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Josh Reddick has an offspeed problem

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The Astros’ outfielder may be starting a turnaround at the plate, but it is still difficult to ignore his struggles throughout the summer.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

To piggyback off an earlier tweet this month from Astros County, this season’s edition of Josh Reddick has essentially hit like the 2003 version of Adam Everett. For a corner outfielder earning $13 million this season, that level of offensive production doesn’t appear optimal on a postseason-bound roster.

2019 Josh Reddick vs. 2003 Adam Everett

Season Player BA OBP SLG wRC+ PA
Season Player BA OBP SLG wRC+ PA
2019 Josh Reddick 0.265 0.318 0.400 84 470
2003 Adam Everett 0.256 0.320 0.380 79 436

But Reddick initially had a fine start to his 2019 season with a 115 wRC+ through June 10th. Considering the outfielder’s offensive downturn the previous season, in which he finished with a near-average wRC+ of 99, the outfielder’s start to this season was quite encouraging. But the bottom literally dropped under Reddick this summer as he has slashed .217/.256/.311 with a 50 wRC+ in his next 230 plate appearances. To be fair, though, the veteran outfielder has hit .368/.368/.579 with 3 extra-base hits and a 151 wRC+ in his last 21 plate appearances entering Wednesday. Based on an article ($) from Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, Reddick recently implemented a possibly important change to his hands during his swing. If his performance continues to surge into September, we know why that is possible. That said, a small sample isn’t going to erase roughly two months of poor results overnight.

So, what is a possible cause behind Reddick’s drastic offensive decline this summer? Even with a general uptick in performance since late last week, the general ineffectiveness this summer is impossible to ignore. And don’t forget that the Astros already have a top outfield prospect in Kyle Tucker, who has had a solid season in Round Rock at the plate, who’ll be with major league club on September 2.

One interesting explanation: A gradual ineffectiveness against offspeed pitches.

As we already know, Reddick was off to a relatively decent start to his season. It shows in his wOBA performance against all three pitch categories at the start of this year’s campaign. But as the season progressed, we notice various levels of decline in his wOBA against certain groups of pitches as the summer took hold. The off-speed line clearly stands out. For context, an off-speed pitch is defined by Baseball Savant as either a change-up, split-finger, forkball, or a screwball.

Offspeed Pitch wOBA by Month

Month wOBA
Month wOBA
Mar/Apr 0.257
May 0.347
Jun 0.231
Jul 0.103
Aug 0.073

Prior to this season, Reddick had a career .315 wOBA against off-speed pitches, which isn’t great nor absolutely dreadful. It is about average on the wOBA scale. Major league hitters over the same course of time (2009-18) have a .291 wOBA against off-speed pitches. But, in 2019, Reddick’s wOBA has plummeted all the way to .207. The league-average wOBA against off-speed pitches this season is .284.

If I could zero in on a particular off-speed pitch, I would prefer to take a closer look at change-ups thrown to Reddick this season. For one, change-ups are one of the more common off-speed pitches in the game. Also, at a quick glance, it does seem that the majority of off-speed pitches thrown to 32-year old outfielder are, indeed, change-ups. Opposing pitchers have picked up on the fact that Reddick is both missing and chasing more change-ups as the season has progressed.

With the above points now in consideration, it is of no surprise that Reddick has seen his strikeout rate against a change-up increase from 5.3 percent in June all the way to 18.8 percent in July to slightly drop down to 18.2 percent in August. Opposing pitchers are basically feeding Reddick a steady diet of change-ups this summer and they aren’t backing off that plan. For example, pitchers have thrown a change-up to him at a rate of 10.8 percent during his major league career. This season alone, that mark jumps to 13.9 percent.

Back when Reddick slashed .314/.363/.484 with a 128 wRC+ in 2017, he had an impressive .381 wOBA against change-ups. To be clear, he performed better against a variety of pitches (four-seam, sinker, cutter) that season, but off-speed pitches, in particular, the change-up, presented the most glaring difference to me this year. Based on his career numbers against the pitch, a regression from 2017 was likely; however, that decline has yet to stop.

Of the 322 outs Reddick has generated this season, 18.4 percent, or roughly 59 outs total, have occurred via a change-up. In 2018, of the 327 outs under the same criteria, it was 14.7 percent. In 2017, it was 10.9 percent out of the 333 outs. And while we won’t see teams exclusively throw change-ups against Reddick, we’ll likely continue to see this trend until the veteran outfielder proves otherwise. Opposing teams are likely not ignorant of any struggles, small or large, that a hitter may exhibit during the season. Let’s just hope this latest adjustment with his hands and subsequent hot streak is the start of a positive trend through the conclusion of the regular season that carries into the postseason.