At the outset the Pirates had a solid plan in the outfield. They flanked superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen with young up-and-comer Jose Tabata in left, and a platoon of Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz in right. It might not have been the heaviest-hitting outfield combination in the league, but it didn’t appear to be a problem area, either. Since then those plans have hit a few snags. Tabata hit the DL, Jones failed to produce even one batting run above average in the first four months, and Diaz has been an unmitigated disaster at the plate. Rookie Alex Presley helped for a while, but he, too, hit the DL. Their need for outfield help persisted until a few minutes before today’s non-waiver trade deadline, when they acquired Ryan Ludwick from the Padres for a player to be named later.
While Ludwick might sound like an attractive option for the Pirates, he’s really an upgrade in name only. His 2008 season, in which he produced 41.6 runs above average, remains his only standout year. In the year prior, his first with more than 200 PA, he produced just 6.7 runs above average. In the two years following it he combined for 9.9 runs above average. This year he’s at -1.7 runs above average, even with the adjustment for Petco Park. That is, if he’s going to help the Pirates this year he’ll have to somehow benefit from the change of scenery.
While Petco is billed as a big-time pitchers’ park, it plays far tougher for lefties than for righties. According to StatCorner’s park factors, Petco suppresses doubles for righties, but is near average for everything else. In Pittsburgh it’s average for singles and doubles, but triples and homers go to die there. Perhaps Ludwick, who hit 40 doubles in 2008, will produce better by hitting it into the gaps at PNC. But that’s about the only way the move will benefit his offense. Even then, Ludwick has been a poor hitter on the road, producing -2.7 runs above average.
Ludwick might get some regular playing time now, due to injuries, but he’s more likely ticketed for a platoon role once Presley returns (though he could platoon with Jones rather than Presley). That’s the only area where’s he’s been average this year, with a -0.1 wRAA and a 104 wRC+. Yet that hasn’t been his trend career-wise. Against righties he owns a career 118 wRC+, but against lefties it’s just below average at 97. Before this year the only season in which he had a wRC+ of 100 or better against lefties was in 2008*, and even then he hit righties better than lefties. That makes a platoon a bit less palatable, though given the way managers employ platoons it might not stop Clint Hurdle from trying.
Unless the PTBNL is anyone from the first three rounds of the Pirates 2010 draft, they’ll have added Ludwick for a song. That’s a worthy investment on a guy who has had some success in the past. But since his career splits don’t warrant a platoon situation, and since PNC Park eats up right-handed power, he might not be the best fit for the Pirates right now. He can fill in while Presley and Tabata recover, but it’s hard to see him as an upgrade past that. It’s hard to see him having a significant impact on the NL Central race.
Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.