Ryan Ludwick was a one-time All-Star, in 2008 for St. Louis, before his career started a downward trend in 2009, where Ludwick hit just .251/.321/.409 over the 2009 to 2011 seasons while being shipped out of St. Louis and playing for the Padres and Pirates. His career looked nearly finished before the start of 2012, when Reds GM Walt Jocketty gave him a one-year, $2 million deal to play left for Cincinnati, a job he had to earn over Chris Heisey.
Ludwick proved his worth, hitting .275/.346/.531 with 26 home runs and 80 RBI in 2012 in just 125 games and 472 plate appearances. His offensive outburst started when Joey Votto went on the disabled list on July 16, as he helped the Reds go 29-15 while Votto was out, posting a .346/.412/.654 line with 11 doubles, 12 home runs, and 36 RBI over 153 at-bats. Overall, Ludwick’s second half was much more impressive than the first:
Clearly, Ludwick wasn’t likely to maintain a .333 BABIP in the 2012 season, which he had in the second half of 2012, when you consider that his career BABIP is .304, but crazier things have happened…such as the rebound that he had in 2012 after a pretty miserable 2011 for Pittsburgh and San Diego (.237/.310/.363).
While losing a 34-year-old outfielder wouldn’t seem awful for most clubs in an era where players decline naturally without being able to used performance-enhancing drugs, Ludwick was a leader in 2012 and he brought stability to the middle of the order. His right-handed bat seems irreplaceable now, as he was the No.4 hitter between Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. His replacements just don’t measure up to his career track record, especially when compared to his recent success.
Chris Heisey seems like the most likely, full-time replacement for Ludwick. He is a career .258/.314/.436 hitter in 913 career plate appearances. The issue with using Heisey full-time becomes the loss of his bat off of the bench. As a substitute or pinch-hitter in his career, Heisey has a .288/.344/.507 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 164 plate appearances. Beyond his value off of the bench, Heisey’s inability to make consistent contact, a career 23.9 percent strikeout rate, is a concern, just like his reverse platoon statistics, as Heisey is much better as a right-handed hitter against right-handed pitching, than he is against left-handed pitching:
|vs RHP as RHB||269||658||596||164||25||5||25||72||12||39||155||.275||.331||.460||.791||274|
|vs LHP as RHB||122||255||234||50||10||2||8||30||1||14||63||.214||.272||.376||.648||88|
Heisey is likely to share some at-bats with Xavier Paul, a 28-year-old, left-handed hitting outfielder. Paul can play all three outfield positions fairly well, which seems like a useless fact when the Reds are playing one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball in center field this season in Shin-Soo Choo. Paul was once an interesting prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers, displaying solid gap power and speed, but he has managed just 508 plate appearances over parts of four seasons in the majors, posting a .258/.305/.363 line. Paul’s inconsistent at-bats and consistent job as a No.5 outfielder could play a role in his inability to post solid numbers at the major league level, but considering that Heisey is better against right-handed pitching and Paul holds a .140/.197/.158 line in just 61 plate appearances against left-handed pitching.
Derrick Robinson replaced Ludwick on the Reds’ 40-man roster, as his contract was purchased when Ludwick was placed on the disabled list. Robinson has never appeared in the majors before, posting a career .255/.321/.324 hitter in seven minor league seasons. At 25, the switch-hitting outfielder, who was a minor league free agent signing after spending his whole career with the Kansas City Royals’ organization, doesn’t seem to offer the Reds much more than position flexibility, as he, too, can handle all three outfield positions.
Luckily, the Reds just have to replace Ludwick’s spot in left field and not as the cleanup hitter. Brandon Phillips can move from the No.2 spot to the No.4 spot as another solid, right-handed hitting option in the order. Dusty Baker will likely slide Zack Cozart up to the No.2 spot, breaking up Choo, the leadoff hitter, and Votto, as left-handed hitters at the top of the order. Phillips is likely to produce very good numbers in the middle of the order, but the bottom half of the Reds lineup is now very suspect, as Ryan Hanigan or Devin Mesoraco will likely bat behind whoever fills the left field void, followed by the starting pitcher in the No.9 spot.
While Ryan Ludwick’s injury may seem like an issue that could be overlooked, it really isn’t for the Cincinnati Reds. Certainly, with a power-packed lineup of Shin-Soo Choo, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and Joey Votto, you’d think that they could overcome this injury pretty easily; however, Ludwick’s ability with the bat is not replaceable with the on-hand talent that the Reds have on the bench. Chris Heisey could do well in spurts, but the club has to find creative ways to keep the lineup strong from the top to bottom for the next several months, as Ludwick is out due to surgery on his labrum in his right shoulder.