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a look at ludwick

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a few days ago i turned in my player blurbs for the Hardball Times Season Preview. here's what i wrote about ryan ludwick:

His line after 100 at-bats last year --- a .222 average with 2 walks and 26 strikeouts --- was little different from the lines in all his previous (failed) big-league trials. But after July 1 he stopped swinging at everything. The result: 24 walks in 236 plate appearances and a .289 / .380 / .520 line. That walk rate is consistent with his minor-league walk rates, which suggests that Ludwick's performance last year wasn't entirely a fluke. On the contrary, it may be that he finally got a large enough sample of at-bats to show his true level of ability.
the last sentence was informed by a comparison of ludwick's 2006 major-league equivalent (MLE) with his 2007 major-league stat line. i pro-rated the latter to 506 at-bats (his 2006 total) for ease of comparison:
AB H 2B 3B HR BB AVG OBP SLG RC/27
2006 AAA 508 135 34 2 28 60 .266 .343 .506 6.39
2006 MLE 506 133 30 1 25 52 .263 .332 .477 5.76
2007 (pro-rated) 506 135 37 0 23 55 .267 .339 .479 5.94

the "bb" column includes hbps, by the way. ludwick put up the 2006 line at toledo, a difficult hitter's park. his slash lines there were nearly identical to his career minor-league totals (.270 / .349 / .501), so it was by no means a career year; on the contrary, it was a typical one. and we'd have to say the same about ludwick's 2007 season, because it was essentially a repeat of 2006 --- his 2007 big-league stats are almost identical to his 2006 MLEs.

a 2d-rounder who moved swiftly through the minors, ludwick was once a well-regarded prospect --- a centerfielder with 20-hr potential. but just as he was breaking into the majors he suffered injuries to his hip (2002) and knee (2004), which cost him opportunities and development time; the last two seasons were his first healthy ones since he was in double A. when the cardinals called him up last year, i was skeptical of ludwick because of a too-high strikeout rate --- even in the stellar 2006 season he whiffed in nearly 1/3 of his at-bats. ludwick doesn't draw enough walks to counteract a k rate that high; his career big-league on-base pct was hovering around .300 entering the 2007 season. but he fanned in fewer than 1/4 of his at-bats last year. ludwick will have to sustain that contact rate to maintain his beachhead in the big leagues.

ludwick also has a longstanding reverse platoon split. he has been far better vs rhp than lhp throughout his career, including the last couple of seasons:

vs rhp vs lhp
2007 .298 / .362 / .547 .221 / .307 / .377
2006 .266 / .348 / .524 .261 / .324 / .473
career .278 / .341 / .465 .211 / .286 / .418

between the k rate and the lousy performance vs lefties, ludwick is probably not ever going to be an all-star, but if he played 150 games i'd trust him to provide league-average corner-outfielder production. he's not quite reggie sanders, but he's better than juan encarnacion --- and a lot cheaper than both. the other day the red baron handicapped the competition for playing time in the cards' crowded outfield, and he had ankiel, rasmus, and barton emerging as the everyday players, with ludwick as an oft-used 4th outfielder. while i don't disagree with that assessment, i wouldn't count ludwick out of the running. he's got less upside than any of the other 3, but i also think he's got less downside than ankiel or barton; he's only a year older than ankiel and at least as reliable with the glove, and it seems as if he is adjusting to big-league pitchers rather than the other way around.

if nothing else, i'm glad to have ludwick around as insurance in case ankiel's a flash in the pan or barton's too green or rasmus needs some time to acclimate to the big leagues. he's not anybody to get too excited about, but he's definitely an asset --- an average hitter who can play his position and makes the league minimum.