Do Ryan Ludwick's Splits Really Say Anything?

In 2007, St. Louis Cardinals right-handed batting outfielder Ryan Ludwick appeared to buck conventional wisdom by hitting right-handed pitchers hard, both in the majors and at Triple-A. Don't expect it to continue, though.

My recent article reporting the signing of veteran outfielder Juan Gonzalez to a minor league deal by the St. Louis Cardinals mentioned Ryan Ludwick as a potential competitor to Juan Gone for a roster spot with the big club.

Several readers commented that shouldn't be the case. The reasoning is Ludwick's reverse splits – recent data indicates the right-handed hitter has hit righties better than lefties – should lump him in with the left-handed hitters fighting for time instead of with right-handed hitters such as Gonzalez.

This is potentially indicative of how small slices of data can lead to labels being placed on players and after being repeated over and over again, becoming generally accepted as fact. Not being comfortable with this in Ludwick's case, I decided to dig a bit deeper under the surface.

First, let's get to know Ludwick's career background a bit better.

By definition, it is a subject Cardinals fans love. An unheralded player comes from seemingly nowhere to receive what appeared to be a very minor in-season call-up only to become an important but unexpected contributor at the major league level.

In the summer of 2003, Bo Hart earned his fifteen minutes of fame. Two years later, John Rodriguez emerged to make his mark and last season, it was Ludwick.

The 29-year-old Ludwick has traveled many miles since having been the second-round draft selection of the 1999 Oakland A's from UNLV, taken just 14 picks after the Cardinals called out the name "first baseman Chris Duncan".

The right-handed hitting younger brother of former Redbirds pitcher Eric Ludwick made his first major league appearance with the 2002 Texas Rangers. He had become a Ranger after having been part of a deal for now-Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena. After 21 games in centerfield, Ryan's initial season ended when he required surgery to insert a screw to repair a serious hip fracture.

Then ranked as the Rangers' number seven prospect, Ludwick spent most of the first half of 2003 back in Triple-A before moving to the Cleveland Indians in a trade for outfielder Shane Spencer and pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez, who would later pitch in Memphis (2006). Starting what became a continuing pattern of injury, Ludwick missed the final month of the 2003 campaign with a contusion of the patella tendon in his right knee. Surgery would be required to remove torn cartilage.

In 2004, Ludwick began the season with a second surgery to remove scar tissue in the knee and then had to deal with a bleeding ulcer. Ludwick didn't come off the disabled list until July and rehabbed in the minors until receiving a September call-up to the bigs. That is when in a bizarre mishap, an apparent stray gunshot penetrated the Indians' team bus, grazing Ludwick and striking a teammate, Kyle Denney.

Ludwick made the Tribe roster out of spring training in 2005 as their fourth outfielder, but soon thereafter strained his shoulder and by Memorial Day was outrighted to the minors. Ludwick signed a minor league deal for 2006 with Detroit and spent that entire season in Triple-A. He agreed to terms on a similar deal with the Cardinals in December, 2006.

After posting an impressive .400/.423/.520 line (BA/OBP/SLG) in 25 spring at-bats with the big club and continuing to scorch the ball in Memphis early on, Ludwick received the call to return to the majors in early May, 2007. Among his season highlights for the Cardinals were a go-ahead, three-run home run and a career-high five RBI on June 17 against the Oakland A's, two home runs on July 1 against the Reds which included a 473-foot shot, among the top ten longest in Great American Ballpark's five-year history, as well as a career-best hitting streak of 11 games in September.

By mid-June, after having seen most of his time in right field, Ludwick began to get starts in left field against lefties in place of then-slumping lefty hitter Chris Duncan. Perhaps it was Ludwick's impressive line against left-handed pitching in Memphis (in just 31 at-bats) that helped drive the change, but the numbers show it didn't turn out all that well.

Ludwick's 2007 minor league splits

Year/Level vs. AB AVG OBP SLG
2007 Triple-A LHP 31 0.387 0.444 0.871
RHP 79 0.342 0.367 0.633

Still, there has been much discussion about Ludwick's curious MLB batting splits and how that might affect his use on a roster that abounds with left-handed hitters. As a right-handed hitter, the book says he should hit lefties better than righties. The 2007 numbers denote just the opposite, ostensibly lumping Ludwick with left-handed hitters such as Duncan, Rick Ankiel, Skip Schumaker and top prospect Colby Rasmus.

Ludwick's 2007 major league splits

Year/Level vs. AB AVG OBP SLG
2007 MLB LHP 122 0.221 0.307 0.377
RHP 181 0.298 0.362 0.547

I queried a major league coach who has seen Ludwick in action frequently for his perspective. The possible explanation offered is oriented around Ludwick's strengths as a hitter. "The only thing I can think of is that he handles the ball middle away so well, especially breaking pitches from right-handers," explained the coach.

To probe the statistical angle, I asked BaseballHQ's guru Ron Shandler what he thought about this. He wasn't particularly excited. "My first impression is that these sample sizes are pretty small. Clearly you can't draw any conclusions from these AAA or 2007 MLB stats." Yet, that is precisely what some have done.

Ludwick roughly doubled his previous total career MLB at-bats during 2007, yet the oddity remains when looking all the way back to the start of his major league time in 2002. Still, Shandler isn't impressed. "As for reverse splits in general, all I can tell you is that there are very few players that have them, but there are some, so it's not precedent-setting or anything like that - just an odd tendency."

Ludwick's career major league splits

Year/Level vs. AB AVG OBP SLG
Career MLB LHP 256 0.211 0.286 0.418
(2002-07) RHP 381 0.278 0.341 0.465

Looking further to gather a larger body of data for Ludwick requires a view of both his major league and minor league stats. That does restore some order to this universe.

Jeff Sackmann, proprietor of the highly-valuable MinorLeagueSplits.com, a guy who reports on splits for a living, has this to say: "Generally you want at least two seasons, better still three seasons, before making any conclusions about a player's tendencies."

Good news. While there isn't much more data than that, there should be enough by using Sackmann's minor league data and combining it with Ludwick's major league splits from the years 2005 through 2007. Without even having consulted the nums, Sackmann correctly predicted the results. "Almost every player, batters especially, eventually end up with something like normal splits." And so, it is.

Ludwick's 2005-2007 splits – major and minor leagues

Year/Level vs. AB AVG OBP SLG
2005-07 All LHP 375 0.253 0.329 0.469
RHP 783 0.263 0.334 0.498

In conclusion, those expecting Ryan Ludwick's unusual reverse splits to continue and for him to keep hammering righties while struggling against lefties should probably just forget about it. Better to just consider him a right handed-hitting competitor for outfield time with the 2008 Cardinals and leave it at that.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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