In a comment thread on something, I think the post about The Odd Man Out, there was a subthread involving my previous fanpost in which someone asked who was more likely to get it together: Josh Reddick or Daric Barton. I figured the answer would be simple. Shocker: it wasn't. So armed with an internet connection, a basic-but-not-fully-developed understanding of metrics, and The Will To Win, I went digging around the numbers to see what I could see, like the bear who went over the mountain. But when I went over the mountain, what I found...WILL SHOCK YOU. Story at 9.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
That should be an easy question, right? Not like there haven't been 80 bajillion posts trying to figure out what happened to Reddick (although seemingly not that many about Barton.) So what can I, Benjamin Foldsworth Nutswain, humble man of the world, bring to this table?
Daric Barton's Problem
The problem for Daric Barton seems to be hitting the fastball. In the first four years he spent in the organization, a period culminating in his excellent season in the two thousand and tenth year of our Lord, Barton was really great against the fastball, and was worth about 20 runs above average against it. It was, by far, the pitch against which he performed the best. That was a good thing, since the fastball accounted for about 62% of the pitches he saw; during that time, only Ryan Sweeney and Kurt Suzuki saw more of them among A's players.
Among other pitches he saw, he was basically average against the slider and the changeup, above average against the curve and the splitter, and below average against the cutter, but none of these figures were that strikingly above or below. Basically, he was the kind of hitter you'd like to have, in terms of performance against pitch types. He could hit the fastball and he could hold his own against basically any breaking ball. (With pitch types, you always have sample size issues with non-fastballs, since hitters see relatively few of them, so there's that caveat.)
After 2010, he continued to see basically the same proportions of pitch types, as one would expect from a guy who wasn't being pitched around (see the separate section on that question.) And he didn't get any more or fewer pitches in the strike zone. But, as I hope we're all aware, he was playing hurt and getting inconsistent playing time and just plain playing badly. In 2011-2012, he was pretty much bad against every kind of pitch. No surprise.
So we come to 2013, which I've argued previously is probably a decent approximation of "true talent level Barton." We got to see him without injuries, hitting in a real lineup, and apparently--if his statements to the media are to be believed--trying to be more aggressive at the plate. So this was the guy we should expect to see going forward. And, by the way, he definitely has been more aggressive; he's swinging at more pitches out of the zone, so I hope that's what you all wanted when you said you wanted him to be more aggressive.
Anyway. He basically got his mojo back against every non-fastball pitch. He was average to above average, albeit in a small sample, against all those breaking pitches. Fine. Great. Problem is, he didn't get his stroke back against the fastball. And as weird as it may seem to those of us who have long just kind of accepted that Daric Barton is a breaking-pitch-hitter, he's not. For Barton to be as successful as he can be, he has to hit the fastball. And while he wasn't atrocious last year--in fact, he was essentially average--he wasn't the Daric Barton of 2007-2010, the Daric Barton who, in his only full season, was 11.5 runs above average against fastballs. Now to put that in perspective, that was only good for 54th-best in baseball and 24th-best in the American League, but also, that's pretty good for a guy everyone assumes isn't a fastball hitter. The reality is, Barton has to hit the fastball.
Side Note: Was Barton Really Being Pitched Around in 2010?
I've seen this repeated so often as a way of mitigating Barton's OBP in 2010 but I'm not sure it can really be born out by the facts. In 2010, he saw no fewer fastballs than he had in previous years. The percentage of pitches he saw inside the strike zone dipped a bit, but his swings at pitches outside the zone didn't change. In fact, the most striking difference in this section of metrics in 2010 from previous seasons--and subsequent ones--is that he swung at fewer pitches IN GENERAL. When he did swing--whether a pitch was in or out of the zone--he had some of the highest contact rates of his career, and when he didn't swing, he was drawing a whole lot of walks. On the other hand, Barton did start seeing more fastballs after 2010, but not more pitches in the strike zone.
What I draw from all of this is a couple of things: Yes, Barton might have gotten pitched around OCCASIONALLY, but not often enough that we should allow it to taint his OBP performance in 2010. He was just a very disciplined hitter, swinging when he knew he could make good contact. In other words, Daric Barton's 2010 was pretty close to exactly what it looked like.
Josh Reddick's Problem
The big difference here is that Reddick has essentially NEVER been a fastball hitter. He hits the slider and the changeup, can't hit the curve or the fastball. Pretty much never did. Like Barton, he doesn't register HUGELY positive or negative numbers on any pitch, but they are marked differences. And it's not good when you're half a win below average against fastballs, and 60% of the pitches you see are fastballs.
Fortunately for Reddick, no one in the league seems to have realized that he can't hit the fastball. He's not getting any more fastballs than he did in 2012, nor is he getting fewer sliders and changeups. I mean, that's not true, he got a few more fastballs, a few less sliders and changeups, but the differences are negligible. It might be different in 2014, but it's too early to say. (In fact, early SSS numbers show he's getting FEWER fastballs, but a lot MORE curveballs.)
So anyway, this is a problem. The fastball and the curve are pitches you need to be able to hit. Obviously the fastball is the one you see most often, and depending on how things shake out, the curve can come in at #2 on that list. So far in his career that honor has gone to the slider but eventually guys are going to figure out that he can't hit the curve. You have to be able to hit the curve. And Reddick has had some very high-profile struggles against it.
On the bright side, 2013 Josh Reddick DID show a willingness to make changes as a hitter. He's noticeably more disciplined than 2012 Josh Reddick. He swung at FAR fewer pitches out of the zone and significantly fewer pitches altogether, while his contact rate stayed steady and he didn't SEE any fewer pitches out of the zone. So he's not a lost cause. One hopes.
Side Note: Was Josh Reddick Ever a Power Hitter?
One part of the reason for Reddick's declining home run production is probably that he hit the ball on the ground way more often in 2013 than he did in 2012. Well, maybe not WAY more often. About three percentage points above his career line, while in 2012 he was about three percentage points below it. But that six-point swing meant a comparable dropoff in fly balls, and if you don't hit fly balls, you're not gonna hit home runs. Of course, the fly balls you DO hit need to go pretty far, and Reddick's HR/FB ratio dropped off by about the same number of percentage points as his overall fly ball rate, which is BAD NEWS.
Or is it? See, the more you look at his batted ball profile, the more you realize that 2012 was the anomaly, not 2013. In pretty much every way, it was out of sync with what his current career line is, as well as what his previous career line was. 2009-2011 Josh Reddick had a line drive rate of 20.7%, a ground ball rate of 33.2%, a fly ball rate of 46.1%, and an HR/FB ratio of 7.4%. As of this moment, 2009-2014 Josh Reddick has a line drive rate of 20.8%, a ground ball rate of 32.5%, a fly ball rate of 46.7%, and an HR/FB ratio of 10.8%. Only significant difference is HR/FB ratio.
But 2012 Josh Reddick, by himself? 21.2% line drive rate (not weird), 29.2% ground ball rate (low), 49.6% fly ball rate (high), 14.0% HR/FB ratio (high!!!!!). Obviously when you're hitting fewer balls on the ground, more in the sky, and the ones in the sky are going farther, you hit more home runs. In 2013, that HR/FB ratio dropped off to 8.9%. That drop in ratio accounts for no less than SEVEN FEWER HOME RUNS than Reddick would have hit had his HR/FB ratio stayed at its 2012 level. And conversely, because his 2012 HR/FB ratio was anomalously high, we can conclude that had 2012 Josh Reddick been more in line with probably-the-real Josh Reddick, he would have hit--check it out--seven fewer home runs. And his FB% also conformed to the norm, he would have hit ten fewer home runs.
I don't know why Reddick hit so many more home runs in 2012, but I do feel pretty comfortable saying it was an anomaly and he will probably never do that again. He's not that guy. He might be 20-HR guy--if he figures out the fastball and the curve--but he's not 30-HR guy. He just isn't. So we just need to accept the fact that "return to form," for Josh Reddick, does not mean "return to 2012 form." It means "hit for adequate average, hit 20 homers, and play awesome defense."
WHY IS THE PROBLEM?
Obviously if I could answer this question satisfactorily for any hitter, I'd probably have a job at least doing what EBHI does. But there doesn't seem to be any particular reason for Barton to have fallen off against fastballs. In EBHI's post about Barton's swing, he didn't find significant objectionable changes, and in fact preferred Barton's very-slightly-different 2013 swing to his older swing. He didn't LIKE Barton's swing in ANY year, but he didn't seem to think that any of the guy's struggles could be pinned on a change in mechanics. For what it's worth, he projected a "true talent level Barton" not too different from the one I projected, but he's more educated about swings. All things considered, it's hard for me not to say that the struggles against the fastball are down to not having seen a lot of MLB pitching.
Take it away, EBHI. Reddick's swing is the problem. It was the problem. It shall be the problem. As long as he doesn't fix it, he will either be late on the fastball or early on the curveball. Interestingly, this might be why he does okay against the changeup. It looks like a fastball throughout the pitcher's delivery, so he's swinging at it as if it were a fastball. Instead of being late, he's right on time. No idea how he hits the slider as decently as he does though. Maybe he's just able to lay off of it or something. I didn't dig deep enough to look at his swing rates at different pitches, mostly because I don't know where to find that data.
HOW IS THE PROBLEM (FIXED)?
As I said above, I think Barton just hasn't gotten back in the groove of hitting the MLB fastball. Barton needs time to readjust to it. There's just no reason he suddenly forgot how to hit it after doing reasonably well against it up through 2010. He battled injuries, he got shuttled between Sacto and Oakland, he probably got in his own head...None of this is a REASON TO KEEP HIM. I've tackled that elsewhere. I'm just saying that IF HE WERE KEPT, I think he would get it together against the fastball, given time, which means he would get it together in general. Because there's just no real reason to believe otherwise.
Either the A's hire EBHI as a hitting instructor or they don't. If they do, I think Reddick has a chance. Otherwise, nope. So realistically, I don't see how Reddick fixes this problem. Didn't expect to come up with that conclusion, but the dude has had trouble with the same two pitches since his first stint in the big leagues and he hasn't made the changes he needs to make. Pitchers and catchers will eventually figure his weakness out and exploit it, so honestly he'll probably just get worse. His defense will continue to be sterling, and I would still say he makes sense to keep for that reason. It will still outweigh his hitting in 2014. But we need a solution here, unless we just want to give up on having an all-around right fielder who produces offensively and defensively.
THE STUNNING CONCLUSION
I don't think either of these two guys benefits from being sent down to AAA. Again, that doesn't mean you don't do it. My feelings on that subject were dealt with elsewhere. But I just don't see how either man benefits from it. Barton needs to get back into the groove of hitting the MLB fastball, because we know he can hit it. He used to hit it. He will hit it again if he gets the opportunity. Reddick, meanwhile, has never been able to hit it, but what will he learn against AAA fastballs that he didn't learn before? Clearly no one at our AAA affiliate--or at Boston's AAA affiliate--was able to see the problem with his swing the way EBHI has, at least not to the point of being able to convince him. I don't know, maybe we can option him to his dad's house and call his dad and be like, "Dude, EBHI says you gotta fix that rear-arm situation."
But yeah, for this year, after writing these two fanposts, I think the answer is that you keep both guys up here, you keep Craig Gentry, you keep Alberto Callaspo, you keep Nick Punto and Eric Sogard, and you ditch Fuld. Because there's one thing we know: Sam Fuld can't hit.