Not every breakout comes with a complicated story. Sometimes it’s super simple. Sometimes, as Josh Reddick put it, a player just comes to “a recognition.” For Reddick, it was recognition born of who he is. He became better by becoming more like himself.
Look down at his numbers, and it seems as straight forward as Reddick makes it when he told me, “It’s just staying on pitches in the zone as opposed to pitches outside of the zone.” Reddick has halved his career strikeout rate by swinging less than he’s ever swung.
Career lows in swing rate have put Reddick in the right spot to hit. But, as you can see from the chart above, the difference in swinging-strike rate has been above and beyond the difference in swing rate. So it’s not just about swinging less in general.
It’s also about swinging less in one particular spot. See if you can tell which spot.
Low and away. He’s swinging about three-quarters as often as he used to on pitches low and away, and he agreed that it was a big part of his different approach this year: “Just trying to lay off that pitch as much as I can.”
The change came about for a couple of reasons. For one, he wants to hit home runs. “I want to hit the long ball every time,” Reddick admitted, “and that’s going to help, because who’s going to hit it out when it comes in low and away, unless you’re Miguel Cabrera.” He’s right, of course, that low and away spot gives birth to the fewest home runs in the strike zone:
But there’s a tiny bit more to this tale. Even though Josh Reddick wants to hit home runs every time at the plate, he does have to deal with striking out. So that pitch low and away, he will still swing at it — “I won’t until it gets late in the count, though,” the outfielder pointed out.
Except for the very bottom outside corner, Reddick’s approach with two strikes is virtually indistinguishable from his approach last year.
But he doesn’t find himself in that position as often this year, thanks to not swinging at that pitch earlier in the count. Reddick has been ahead in the count 21% of the time this year, compared to a career average under 18%, and that has given him better pitches to look at.
Pitchers don’t seem to be adjusting hard core, though. Take a look at where they are throwing Reddick the ball this last month, and it’s still all about low and away.
Perhaps this is because they aren’t getting the called strikes they deserve. Take a look at the called strikes against Reddick in those low and away quadrants (left) and then the league average called strike rates in those quadrants (right).
Pitchers will go to that well because it usually is the safe play. There are called strikes low and away if batters don’t swing, and if they do swing, it probably won’t translate into a homer. Reddick is right to spit on the pitch low and away from a power standpoint, and right now he might be getting a little lucky on called strikes there, which makes his decision not to swing on those pitches look even better.
But that’s about the most complicated we can make this simple thing. Josh Reddick decided he couldn’t do much with the pitch low and away, and so he stopped swinging at them. That’s the easy, straightforward change in his game.
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.