MLB 2011: Is Ryan Ludwick the Key to Success for the San Diego Padres?

Drake SmithContributor IIIMarch 30, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 01:  Ryan Ludwick #47 of the San Diego Padres is congratulated by teammates after hitting a solo home run during the second inning against the San Francisco Giants October 1, 2010 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When the San Diego Padres were (actually) buyers at the 2010 trade deadline, General Manager Jed Hoyer surprised everyone in the league by plucking away Ryan Ludwick from the St. Louis Cardinals, a player no one even believed was available.

Another thing no one believed was how unproductive Ludwick actually was going to be down the stretch of the season.

In 59 games with the Padres, the Las Vegas native hit a thoroughly unimpressive .211 with six homers and 26 RBI. Maybe he isn't too much at fault for the low RBI numbers given the offensive ineptitude of the Padres, but none the less the Friars' fizzle into second place and out of the playoffs was partially due to the lack of production from the right fielder.

San Diego chose to bring Ludwick back in 2011 on a one-year deal worth nearly $7 million, a choice that could prove to be vital in the Padres' hopes to stay afloat in the post-Adrian Gonzalez era.

Anyone who follows baseball knows Ludwick can hit. In 2008 he had a breakout season, hitting .299 with 37 homers and 113 RBI and followed it up with a good 2009, but he could never seem to click in a Padres uniform.

In an interview with XX1090 San Diego, Hoyer stated that he believes Ludwick was putting too much pressure on himself to hit for power and to protect Gonzalez in the lineup. In 2011, Ludwick will quite possibly be the focal point of the offense, especially if he regains his St. Louis form, leading to more freedom at the plate and being the one the Padres will look to protect.

Even with Gonzalez, the Padres weren't anything close to a power lineup, and now that the former all-star is in Boston the Friars are fully committed to the approach that garnered success in 2010: pitching, defense, speed and timely hitting.

Ludwick (and arguably Brad Hawpe) will be the only hitter in the Padres lineup even resembling a power bat, and he will be relied on for run production in the middle of the order.

The 2011 lineup in San Diego should be more consistent top to bottom than in 2010, with the additions of veterans Hawpe, Orlando Hudson, Jason Bartlett and Jorge Cantu. With that in mind, Ludwick should feel like more of a "piece of the puzzle" rather than his role of protecting a power bat in a pitcher's park.

If the Padres plan works, Ludwick should have pressure alleviated from his shoulders by facing more frequent situations with runners on base ahead of him, rather than feeling that RBI opportunities are a rare scenario that must be capitalized on.