Josh Reddick is scorching the ball for the Red Sox, hitting a whopping .450 so far this season filling Crawford’s open starting spot in left and spotting JD Drew. With the Sox designating Cameron for assignment, it is clear the front office believes in Reddick for at least this season. Over the past three seasons, Reddick has been a top prospect for the Sox, and he has all the tools to be an above average outfielder— a strong, accurate arm, good power, above average speed, and enough range to play center in an emergency, but the trouble has always been his approach. Prior to 2011, Reddick swung early and often, chasing pitches, and making quick outs on challenging pitches. At AAA in 2009 and 2010 he struck out nearly three times more than he walked, which is not a recipe for success at the big league level. Strikeouts aren’t necessarily worse than other outs, but there’s no way to get a hit if you don’t put the ball in play. Reddick slumped out of the gate in AAA in 2010, but salvaged the season with a huge second half, hitting .351/.372/.627, for a final line of .266/.301/466. Even during his hot second half, his success was in spite of his walk rate rather than because of it. During intermittent play in April, June, and September he struggled in 63 major league plate appearances, striking out 15 times while walking only once, and put up an overall line of .194/.206/.323.
Following his disappointing showing in the majors, this season can be seen as a make-or-break year for Reddick, since Ryan Kalish passed him on the organizational depth chart. Reddick took a huge step forward this season, though at first glance it might not seem that way. His line at AAA this season was a Mark Reynolds-esque 230/.330/.502, but his underlying numbers were greatly improved. Unlike an all-or-nothing slugger like Reynolds, Reddick struck out in only 16.8% of his plate appearances, and had nearly as many walks as strikeouts (33BB, 39K). His power was up as well (isolated power of .277 this season, as opposed to .200 in 2010).
The only thing that was down for Reddick was his average on balls in play, which was only .207. Batting average on balls in play is a tricky statistic, as it varies widely from hitter to hitter, and depends on what sort of balls in play the hitter is hitting. Line drives are much more likely to become hits than groundballs, which are somewhat more likely to become hits than flyballs, while pop-ups almost never become hits. There isn’t publicly available minor league batted ball data which we could use to investigate this, but there are three reasons why Reddick’s BABIP can be discounted. First of all, it’s safe to assume he was hitting the ball hard, since more than half his hits went for extra bases. Second, his career BABIP in the minor leagues was .291 over 2000 plate appearances. Finally, it takes more than 650 plate appearances for BABIP to have good predictive value (See this article currently hosted at Fangraphs for a good primer on sample size issues and when stats.) If we take Reddick’s career BABIP (which is still well below the .310 average on balls in play for the International League this season) and apply it to his 2011 AAA season, we end up with a much stronger .293/.385/571 line.
At the major league level, Reddick has been insanely hot, hitting .450/.489/.750 over 40 at bats. It’s obviously folly to project him to keep hitting this way, as he’s currently sporting a .459 average on balls in play, but the bright side is that his newly found plate discipline has remained intact following his promotion. Even normalizing his average on balls in play based on his batted ball data, Reddick’s line would be .325/.382/.600, good for second on the team in OPS. Reddick has 5 walks to only 4 strikeouts, and has shown a much more selective approach than he did in 2009 or 2010. Between his improved batting and quality defense (he currently has a ridiculous 107 runs above average if his numbers were projected out to 150 games), I believe Reddick should provide the production the Red Sox were expecting out of JD Drew this season, and could provide the Sox a solid, cost controlled corner outfielder for seasons to come. I don’t think Reddick will ever have a season quite like Drew did in 2004, and few players ever do, but I believe a career path similar to Trot Nixon seems like a good median projection.