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Thinking about Winning in 2020: Back to the Tucker vs. Reddick debate

Who should start in right field?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Houston Astros Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

After an all-time reverse jinx, our fearless editor dropped a jinx-proof appreciation of Kyle Tucker’s possible breakthrough this morning. I wanted to expand on it a bit and think about what Kyle Tucker means to the team’s success in 2020.

First, Tucker isn’t going to keep hitting a triple every day. And he probably won’t have a single game that shifts his OPS northward by over 100 points. Or maybe even hit another walk off bomb. But let’s hope he doesn’t revert, for a period of weeks, to the frustrating, worst version of himself we saw three weeks ago. Let’s just assume Tucker is a below-average version of what the projections said, a league average hitter (currently with a wRC+ of 96). What kind of role does he have on our team?

As we know, Dusty Baker isn’t very forward-looking on lineup construction. Until the Bregman injury, Correa was hitting 6th. He’s batted Toro and Reddick 2nd, multiple times (hey Dusty, the first rule of lineup construction is to give guys the odds to bat more, that’s why your best three hitters are usually 1,2,3!). Baker also loves his vets, and their crafty vet ways.

This directly affects Tucker, even though the injuries to Alvarez and Brantley would seem to guarantee both of them a lot of PT.

Reddick has been great, you say. He was getting all those hits, and he just made a diving, game-ending catch. Ah, the eyes deceive. Speaking of the eyes, Josh has looked both heavier and slower. And the initial numbers back this up. His base-running value, per Fangraphs, is way down and his defense grades out poorly. That’s why, despite being 11% above average with the bat, he has produced zero WAR this year. That’s right, 0.0 WAR. And his BABIP is currently .324, about fifty points higher than it averaged over his BABIP across 1000 PAs in 2018 and 2019.

Tucker, meanwhile, is only hitting wRC+ 96, and slashing 239/268/478. But he’s hitting the ball harder than Reddick, by an average of 4MPH, and he’s starting to spray the ball. He’s also fielding well, by the initial metrics, and he’s by far the best baserunner on the team, per Fangraphs (let’s all assume that Straw would be the most valuable baserunner if given the same reps, over the course of a full season). Tucker’s base running matters. He’s got a knack for picking his spots (almost the anti-Springer). He’s also grading better on defense than Reddick. All this leads up to Tucker, despite being 15% worse at the plate than Reddick, has produced 0.3 WAR.

When Brantley gets healthy, Reddick needs to exit the OF, or be a 4th OF. He should be a part-time DH with Taylor Jones or Diaz, whenever he comes back. It’s one thing to bench Tucker because Reddick is the incumbent, and Alvarez made the most of his opportunity while Tucker made the least of his. But it’s another thing entirely to refuse to recognize Reddick’s decline, and to see that Tucker gives more value now, and giving him reps will only increase the value that he brings to the team in 2021 and beyond.

Reddick has been a valuable, steady, healthy member of the team this year. He’s given us some good moments. But with 37 games left, and Brantley eligible to come off the IL on Saturday, it’s time to maximize our chances to win by making Tucker a mainstay in RF. It’s unlikely that Dusty will do this, which is a shame, because the future of RF in Houston is Tucker, and the future is now.