Okay, I know Astros’ right fielder Josh Reddick had a down year at the plate last season. In fact, he had the 2nd-worst season of his career, judging by catch-all stat wRC+ and other catch-all stat WAR.
So this post isn’t about making excuses for what was a bummer of a year for the guy.
On Twitter this morning, I saw fans earnestly discussing/hoping that the Astros should trade away Reddick. For something unspecified. The gist was not that the fans wanted to receive a shiny new toy, just that they wanted Reddick gone.
I don’t understand this, though I am open to hearing a solid argument.
Personally, I feel like solid slightly-above-average-ish batters are underrated by fans. No club is capable of fielding an entire team of superstars. It has never happened in the history of ever and forever.
If anything, Astros fans should have learned the key lesson from 2017 and 2018. Depth is the critical key to winning in MLB. Otherwise, the Angels would be more successful with their fancy Mike Trouts and glamorous Shohei Ohtanis.
Don’t misunderstand though, the Astros could not have won with a roster of slightly-above-average guys. It still takes Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, George Springer, and Alex Bregman. But quality depth is equally important. Just ask the Boston Red Sox, who won the world series on the heroics of Steve Pearce, Brock Holt, and Mitch Moreland, while superstar Mookie Betts batted .210/.300/.323.
So back to Josh Reddick. Quick recap, during the World Series winning 2017 season, Reddick batted .314/.363/.484, far and away the best season of his career at the plate. But that wasn’t the Reddick the Astros expected to get when they made him $54 million richer over four years prior to that season. They were expecting career Reddick, a slightly above average batter who plays decent defense but has a cannon arm and a good personality.
So while 2017 represented one extreme of Reddick, 2018 was the other, during which he batted .242/.318/.400.
Fans will be fans, and suddenly for some right field is seen as an area of urgent need.
There are several reasons why trading Reddick would be a poor and short-sighted move.
First, the Astros wouldn’t net much in return. When they traded Jed Lowrie to the A’s (the second time), they received a double-A relief pitcher who wasn’t even protected from the Rule 5 draft this season. Lowrie had two years and $14 million left on his deal, played the toughest non-catcher defensive position on the field, and also had a tasty club option tagged onto the end of his deal that the A’s ended up exercising.
In other words, Lowrie was worth more in trade prior to 2016 than Reddick is now. So the Astros would be trading a decent major league player while their competitive window is open, and likely receiving back nothing.
The second reason the Astros would be ill-served to trade Reddick is that outfield is already an area of weakness.
I know many fans are ready to write Kyle Tucker’s name into the outfield using a permanent laundry marker. It’s great to have that kind of faith. But in reality, Tucker has proven nothing yet, and his future production is a huge question mark. He could become the middle-of-the-order hitter that fans expect. Or he could become another in a long list of Top 10 national prospects that don’t amount to anything special. The Astros just don’t know.
And so trading Reddick would leave an outfield of Springer, Tony Kemp, Jake Marisnick, and Tucker.
Hardly the outfield of a club that expects to contend for another World Series title in 2019.
Could the Astros replace Reddick with a superior outfielder? It’s conceivable but not likely, which brings me to the third reason that trading Reddick doesn’t make sense.
And that’s that Reddick is actually a pretty good outfielder.
His career wRC+ of 107 doesn’t scream “star”, nor does his projected 2019 wRC+ of 109. That 109, had he reached it in 2018, would have placed him as the 45th-most productive outfielder at the plate among batters with 450+ plate appearances.
45th is middle of the pack, for sure. But keeping in mind that there are 90 outfield spots on major league rosters, and that most of the 44 ahead of Reddick are permanently locked up on other clubs, then simply keeping Reddick becomes a very palatable and smart option.
In fact, the only two free agent outfielders currently projected to outperform Reddick at the plate are Bryce Harper and Michael Brantley. And neither of those guys can play anything that resembles a competent Right Field.
“But he was so bad last year!”
Yeah, I’ve acknowledged that. But projection systems aren’t voodoo magic. Steamer expects a 109 wRC+ next year because it is recognizing that 2018 was something of an outlier. Not only was it not consistent with his career performance or his age, it was also the artifact of some bad luck on balls in play. His 2018 BABIP was .258, against a career of .286.
Normalization of Reddick’s BABIP (which was also the primary instigator of his big 2017, in the other direction) explains Steamer’s career-norm projection next season. The good folks of xstats.org show that with an xBABIP of .276 (still below career), Reddick would have batted .253/.327/.412 for a OBA of .320, a good enough improvement that nobody would be terribly alarmed.
So what are we even talking about here? Why is anybody even discussing getting rid of a productive major leaguer after a down year? Despite what I wrote above, can somebody provide me with a convincing argument that the Astros would be better without Reddick than they are with him?
Josh Reddick is a good baseball player that the Astros are more than happy to run out in the 7th or 8th spot in their lineup.