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Playoff outfield: With the arrival of Kyle Tucker is Josh Reddick the odd man out?

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The Astros have six legit playoff caliber outfielders. They will only carry four or five. Who gets axed?

MLB: Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Reddick. Isn’t he red-hot?

My lede, suggesting that in the competition for playoff outfielder, Josh Reddick may be the odd man out, is a bit oddly timed, I must admit. Yesterday, Josh Reddick had the best game of his career, going 5 for 5, with a home run and three RBI. Furthermore, since September 2nd, the day Kyle Tucker was elevated to the big club, Reddick has been raking, slashing .310/.344/.586 with a wRC+ of 140. (Before Sunday’s game)

After a prolonged and agonizing summer slump, in September Josh Reddick seems to be a man on a mission.

Why, he’s even been just a smidge better than the new “Ted,” Kyle Tucker: .325/.357/.550, wRC+ 136. And Reddick’s stats in September come with a realistic BABIP of .318, while Tucker is getting the luck he didn’t get last year; .407.

Is it for real?

So why would the Astros go with the rookie and his small sample size over the proven veteran? Because Reddick’s September small sample size has no relation to his performance, or shall we say, under-performance, throughout most of the rest of the year and the previous year. Tucker, on the other hand, appears to be, at last, achieving the tantalizing potential that made him a top MLB prospect even after his disappointing 2018 call-up.

In short, there is reason to think that the September Tucker is the real Tucker, but the September Reddick is a hot streak that won’t be sustained in the playoffs.

In this recent article we discussed the struggles of Josh Reddick through most of this year in detail. Here’s a brief rundown of his season slash line: .267/.311/.394/ wRC+ of 87. His wRC+ is the lowest among the entire group of Astros outfielders. In 133 games Reddick’s fWAR is only 0.4.

For those who prefer advanced stats, Reddick’s xwOBA is only .307. Tucker’s is .368.

Some Astros fans might be surprised to find that, despite many heroic catches at the wall this season, Reddick has a negative DEF rating (defense) from Fangraphs. This is a consistent pattern since 2014. His base running also has a slightly negative rating. He has stolen four bases in six attempts all year.

Of course, some would say that the veteran’s experience makes Reddick a more dependable choice in the playoffs. Wouldn’t the rookie be more likely to freeze up under the bright lights? History suggests that it is Reddick who freezes up under the bright lights. In six years of playoff appearances, Reddick is slashing .219/.280/.297 with a wRC+ of 58. In 2017 his playoff wRC+ was 9, although last year in the playoffs he rebounded to a more respectable 107.

Tucker time?

So yes, Reddick is red-hot this September, but history predicts regression. In his short career, we don’t know what regression looks like for Tucker, but if Tucker continues on the current path, it only confirms the opinions of the many analysts who have consistently considered him a top prospect; 60 hitter, 55 overall future value per Fangraphs.

It’s not just his bat. He has stolen as many bases as Reddick in 13 games. In those 13 games his fWAR of 0.4 is equal to Reddick’s in 133 games.

What about Marisnick and Straw?

But of course, the choice for the Astros is not just between Josh Reddick and Kyle Tucker, although as left-handers they are the most direct competitors. The Astros may also choose to cut Jake Marisnick or Myles Straw, both of whom are right-handers and bring similar skills to the overall mix.

Marisnick is slashing .240/.296/.422 with a wRC+ of 91. In 300 PAs his fWAR is 1.4, mostly on the strength of his elite defense. He is often used as a defensive replacement at the end of close games, a likely playoff scenario. He leads the team in stolen bases with 10 in 13 attempts.

Myles Straw, in only 113 PAs, has similar overall hitting averages, with better on base skills than Marisnick, but less power. Straw is slashing .253/.366/.305 with a wRC+ of 93. His fWAR of 0.7 is more than Reddick in not even one-fourth the playing time, and is half that of Marisnick in about one-third the playing time.

Straw’s greatest calling card is his elite speed, fourth best in MLB, just inches behind Byron Buxton. Nobody has a better chance of scoring once on base than Myles Straw, and every playoff roster finds space for at least one such pinch-runner, as the Astros did with Straw last year. (As fast as Marisnick is, he’s still almost a foot slower per second than Straw; 30.1 to 29.2)) In Straw’s limited time, he has seven stolen bases in eight attempts.

If you doubt the importance of speed in the off-season, just think back to Derek Fisher pinch running for Brian McCann and scoring the winning run in game five of the 2017 World Series from second base on Bregman’s shallow single to left. Speed kills.

So who’s out?

Can you do without Marisnick’s very good speed and top of the top elite defense? (12th in Outs Above average and Expected Catch Percentage, 7th in Catch Percentage Added)

Is a pinch runner like Straw who knows how to get on base and wreak havoc someone you can do without? History says there’s one of Straw on every playoff roster. Or is Jake good enough to be that? Or perhaps Straw’s defense is good enough to replace Jake’s.

Do you forestall the possibility that Kyle Tucker’s bat going into the playoffs gives you another huge power bat-think rookie Bellinger-to go with speed on the bases and good defense? Has his time come to be a hero? Is he yet another rookie masher to go along with Alvarez? Are Kyle Tucker and Yordan the Astros’ answer to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton? We’ll never know unless he gets a chance.

After all, imagine that Tucker continues to hit in the playoffs as he has so far this September, just for fun. Here is your Astros lineup with Kyle Tucker.

George Springer..........155 wRC+

Jose Altuve...................141 wRC+

Michael Brantley...........140 wRC+

Alex Bregman...............164 wRC+

Yordan Alvarez..............183 wRC+

Carlos Correa................140 wRC+

Yuli Gurriel ....................132 wRC+

Kyle Tucker ....................136 wRC+

Robinson Chirinos..........114 wRC+

Just for the uninitiated, 100 = league average. Currently the Astros wRC+ is 125, just one point less than the best ever 1927 Yankees. That’s with lots of key injuries, sub-par Reddick, and without Tucker most of the year.

This would be the most awesome playoff batting order in history. Even the 1927 Yankees had at least two below average hitters in the lineup. Why spoil the fun by inserting an 87 wRC+ in the midst of all this storm and fury. Eight of these nine batters are just flat out crushers. Pity any pitcher, any pitcher, who has to face this unrelenting onslaught.

On the other hand, do you diss an established veteran and proven team leader like Josh Reddick for an unproven September call-up? Traditionally, no. But what is tradition to the purveyors of Astroball?

So who gets cut?

First off, if only one outfielder is cut, (an uncertain assumption) then Marisnick and Straw fill such important niches that they stay.

So between Reddick and Tucker I think the relative performances of these two between now and October will have a lot to say about it. I think that if one of Tucker or Reddick stays hot and the other cools off, then the one who cools off is dust. If they both cool off, then Reddick stays and Tucker goes. But what if they both stay hot? They can’t both play with Springer and Brantley penciled in. Do you go with Reddick’s experience, despite his bad playoff history, or do you go with the upside of Tucker’s power potential?

Tell us what you think.

Poll

If the Astros go with five outfielders in the playoffs, which of the current group gets cut?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Jake Marisnick
    (228 votes)
  • 27%
    Myles Straw
    (415 votes)
  • 30%
    Kyle Tucker
    (454 votes)
  • 27%
    Josh Reddick
    (411 votes)
1508 votes total Vote Now