“Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.” — Pedro Cerrano
The archetype of power hitters feasting on fastballs and whiffing on offspeed pitches has long floated within baseball circles. The quotation featured above from the movie Major League highlights how pervasive the idea that “power hitters are fastball hitters” has become in baseball.
Alfonso Soriano has long found success by smashing fastballs, and he now receives a heavy diet of sliders and curveballs to counter that strength. Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, and Garrett Jones also serve as fruitful examples of sluggers who have experienced the vast majority of their success against fastballs.
The stereotype often proves true, so you’ll have to excuse me for jumping to conclusions when assuming that Oakland Athetics’ outfielder Josh Reddick would fall into that same broad category. After all, his 29 home runs, .216 ISO, and .242 batting average all suggest on the surface that he’s merely another power-hitting, fastball-feasting slugger who needs to adjust to big league breaking pitches to become more consistent at the plate.
That’s not just a misleading statement, though. It’s blatantly wrong. In fact, amongst qualified batters this season, Josh Reddick has the worst batting average against fastballs in all of baseball, and it’s not particularly close.
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To put Reddick’s .215 batting average against fastballs in a bit more context, the league-average batting average amongst qualified hitters against fastballs is .295. Reddick’s .301 wOBA is also well below the league average .371 wOBA, which underlines the fact that he is both struggling to hit for average and power against fastballs.
Common sense tells us that Reddick must find success against breaking pitches if he seemingly cannot handle fastballs well, and we actually find that the 25-year-old particularly prefers changupes and sliders to the hard stuff. His .311 batting average and .398 wOBA against changeups is well above average, as is his .283 average and .348 wOBA against sliders.
Furthermore, Josh Reddick hits for less power against fastballs than he does against any other pitch type.
It’s unclear why Reddick struggles so significantly against fastballs. My first thought was that he lacks enough swing speed to turn around mid-90s fastballs with regularity. Perhaps the offspeed pitches simply play into his swing speed a bit better. However, online scouting reports and my old Baseball America handbooks mention nothing about a lack of swing speed. Considering bat speed is one of the core principles of scouting a hitter, it can reasonably be assumed that a lack of bat speed would be noted if it were a particular issue.
Another possibility lies in the fact that the right fielder prefers the baseball down-and-in. This season, he has hit .417 on pitches on the low-inside corner. Few pitchers, however, throw down-and-in with the fastball against Reddick. In fact, only 2.4% of the fastballs he has seen this season have been in that location. Pitchers tend to locate the vast majority of their fastballs against him on the outside corner. Perhaps that’s a large reason why he struggles against fastballs.
Whatever the reason, opposing pitchers may be wise to feature the pitch more frequently against Reddick. This season, he only sees 59.3% fastballs at the plate, which is just slightly above the league-average 57.6%. The numbers suggest that pitchers are doing him a favor throwing offspeed pitches over 40% of the time. Of course, mixing up pitches and remaining unpredictable on the mound is supremely important, but again, the seasonal numbers indicate that Josh Reddick will struggle more than he already has if he sees more fastballs at the plate.
And for someone who could finish the season with 30+ home runs in one of the most difficult hitting environments in the major leagues, that’s highly unusual and certainly noteworthy.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).