Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 1/4/12

When the Athletics sent Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox for Josh Reddick and prospects, many scratched their heads in digital print. Why would the Athletics send their closer out the door for a swap in fourth outfielders? Didn’t the Red Sox just pull a theft using their fourth outfielder?

Like the ‘tweener forward’ label in basketball, nothing can sting a player and wreck his future like the ‘fourth outfielder’ moniker. Does Reddick deserve the title?

It’s tempting to make this a discussion about defense. Coming up in the minor leagues, Reddick played a lot of center, and scouts were often divided about his ability to continue playing center going forward. Nobody doubted his arm, which is a plus tool for him, but his range was in question. He’s only played 873+ innings in the outfield so far in the majors, but UZR/150 loves his defense so far. Then again, the Red Sox chose to play him in right field more often than center, even in 2010 when Jacoby Ellsbury was injured all year.

Maybe he’s a right fielder. Does that matter?

The Athletics need all sorts of outfielders, but the ‘fourth outfielder’ label isn’t always about specific teams. David DeJesus has gotten the label before, and he was the Athletics’ third outfielder last year. David Murphy is a fourth outfielder if there ever has been one, but because of a time-share in center, he got the third-most plate appearances in the Rangers’ outfield last year.

These names should help us define a fourth outfielder, though. Defense does matter — a fourth outfielder, like the tweener forward who isn’t big enough to rebound at power forward or quick enough to guard small forwards, doesn’t have the glove for center or the bat for the corners. Either that, or he has poor platoon splits that aren’t likely to improve.

Josh Reddick doesn’t have the bat for the corner? His career .248/.290/.416 seems to suggest he doesn’t, but that’s only 403 plate appearances of evidence… and it really isn’t that far from the average line for right fielders in the American League last year either (.267/.337/.431).

But Reddick’s minor league stats suggest that there’s more on the way. Since Reddick hit High-A ball, he’s had an ISO over .200, with a high of .277 in Triple-A last year. That’s much better power than the .168 ISO he’s shown so far in the Major Leagues, and it jives with his scouting reports, which have always lauded his uppercut swing and power. Add in a little power, and Reddick’s projection starts to look exactly like the average corner outfielder. And don’t penalize Reddick too much for his new digs — the park factor for home runs by lefties in Oakland is a reasonable 89, and wOBA by lefties is only penalized five percent.

Does he have a bad platoon split that will keep him from achieving that average line? So far, in 55 PAs against southpaws, his strikeout rate has jumped to 27.3%, which looks like a problem. But his walk rate is also higher (7.3% vs 5.2%), and his ISO is about the same (.160 vs .169). And that’s a tiny sample. Open it up to his minor league numbers, and you’ll see that there’s no real discernible pattern to his platoon splits. Maybe he has more patience and makes less contact against lefties… maybe. It doesn’t look like something that should kill his playing time or make him a bench bat.

Now that it looks like he has at least an average bat and average-ish platoon issues, we can add that defense back in. With a plus arm, and more range than your typical corner outfielder, it looks like Reddick will be an above-average corner outfielder once that defense is considered. And we got here without faithcasting him into center field, without giving him a good batting average despite his good power and contact rates, and without giving him any of those plus walk rates he’s shown before in the minors.

Sounds like a decent third outfielder, doesn’t it?

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