Over the last decade or so, the A's have had some players who caused a lot of debates, both here on Athletics Nation and elsewhere in A's fandom. The All-Polarizing team of the last decade would probably include Trevor Cahill, Jack Cust, Eric Byrnes, and Travis Buck. While he might not reach those heights in terms of controversy, I have noticed a strong split in the opinion of A's fans as to the play of Josh Reddick. Around the internet (and even a little bit on this blog), I have seen people call to platoon the Beard, trade for another RF, or send him down. Even for those who aren't so extremely bearish on Reddick, I've seen a lot of people disappointed as to Josh's play this season.
And part of me gets it. It's true: for the month of April Reddick incredibly OBP'd .241. That's bad. He's brought it up to a still-not-very-good .298. He also missed a lot of time for injury which frustrated some, and his struggles with runners in scoring position are well-chronicled. But the truth of the matter is that when you sum up all of the value Reddick contributes to the team, he's already been one of the most valuable pieces.
How is that possible? In one word: defense. We all know that Reddick is an outstanding fielder, but I think that even A's fans tend to underestimate just how good Reddick is. Name your defensive metric of choice: Reddick is the best defensive right fielder in the league, or close to it.
Wanna talk UZR? UZR is generally understood as the gold standard for defensive metrics. It compares data on balls hit to a certain part of the field, and determines how much better or worse a fielder did than the "average" player. Reddick is the #1 right fielder in the league in UZR by a large margin, and if you're wondering, it's not close:
But one of the big knocks on UZR is that it takes about 3 years worth of data to be worth anything. Ok, so you don't trust UZR. Maybe you're more of a range factor guy?
Baseball Reference keeps track of range factor, which is just (Putouts+Assists)/Games Played. It's an imperfect stat because a lot of it depends on where the ball is hit (if there are no balls hit to RF, you won't make any putouts even if you have the range of Willie Mays). But by that stat, Josh Reddick is still the best RF in the game, albeit by a closer margin:
But perhaps the most telling stat is dWAR (defensive Wins Above Replacement). WAR is the god of all sabermetric stats: it attempts to define a player's overall worth: offense, defense, baserunning, etc. WAR is a counting stat that accumulates over the course of the season (rather than a rate), but it's still very helpful in evaluating the overall contributions a plater has made to the team. What's also cool is you can split the stat into pieces to understand each of the individual contributions a player makes to the team.
Here's Fangraph's breakdown of how to put a season's WAR stats in context:
|Role Player||1-2 WAR|
|Solid Starter||2-3 WAR|
|Good Player||3-4 WAR|
So with that in mind, let's examine Josh Reddick. Reddick so far this season, according to Baseball Reference, has put up 0.8 dWAR (just his defensive contributions) in 76 games. That may not sound like a lot, but it's freaking phenomenal. If we extrapolated that to a full season (150 games), that would be 1.6 dWAR. In other words, if Josh Reddick literally contributed nothing to the team on the basepaths or at the plate, he would contribute as much to the team as an average role-player. That's insane. Let me put it another way: Josh Reddick could hit like Willie effing Bloomquist and still be a solid contributor to the team.
Defensive contributions are often vastly underestimated mostly because they're much harder to quantify. But it's important to understand that preventing the opponent from scoring a run is just as important as scoring runs of your own. So when Reddick somehow magically runs down what should be a double to the gap, that's just as good of a contribution as him hitting a double to the gap. Let me show you why.
Run expectancy calculates the average number of runs a team might be expected to score in a given inning based on the base-out state. So a team with the bases loaded and none out, on average, will score 2.27 runs that inning, while a team with the bases empty and 2 out will score an average of 0.09 runs that inning. We can use these calculations to try to figure out the contributions of an amazing defensive play.
So let's say the A's are playing the Tigers, and Miguel Cabrera, leading off the inning, hits a double to the gap that an average right fielder would never reach. The run-expectancy for a runner on 2nd and none out is 1.10. But let's say it's Josh Reddick in right field, and he runs the ball down, and instead of a double to the gap, it's an out. That means that instead of a runner on 2nd and none out, there's nobody on and 1 out. The run expectancy would be 0.25 runs. That means that the awesome defensive play saved the team 0.85 runs (1.1-0.25), the difference between the hit being a double and being an out. You can quickly see the value of having someone like Reddick (Coco Crisp makes similarly amazing defensive contributions) in the outfield.
"But SamYam," you might say, "You just wrote two paragraphs ago that 'Josh Reddick could hit like Willie effing Bloomquist and still be a solid contributor to the team', but Josh Reddick is still hitting like Willie effing Bloomquist!". Touche, reader. In fact, Willie Bloomquist actually has a higher OPS than Reddick does this year. Yikes. But there are a few reasons why we shouldn't expect that to continue.
First of all, Reddick's been getting very unlucky with his batted balls. He has a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .251, which is very low. This means that he's hitting a lot of balls right at fielders, which is pure luck and probably won't stay that low for the whole year. What's more, he's doing it with a career-high line-drive% of 25% (!!!) according to Baseball Reference. That's a really good line-drive rate, and typically line drives fall for hits at a much higher rate than other types of batted balls. He also has a 4.7% HR/FB rate, which is low even accounting for the dampening effects of the Coliseum. Reddick (probably, hopefully) won't hit worse than Bloomquist the rest of the year, and his contributions at the plate will make him much more valuable down the stretch.
Still, based on his defensive abilities alone, Reddick deserves to be playing every day. When it comes to Josh Reddick, put me squarely into the "big fan" camp.