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April 25, 2012 posted by Chuck Anderson

Position Battles: Cincinnati Left Field

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Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati has a unique outfield platoon because both Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey bat from the right side.  This invalidates some of the conventions of a normal platoon and makes it more of an ongoing competition.  Thus far Ludwick has the upper hand.

Through April 24 Ludwick has started eleven of Cincinnati’s seventeen games, all in left field.  He was in the lineup for five of the six southpaw pitchers the Reds faced.  So far he has hit fourth, fifth, and sixth.  His offensive numbers suggest a return to the form he displayed in St. Louis.  His 19.6% strikeout rate matches that of 2009, and is joined by a healthy 0.50 BB/K.  At .267, his ISO is at its highest point since 2008.  He has six extra base hits against three singles.  He has an above average 103 wRC+ despite a .188 BABIP.  If his line drive rate stays anywhere near 20%, as it is currently, the BABIP will correct itself in short order.

Ludwick’s 13.5% swinging strike rate is on the high side, and could foreshadow a jump in strikeout rate.  Balancing things out, however, is his 68.6% first strike rate.  This will invariable decrease as 2011’s leader saw 67.5%.  Ludwick will get in more hitters’ counts and should produce more consistently.

Chris Heisey started six games in left field, eight overall (one each in right and center).  He has seen half the left-handed starters and been slotted sixth and seventh in the order.  He is underperforming so far in 2012, generating only a 70 wRC+.  He has just a .306 OBP and unlike Ludwick he is not hitting for power.  His ISO is .125, a sharp drop from 2011’s .233 (in 308 PA).  Heisey’s ISO has exceeded .175 at every stop since 2008, so giving him more playing time should bring the stats around.  His walk rate, K/BB, and plate discipline numbers all trend in a positive direction.  The issue is Cincinnati has playoff aspirations and right now Heisey is the lesser performer.  He has little time for his results to come in line with his skills.

Unless Heisey embarks on a significant hot streak look for Ludwick to take more playing time.  He may even become useful in mixed leagues as a cheap power source.  Cincinnati as a whole should start to hit better, they finished a ten game road trip 27th in the league in runs.  Upon returning home they touched up Matt Cain and the Giants for nine runs.  The Reds are willing to use Heisey in other outfield spots, so any injury to Jay Bruce or Drew Stubbs would get him on the field more.  Currently he is not a valuable fantasy commodity.

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