What happens when you walk but don't hit much? Or when you hit but don't walk much? Batting average, often chided as a useless stat, nonetheless tells part of a story. And certainly not all of it. In Daric Barton's case, batting average may tell more than you think, and in Josh Reddick's case it may tell less.
I've heard Reddick praised some for being "one of the A's few bright spots so far" offensively, and certainly he has hit some balls hard and garnered a few key hits, but the reality is that Reddick hasn't been nearly as good as all that. In fact he's been quite bad.
It's just awfully hard to put up good offensive numbers when 20 games into the season you have walked exactly once. It means you can bat .244 and still have only a .263 OBP. A .263 OBP isn't bad, it's terrible. Did you know that Reddick's OPS for the season currently stands at .660? (.244/.263/.397) His season's slash line is actually very close to the career slash line of...Yuniesky Betancourt...Except Reddick's OBP is 30 points lower.
Meanwhile, consider the plight of Daric Barton, a guy who will probably slug around .400 for his career. Barton, in stark contrast to Reddick, has a terrific eye and exceptional plate discpline, to the point where his OBP is reliably 100 points above his batting average. What's wrong with Barton is not his patience or the number of pitches he takes, no matter how frustrating it may be when he takes the right pitch at the wrong time; what's wrong with Barton is what happens when he does hit the ball.
Barton has not proven to be a .300 hitter, a guy who can slash line drives to all fields like Placido Polanco -- also not a slugger, but a legitimate .300 hitter. I think it's easy to overlook the fact that OBP is a by-product of walks and ... batting average ... and going forward Barton is likely to be as good as his batting average. Here's what I mean:
If Barton were a .290 hitter, he would be about a .290/.390/.400 hitter and that's an excellent player -- especially when you add in very good defense at 1B. However if he's a .240 hitter, the OBP drops along with it and you wind up with a .240/.340/.400 hitter -- and that's just not enough to get from your 1Bman.
Batting average tends naturally to fluctuate due to the influence of uncontrollable variable such as luck and defense, but over time it will, like any other statistic, regress to its "true level". What is Barton's "true level"? In his best year, a season in which seemingly everything went right, Daric batted .273. In his worst year, a season in which seemingly everything went wrong, he batted .226. For his career, Barton's average stands at .251, which represents a mish-mash of being up at a very young age, having a magical season, playing injured, and everything else that has led us to the present moment.
What concerns me is what I haven't seen from Barton: the ability to consistently spray line drives to all fields. I see too many lazy fly balls and routine grounders, some well hit drives that die on the warning track due to his lack of power, and then in between some liners, all adding up to...about the .250 hitter we've seen.
Barton will always walk a lot, and that's a good thing. If he can hit close to .300 he's an excellent player, but if he can't he really isn't. I'm more interested, currently, in what Barton does when he makes contact than I am in anything else. The luck will even out -- but will it even out at a .250 clip or a .300 clip, because it matters a ton.
As for Reddick, love the line drives, love the RBIs, love the intensity -- but call me when he draws his 10th walk because right now all he represents is a compelling primer on the dangers of hacking -- you might leave fans with a few good memories but at the end of the day all you are is a very poor hitter.