A little more than a year ago, I interviewed Josh Reddick for more than an hour out in Arizona. We talked about a lot of things, but mostly we talked about hitting. He spoke at length about how the ballclub was working with him to modify his approach at the plate.
Philosophically, the organization preaches plate discipline, but Reddick was (is) a self-described free swinger.
His approach at home plate didn’t (doesn’t) necessarily fit in with what the team wants to see from its young hitters, and Reddick was bound and determined to make a successful transition into a more patient hitter.
But I’m not so sure the Red Sox have done the right thing with Reddick. I am of the belief he should keep doing what made him one of the club’s top prospects in the first place. In short, don’t fix what ain’t broken.
Seeing more pitches does not guarantee you’re going to be a better hitter…and seeing fewer pitches does not guarantee that you’re going to be a worse hitter.
I’m not saying that he shouldn’t make adjustments at home plate, but what I AM saying is that when you take the teeth from a lion’s mouth, he’s not a lion anymore. That which made him fearless, and fearsome, has been taken from him.
With Reddick, what made him both fearless and fearsome was his aggressive approach at the plate. He had a Puckett-like quality…and like the Twins Hall-of-Fame outfielder, he could take a pitch off the plate and drive it down the baseline.
Sox farm director Mike Hazen once said of Reddick:
“There are some concerns with his pitch selection, but at the same time he’s shown that he is able to take a ball that’s five inches off the plate and rifle it down the third base line. You’re left sitting there going, ‘Wow!’ He shows an ability to really hit using that approach.
"He’s kind of a freak. There’s no one set formula for what makes a major league hitter. We feel like Josh has every chance to be as much of an impact big leaguer as someone who (walks more).”
Then the club went out the following year and changed the mechanics of his swing and his approach at the plate. They had him introduce a leg kick. They told him to look for one single pitch early in the count (and to let anything else go, at least until he gets a strike).
The new swing didn’t work. The new approach to hitting is a work in progress, and it remains to be seen whether it will bear sweet or bitter fruit.
From my perspective, the Red Sox now have to let Reddick develop. They have to recognize the truth of Hazen’s declaration—that there is no one set formula for what makes a major league hitter. Enough is enough. Sometimes, enough is too much.
He has made the changes that have been requested by the ballclub, with mixed results. When I spoke with him, he said: “They told me that I need to walk more. They have been preaching more patience, but it’s a hard adjustment for me. I’ve never been a patient guy at the plate.
"My batting average and OBP have always been pretty close…When I got to Portland (Double-A) they tried to embed [the new approach] in me by changing my batting mechanics. I wasn’t really very approving of that. At times, I got really frustrated.
"My dad taught me a philosophy that if I see a pitch I can handle, I should go out and hammer it. I [developed as a player] like that, then they tried to change me. I understand what they’re trying to do and why they’re doing it [the changes in my mechanics] made me see the ball a lot better, and it helped me as far as drawing walks…but it really hurt me hitting-wise. I only hit something like .215.”
He struggled after his promotion to Portland and later abandoned the the leg-kick (introduced to slow down his lower half); but, he has persevered with the new approach at the plate. He worked hard to adopt the new mindset during the 2008 AFL season and in spring training last year.
When Reddick returned to Portland at the beginning of the 2009 season, Sea Dogs hitting coach Dave Joppie saw tangible results: “I noticed a big difference when I saw him in spring training this year and when he started the season with us here in Portland.
"He looked like a much more confident hitter with a definite plan and a definite idea of the strike zone and what he wanted to do with each at bat. The light was going on, I guess you could say, and it was exciting to watch him develop.”
Develop. THAT is the key word.
The club has introduced the idea of being more selective at the plate—of looking for that one pitch and then hammering it—and he has bought into the program. Now they need to sit back and let him DEVELOP.
And Red Sox Nation needs to be patient with the 22-year-old outfielder (he turns 23 next Friday). The Nation’s demand for instant gratification is insatiable, but The Nation needs to take a deep breath. It has been said that his struggles last year are proof that he needs to become increasingly selective at home plate. Balderdash!
Reddick’s track record demonstrates that he struggles in his first year at a new level. He struggled in 2008, when he moved from High-A ball (where he was hitting .343) to AA-ball (where he hit .214)…and he struggled again in 2009 when he went from AA (.277) to AAA (.127).
Minnesota C Joe Mauer and Florida SS Hanley Ramirez led their respective leagues in hitting last year while bringing very different approaches into the batter’s box. Mauer has proven to be patient at the plate, while Ramirez is more inclined to swing the bat. Mauer hit .365 while seeing 4.19 P/PA; Ramirez hit .342 while seeing 3.83 P/PA (the MLB average was 3.83 P/PA).
To drive home the point even further, Mauer put the first pitch of an at-bat in play less frequently than any other hitter in the major leagues last season (just 3.1% of the time), while Ramirez put the first pitch in play more often than any other hitter (18.6% of the time). Very different approaches at the plate… but very similar results.
Still not convinced? Former Red Sox SS Nomar Garciaparra led the league in batting in 1999 and 2000 (hitting .357 and .372 respectively) seeing far fewer pitches than the average big league batter during those two seasons (3.21 P/PA in the two years combined).
Hazen is right…there is no single prescription for success as a hitter in the major leagues.
Former Seattle 2B Harold Reynolds, now a commentator on MLB.com, recently said: “You have to know your players. I’ve been around managers who said ‘you’ve gotta swing away at the first pitch’ or ‘you have to take a pitch’ or ‘you have to get deeper in the count’, but it all depends on the individual…an organization has to know its players and allow them to play to their abilities.”
The Red Sox know that Reddick is comfortable being aggressive at the plate. They have got to know that he became frustrated when they tried to change him. They made the point to him about being more selective… about gearing up for that one pitch early in the count. He gets it.
Now it’s time for everyone to sit back and let him develop. Enjoy the ride. I think he’s going to be a heckuva player when he finally arrives in Boston for good.
One final point: when Hanley Ramirez was a part of the Red Sox minor league system he was a prolific but “undisciplined” hitter. After the 2004 season, the organization told its shortstop that they wanted him to be more selective at the plate.
He changed his approach to accommodate the ballclub and saw his batting average fall by 40 points while he drew 10 extra walks (his OBP fell from .369 to .335).
He was traded to Florida at the end of the 2005 season as the centerpiece of the deal that brought RHP Josh Beckett and 3B Mike Lowell to Boston. He still brings his "grip it and rip it" philosophy to the plate with him…but he is more selective than he was in earlier years.