Whither Ludwick

Would you believe that the Cards’ player w/ the 2nd most RBI has exactly half as many as our RBI leader? Pujols has 82 RBI and Ryan Ludwick has 41. RBI are probably the most overrated offensive statistic but still it says a little bit about how dependent this Cards offense is on Albert. This Cards team right now has only 4 players who are above average offensively and one of them is Jarrett Hoffpauir who has a walk and a single in 4 PA. The other 3 are Rasmus who is 2.9 wRAA, Schumaker – 0.7 wRAA, and Pujols – 44.9 wRAA. Take Pujols away and replace him w/ someone like Aubrey Huff or James Loney – the 2 first basemen closest to average major league hitters – and we’re in 3rd or 4th place rather than tied for 1st.

Of course, you don’t need me to tell you Pujols is good. The whole idea is pretty silly, really. I just fell across that stuff as I was trying to figure out what the hell is wrong w/ Ryan Ludwick. The first thing that stands out is the noticeable drop in Ludwick’s LD rate. Last year it was 26.3% which I think most of us knew was unsustainably high but it’s gone from one of baseball’s highest to one of baseball’s lowest. This year it’s nearly 10% lower (16.8%). Not coincidently, I’m sure, his FB rate is about 8.5% higher – from 46.5% to 54.9%. Needless to say, unless all those extra fly balls are leaving the ballpark, fewer line drives and more fly balls means a lower batting average. As a result, his BABIP has fallen 100 points – from .349 to .250. As it turns out, his fly balls are leaving the ballpark at a much lower rate as well as his HR/FB has fallen from 19.9% to 11.6%, which is much closer to league average. Still, Ludwick has very good power so his HR/FB shouldn’t be nearly league average. Between 18-20% or so is where it probably belongs. One of the reasons fewer fly balls are leaving the park is b/c he’s popping more balls up – many more. His IFFB% has gone up from 8.6% to 12.6% but when you consider that his FB rate has risen as well – last year he popped up about 4% of the time; this year he’s popping up about 7% of the time. Fewer line drives, more popups – he’s simply not squaring up the ball the way he did last year.

Is he overanxious at the plate? Last year he averaged 3.84 P/PA and he’s at 3.79 this year – hardly a huge difference. However, he’s seeing fewer strikes this year – down from 52.3% to 49.8%. This is somewhat surprising considering how prolific he was last year. You’d expect that pitchers would have pitched around him more last year and, since he’s not hitting the ball well, they’d be more likely to go after him this year. This tells me that he probably is somewhat anxious at the plate. His walk rate is down from 10.3% to 8.5%. He’s swinging at more pitches this year – 4.5% more pitches outside the zone and 4.5% more inside the zone. It stands to reason that he’s pressing somewhat. The offense is struggling and he’s struggling and so it’s unsurprising that he’s become anxious. Still, it seems to be working against him and he needs to relax and see more pitches and look for his pitch, rather than just swinging at what the pitcher tosses up there. If he’s seeing fewer strikes, he should be seeing more P/PA – not fewer – even if it’s just .05 P/PA fewer.

He’s actually making contact more frequently than he did last year, to which the reduction in his K rate (from 27.1% to 20.1%) will attest. Maybe we need him to be more picky and then, when he gets his pitch, more aggressive. Maybe we’re better off w/ more swing-and-misses b/c it allows him another pitch (often) rather than a popup to 2nd. Last year Ludwick crushed fastballs, to the tune of 34.9 wRAA but this year he’s just at 3.2 wRAA against the fastball. He’s seeing a bit fewer fastballs this year (down to 51.6% from 55.4%) and a few more sliders this year – with which he’s really struggling. He was about average w/ the slider last year and he’s more than 4 runs below average in half a season so far this year.

You’d have to say that some of his struggles this season are attributable to bad luck. His BABIP has fallen by 100 points and is about 40-45 points below league average. Still, he appears to be more anxious and, as a result, isn’t hitting the ball nearly as solidly as he did last year. It would behoove him – and the team – to be more patient at the plate and then, when he gets his pitch, explode into it. If he’s worrying about swinging and missing, he should stop. I’ll take a few more Ks to get his slugging % back over .500. It’s down more than 160 points from last season.

I still have faith in Ludwick. I think his upside is higher than either Duncan’s or Ankiel’s – last year’s success supports that – so I’d rather see him playing every day than either of the other 2 lefties. Honestly, what does Duncan have to offer? A few more walks, I suppose, but at least Ludwick has the possibility of hitting the ball out of the yard. He is still 2nd on the team in dingers, though Rasmus is right on his heels.

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