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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