Saturday, September 15, 2012

Can Ryan Ludwick's resurrection be attributed to luck?

There's an interesting article written by Matt Klaassen on with which he asks whether or not Ryan Ludwick's bounce-back season can be attributed more to "luck" than anything else. The piece caught my eye and I thought I would share some excerpts from it, so here you go:

Perhaps the most surprising Reds overperformer has been Ryan Ludwick. After bottoming out in San Diego and Pittsburgh last year, Ludwick has hit .275/.345/.534 (132 wRC) with 25 home runs for the Reds so far in 2012. Is Ludwick (and, by extension, the Reds) just getting “lucky,” and if so, what does that even mean?

One could take this in many directions: the acknowledged limitations of projections, the possible role of the Reds scouting department, the effects of the Padres’ park on hitter. Those are all worthy topics, as is noting how Ludwick (and Todd Frazier) basically filled the “Votto void” while the Reds awesome first baseman was out.

But beyond the (somewhat trite and boring) point that Ludwick’s true talent probably lies somewhere between his 2011 and 2012 numbers, there is another dimension of luck (I’ve already gone over my quota of scare quotes) involved. From the team perspective, did the Reds’ front office just luck out in getting a good year from a player whose bat looked dead and buried at an age when a resurrection is unlikely? Again, there are factors here (e.g., professional scouting) to which we do not have access. I am not dismissing those. But we can reasonably infer from Ludwick only getting $2.5 million guaranteed that few teams (probably including the Reds) saw Ludwick’s big year as likely.

The Reds, like all teams, have been the beneficiary of luck in 2012, as the example of Ludwick attests. Like all teams, they have have also been fortune’s victim — as the injury to the usually-healthy Votto illustrates. Winning teams are usually well-planned, but they also usually need a bit of pixie dust. However, those teams that risk very relatively little when they roll the dice — as the Reds did with Ludwick — are more likely to come out on top than those who do not. It is an old story, but one worth retelling: consistent luck really is the residue of design.

I'll be the first to admit that I do believe there is a significant amount of luck involved in baseball. In some years, one team may seem to catch all the breaks and receive all the right bounces, but that same team may not be so lucky in other years. The perfect example of this is the 2011 version of the Reds compared to the 2012 version.

Last season by many accounts was an utter disappointment. The campaign was marked by individual underachievement (i.e. Bronson Arroyo), a smorgasbord of one-run losses, and other not-so-good occurrences.

This season has been different. Aside from the season-ending injury to free agent closer Ryan Madson prior to Opening Day, most everything else has gone Cincy's way. Of course, losing Joey Votto for six weeks wasn't an ideal situation, but the club persevered and actually did surprisingly well in his absence. The Reds got better-than-expected production from the likes of Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick during that span, and have been receiving great production all year long from Aroldis Chapman, Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto. And then you have Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, who are performing just as anticipated.

Add it all up and you have the recipe for a successful regular season. There's no doubt the Reds have been somewhat fortunate in '12, but being fortunate doesn't always mean you're having good luck. Sometimes it just means that others are experiencing worse luck than yourself.

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