on balls just above the zone.

On-base guys (Shuck had a career .382 OBP in the minors) shouldn’t have to stay in Triple-A as long as Shuck did, not when the major league roster is as underwhelming as the 2010 to 2012 Astros. Sure, Shuck lacks for power, so much that his slugging percentage has historically been lower than his OBP. The fact remains that few bench outfielders will give you a walk rate of eight percent, a contact rate of 90 percent and a strikeout rate of around ten percent. Oh, and all that at close to the major league minimum salary.

J.B. Shuck, roster bargain and king for a week.