Research for this post began with full intentions to point out how ridiculous the Cardinals’ production from RF has been since Ryan Ludwick hit the DL. My main objective was to dissuade fans from believing Al/Dan when they inevitably claim that the lineup should see a boost in production from his return to the lineup. Then I looked at the numbers. Clearly, I had forgotten how much of a stud Ludwick was in 2008. First, let’s take a look at production from RF using Fangraphs’ sortable statistics and last 30 days’ feature. Note that these numbers only reflect plate appearances that these players made while playing RF; the parenthesis following each players’ name reflects plate appearances made during sample size. Ludwick’s line, however, is for the entire 2010 season.
You probably didn’t need this graph to realize that Jon Jay has been performing at an otherworldly level. The rest of the players represented are clustered right around the same area in wOBA (with the exception of Nick Stavinoha). The blue line entitled, “Cardinals,” represents a combination of all of the guys in the chart not named Ludwick. Overall, this group of players (.387 wOBA) has outperformed Ludwick in 2010 (.351 wOBA).
If Jay were to continue playing everyday, however, his performance would surely decline. His only full season in AAA resulted in a roughly average wOBA (.328). Furthermore, his BABIP over the past thirty days is a ridiculous .500, a number that doesn’t match up with a batted ball profile of 10% LDs, 50% GBs, 40% FBs, and 8.3% IFFBs. Everyone else in MLB who puts the ball on the ground 50% of the time and have a BABIP of at least .330 generate at least 17% line drives with no more than 31.7% fly balls. And most of those guys (if not all) have a speed score of at least 5.0 while Jon Jay’s is 3.0 for the season. I like Jay as a platoon with Craig once/if Cardinals decide they can’t pay Ludwick beyond 2011. But would you blame them if they decided to sell high on the guy? Seems doubtful that his trade value will ever be higher than now.
Can Ludwick be expected to step in and improve an offense from a position whose July numbers actually outperformed his season to date? Since the beginning of the 2009 season, Ludwick has had only one month that was better; he posted a .411 wOBA in July 2009. But go back a little further to his career year in 2008 and he had wOBA’s of .392 or higher every month besides June. Take a look at his 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons by RAR.
If common belief that Ludwick’s true talent level is somewhere between 2008 and 2009, then he’s certainly providing affirmation in 2010. With his improved defense, he’s actually generated more RAR halfway through 2010 (23.7) than he did in all of 2009 (19.7). Though it’s doubtful that Ludwick matches 2008′s 5.4 Wins Above Replacement (roughly speaking, 10 RAR equals 1 WAR) even with improved defense, it actually does seem reasonable to expect him to be an upgrade over the motley crew that filled in during his absence. Furthermore, he appears physically sound in that he stepped up to the plate nine times in his brief AAA rehab assignment and smacked 2 HRs. He’ll be a welcome addition to a lineup that’s been blanked over its past twenty innings.