Ryan Ludwick had a bounce-back season for the Cincinnati Reds in 2012 and could command more than the Tigers are willing to pay for a platoon outfielder in 2013.
Despite the fact that the BYB contingent has voiced their support in favor of more bullpen help, I'm going to continue to profile corner outfielders. Bullpen stats are boring and I like the idea of bringing Cincinnati's Ryan Ludwick to Detroit better than any of the relief options currently on the market.
Who is he?
Ludwick is a 34 year old outfielder who has had an up-and-down career as a journeyman outfielder. He has made major league stops in Texas, Cleveland, St. Louis, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and, most recently, Cincinnati. He hit .275/.346/.531 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs last season for the Reds, a solid bounce-back season after a dismal 2011 year in which he had an OPS of just .674. Over the course of his career, Ludwick is a .263/.334/.466 hitter.
Why should we care?
While some may chalk Ludwick's 2012 resurgence as a product of playing in the bandbox known as The Great American Ballpark, his home/road splits were actually very even. He only hit 10 home runs on the road compared to 16 at home, but he hit for a higher average and had a higher on-base percentage away from Cincinnati. As a dead pull hitter, his home run total would not have diminished very much playing in Comerica Park, though ESPN's Hit Tracker shows that all of his home runs to center field would have died in prior to reaching the vaunted 420-foot fence in Detroit.
Like yesterday's target, Ludwick's glove is also passable. He has a UZR of -8.2 over the past couple seasons, but his career UZR is a decent +9.1. Likewise, he was worth -13 defensive runs saved in 2011 and 2012, but has been worth +8 throughout his career. This may be a sign of him slowing down a bit, but it's hard to hold these numbers against him when the Tigers had the likes of Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young patrolling the Comerica Park outfield in 2012.
Why should we stay away?
As someone who hits right-handed pitching better than lefties, Ludwick isn't an ideal platoon partner for Andy Dirks. Over the course of his career, Ludwick's OPS is 37 points higher against righties, though his splits have varied from year to year. In 2012, he hit a blistering .263/.360/.576 with 10 home runs against lefties, but his All-Star 2009 season saw him hit just .269/.342/.400 against southpaws.
While he still has the potential to be a very good corner outfield bat, his contract situation may be an issue. Ludwick made $2 million last season and will likely see a significant pay raise after his excellent year. Teams in the market for a starting corner outfielder will likely hold an edge over the Tigers, who will look to reward Dirks' 2012 season with a decent chunk of playing time in 2013.
Will he end up in Detroit?
I don't really see it happening. At 34, Ludwick will probably look to land himself a starting job for another 2-3 years, and his 2012 stats suggest that he's up to the challenge. I wouldn't complain if the Tigers signed him and turned Dirks into a "super sub" of sorts -- keeping Torii Hunter fresh all season would be a nice benefit -- but I think that there are more cost-effective options for a right-handed outfield bat on the free agent market. This is one signing that I would have advocated harder for a few years ago, but I would have no problem welcoming Ludwick to the D in 2013.