|A year in Cincinnati has Ryan Ludwick looking for a nice deal.(US Presswire)|
Parks like Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati have a certain appeal. Just ask Ryan Ludwick.
Ludwick found his way as an All-Star in St. Louis, but being exiled to San Diego put his career on the downslope. He spent the second half of 2010 and the first half of 2011 as a Padre, and at 32 looked washed up. The owner of the rare bats-right, throws-left combo mustered just a .228/.301/.358 line in 160 games in San Diego, and a 38-game pit stop in Pittsburgh provided hardly better tidings: He hit .232/.341/.330 as the Pirates limped to the finish line in 2011. After hitting 59 home runs with the Cardinals in 2008 and 2009, Ludwick hit just 17 in effectively a full season as a Padre.
Carl Sagan wrote in his 1985 novel Contact, "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love." Sagan was referring to our universe, but one would understand if Ludwick feels similarly about Petco Park.
Enter Cincinnati. It is a hitter's haven, particularly a right-handed hitter's haven. Spectators in the front row seats in left field almost feel like they can touch the plate. According to StatCorner, Great American Ball Park owned a 149 park factor for right-handed batters -- the average park sits at 100. No other park offers a friendlier porch to righties, and only Coors Field (150) offers a better to lefties.
Petco Park's factor checks in at 93.
Ludwick was a lottery ticket for the Reds on a one-year, $2 million deal for the opportunity to get his career on track. The Reds won big, as Ludwick mashed 26 home runs in 125 games en route to a .275/.346/.531 line. The resulting 128 OPS+ was his best since 2008.
And Ludwick should hit the lottery, too. After his career looked over, Ludwick now gets to cash in for likely one final time at age 34.
Ludwick was hardly a different player in 2012 than he was as he struggled in 2010 and 2011. He still struck out often -- more than 20 percent of plate appearances. He still drew a moderate amount of walks -- between 8 and 10 percent of plate appearances. He still hit mostly fly balls -- 1.25 to 1.45 fly balls to every ground ball. The only difference is if the fly balls dropped over the wall or into an awaiting outfielder's mitt. From 2010-11, 8.7 percent of Ludwick's flies went for home runs; in 2012, that number skyrocketed to 18.4 percent.
Given the disparity, don't expect to see Ludwick back in the vastness of San Diego or anywhere similar -- Seattle (even with the fences moved in), Oakland, Kansas City, Miami and the Dodgers at the least should be eliminated by this crteria. The Reds don't seem to have much to spend after locking up Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto last season, but Ludwick still fits. The Yankees could tab him as Nick Swisher's replacement. The Red Sox could use him in the same role Cody Ross filled last season. If the Rangers spend the bulk of their free agent budget on pitching, Ludwick would be a good medium-cost replacement for Josh Hamilton.
At 34 years old, with a robust outfield market and his park limitations, Ludwick won't draw a megadeal. But Ludwick has been a solidly above-average player when away from the openness of Petco Park, and he should get paid like it -- perhaps two years, $24 million with an option for a third year gets it done.
Potential Suitors: Reds, Red Sox, Rangers, Yankees