Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/16/14

The Reds have made it very clear that they’re going all-in this offseason, presumably in an effort to maximize their chances of winning a title before Joey Votto qualifies for free agency after the 2013 season. GM Walt Jocketty opened up the prospect vault to acquire Mat Latos and Sean Marshall, then landed what could potentially be the bargain of the offseason by signing Ryan Madson to a sweetheart one-year contract. Those moves all improve the team, but at the same time the club sacrificed outfield depth.

Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce are locked into the center and right field jobs, and Chris Heisey made a pretty good case for the left field gig by slugging 18 homers with a .233 ISO in 308 plate appearances last year. In 534 plate appearances over the last two seasons, he’s hit 26 balls out of the park. Beyond those three, the only other outfielder on the team’s 40-man roster is Denis Phipps, a 25-year-old that posted a .346/.397/.527 batting line between Double and Triple-A in 2011 after hitting just .250/.307/.377 in his previous 2,319 minor league plate appearances. The trades of Dave Sappelt (for Marshall) and nominal outfielder Yonder Alonso (for Latos) along with the free agent departures of Fred Lewis and Jonny Gomes have left the club thin at the position(s).

That’s where Ryan Ludwick fits in. Cincinnati reeled him in with a one-year contract worth $2.5 million yesterday, a deal that includes $500,000 in incentives and a generally useless mutual option for 2013. Jocketty knows Ludwick from his time with the Cardinals, but he was already with the Reds when the outfielder had his career year in 2008 (.406 wOBA and 5.6 WAR). It’s been a slow and steady downhill trend for Ludwick since then, specifically in the power department…

The elephant in the room here is Petco Park, which Ludwick called home from July 31st, 2010 to July 31st, 2011. Although the building is much kinder to right-handers (according to StatCorner’s park factors), Ludwick hit just .228/.301/.358 in 659 plate appearances with the Padres, and was just as bad away from Petco: .248/.308/.360. Including his short and unproductive stint with the Pirates last year (.298 wOBA), Ludwick has produced a .319 wOBA and a perfectly average 100 wRC+ in the three years since his monster campaign.

Average isn’t a bad thing, and Ludwick does have some strengths. He’d consistently hit right-handers better than left-handers prior to this past season (see graph), though Heisey has as well in a much smaller big league sample. UZR and DRS rate his defense as adequate in left, and he’s played in at least 135 games in each of the last four seasons. It’s worth noting that he has been on the disabled list once in each of the last three years due to a hamstring strain (2009), a calf strain (2010), and back spasms (2011). None of those were major, long-term problems however.

The Reds only had so much money left to spend this offseason, so Jocketty went with a player he was familiar with to shore up his outfield situation. The Great American Ballpark is very, very friendly to right-handed power hitters (133 HR park factor per StatCorner), which should help Ludwick find some of that lost power. Bill James projects a .323 wOBA with 15 homers in 400+ plate appearances next season, a performance the Reds would take in a heartbeat as long as it doesn’t cut into Heisey’s playing time.

Click here to submit your Fan Projection for Ludwick.


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