Change can be drastic, causing stress to course through the body as one adapts to their new routine and surroundings. Baseball players are well known creatures of habit; they crave routine. Uprooting and embracing change can be a cakewalk for some and a challenge for others. The added expectations one can put on themselves to perform can compound the issue, quickly making a mountain out of a mole hill. Change has hit one player particularly hard, as Josh Reddick has had a tumultuous yet docile tenure thus far with the Dodgers.
Some may question whether or not Josh Reddick is any good to begin with, which is a fair question to ask since he did most of his work with the small market Athletics. Before moving to the Athletics, Reddick started his major league career with the Red Sox, where he showed a propensity to swing and miss but square up the ball solid, running into a strong degree of bad luck. By his third year, his swing and miss rate had dropped in consecutive years and he began to increase his offensive value, batting .280 with a .784 OPS in 87 games, while playing strong defense across all 3 outfield positions.
Reddick would go on to be traded to Oakland in the winter, where he hit 84 HRs across 4 and a half seasons, playing gold glove caliber defense and pushing Oakland to 3 consecutive playoff berths from 2012-2014 for the first time since 2000-2003. However, his real development as a hitter came this year, as Reddick began to see stronger results as he faced less left handed pitching. At the time he came to the Dodgers, Reddick was hitting .296 with an .816 OPS in Oakland. He was particularly strong against righties, with an OPS of .872 against them during his time with Oakland. In a playoff race with a Giants team, a Cubs team and a Nationals team that didn’t boast many lefty starters at the time, it was a smart strategy by the front office to load the lineup with lefties to face right handed pitching.
So who cares about what he did with other teams? He’s here now, along with another player who will remain nameless, and neither have yet to do much of anything for the team. It’s frustrating to everyone, because he replaced an enigmatic, love him or hate him star for the team in right field because of that player’s performance issues, among other things, and he isn’t even performing. But if there is anything that can be offered at all, perhaps it’s a glimmer of hope that his misfortune at the plate could be a simple combination of bad luck and trying too hard.
Reddick has been hitting the ball since he came to the Dodgers, and he has been hitting the ball very hard. His average exit velocity in his first week with the Dodgers was 91.8 mph, exactly 3 mph more than the league average of 88.8 mph. But he hasn’t quite followed the old baseball adage of “hit it where they ain’t,” as evidenced by his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, of .216 with the Dodgers, which is 100 points lower than he was hitting with Oakland. Small sample size alert, but Reddick currently sports a 37.5% hard hit rate with the Dodgers, exactly 9% above his career average of 28.5%. Most of hitting is hand eye coordination and controlling the hitting zone with the bat, but part of it is flat out luck. Reddick’s luck has been flat out bad.
Reddick also might be trying too hard to fit in and help drive his new team. Reddick maintained a walk rate of 10.3% with the As, and it has fallen to a 5.8% rate with the Dodgers. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate of 12.5% with Oakland has jumped to a 17.3% rate with the Dodgers. The percentage of pitchers Reddick has swung at outside of the zone has increased from 26.1% to 33.9%. The total number of pitches he swings at has increased 42% to 50.3%. In layman’s terms, he’s swinging more, especially out of the zone, which is causing him to strike out more and walk less. Even though all of the numbers with the Dodgers are small sample sizes, that sounds like pressing too hard.
The beauty of both of these situations is that they seem to correct themselves over time as sample sizes increase. The league average BABIP floats right around .300 every year, so anything above that number can be considered fortunate and anything below can be considered unlucky. A few of the hard liners that Reddick drives will drop in the right place, causing his confidence to perk up which will make the lineup another bat deeper versus right-handed pitching. The Dodgers have a team OPS of .750 versus RHP, and .664 versus LHP. That might sound problematic, but consider that 72% of their plate appearances have came against righties, and not lefties. That’s a gambler’s bet. The Dodgers are rolling the dice and placing their biggest bet on the number with the highest odds, and they are hoping they don’t roll a 7 out.