We’ve heard different approaches from different players, and different levels of familiarity with the statistics so far this year, but it looks like Oakland’s Josh Reddick might be in a niche of his own. He knows about these things, and yet he shrugs — he is who he is, and he can’t change himself on a fundamental level. Doesn’t mean he can’t try to get most out of his skill set.
Take a look at Reddick’s ground ball to fly ball mix from year to year, and even from month to month, and you might think he’s a tinkerer. Starting in 2011, when he started getting regular playing time, his ratio of grounders to flies has been .68, .59, .82. This year, his monthly splits, starting with April, have been .86, 1.25, 1.07, .74, .48. But no, Reddick isn’t working on his swing plane: “Your swing is natural, you don’t try to change your plane,” he told me before a game with the Astros last week, “I don’t care about what you say about where you put your hands, you’re always going to end up in the same position where your comfortable. Your swing is going to be the same, whether you go inside or outside.”
It’s not that Reddick doesn’t know he’s making choices. He knows that “you’re going to have more balls caught then not” if you’re a fly ball hitter… “unless you’re Miguel Cabrera.” He’s well aware that line drives are the stuff of batting average champs. Hey, he even made a fake Chanel ad about BABIP — he knows that his batting average on balls in play is not going to be great as a fly ball hitter.
No, he knows there are trade offs. “Its not like I go out there and try to hit fly balls,” Reddick said, “my uppercut swing is something I’ve always had and stuck with — I’m not going to change that because I might have a low average or I fly out a lot.”
It’s true that the fly-ball approach leads to a lower batting average. Just look at this year’s top 15 in fly ball percentage and their respective batting averages.
But you see some nice power numbers in the lot, as well, and that’s how Reddick is going to make his bones at the plate. When he’s hitting grounders, as he did in May and June this year, it’s just something that happens. And if it turns into a positive, fine. “If I get a hit on a bloop or a hard-hit liner to the gap, I don’t think anyone in this clubhouse or in the major leagues is going to complain about a hit going down depending on how it happened,” Reddick laughed. Here’s a June 14th swing from the middle of that ground-ball stint, and one that produced a ground ball to boot. You’ll see it’s still vintage Reddick.
Reddick is also a pull hitter, with an asterisk. 40% of his balls in play are pulled, but that changes a little deeper in the count. “If the ball’s away, I tend to lay away from those pitches early in the count, because I’m looking for something I can drive until I get to two strikes, and then if they keep going away away away I’m going to shoot it that way,” Reddick said.
The pull/uppercut swing works, in part, because Reddick has the potential to add plus walk rates and defense to the package. In the case of walk rates, it’s not incredibly natural to the player. He knows he’s known for his aggressiveness — “I’m going up there, every at bat, I’m looking to swing at every pitch, and it’s all about shutting it down until you see a pitch you like.” But the longer he’s in the big leagues, the better he’s getting at recognizing bad pitches and opportunities to “go ahead and swing it out.” Look at Reddick’s swing rates and you’ll see that he’s swinging — and reaching — less than he ever has.
So maybe in one case, Reddick can’t do much to improve upon his natural swing instincts. And in the other case, he’s slowly becoming more selective when it comes to actually swinging.
On defense, the Oakland right fielder adds a cerebral approach with one based on instincts, and the results are grand — he’s the second-best defensive right fielder since 2011. The coaching staff and organization do a great job with scouting reports according to the player, and he reads them closely. But it’s also about getting reps and honing his instincts. In fact, Reddick heads to the infield during batting practice. “Get down, get into the ready position, and just react to balls off the bat,” Reddick said. He won’t catch or field the balls — “obviously I don’t want to get hurt, I haven’t played the infield in a while” — but he works on getting the right read off of balls in play.
At the plate, Reddick tries to stay true to himself: “I’ve felt good in the box for the majority of the year, it just hasn’t worked out for me,” he said. Hitting five homers in eight plate appearances? That happened after a nice off day, he got a massage and “didn’t step foot outside of the hotel… I don’t know if anything happened to fix itself or if the real me just decided to come out,” he wondered. But that doesn’t mean that Reddick doesn’t work hard to hone his approach, defensively and offensively. It just means that he knows what he can and can’t change, perhaps.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.