Who Was Bill James Referring To?

Famed baseball writer, historian, and statistician Bill James, who works for the Red Sox as a Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations, did a lengthy interview a few days ago with my friend C. Trent Rosecrans who covers the Cincinnati Reds for cnati.com.


The interview was split into two parts.  You can read them here:


Part 1:  http://cnati.com/spring-training-2010/talking-with-bill-james-part-1-001559/


Part 2:  http://cnati.com/spring-training-2010/talking-with-bill-james-part-2-001571/


Most of the interview concerns the Cincinnati Reds, but one of Bill James’ answers in Part 2 will be of interest to Red Sox fans.  Here’s the exchange:


Rosecrans: What about (Reds minor league prospect) Juan Francisco? Here’s a guy who strikes out a ton, doesn’t walk, but hits for a decent average. That doesn’t seem to be a recipe for success, or at least so far in the history of the game.


Bill James: There are always those odd cases of guys who can do that, I’m not saying he has to be Vladimir Guerrero, but Vladimir and Roberto Clemente could do that.


Rosecrans: Funny you bring that up, that’s who I was thinking about today when Dusty Baker talked about the worst part of Francisco may be that he has some success on those pitches out of the zone.


Bill James: There’s a special problem with teaching those guys. Sometimes there’s no point in sending those guys down because they just go to AAA and hit .350 and don’t learn a damn thing from it. I shouldn’t name names, but we have one of those in the Red Sox system, too. We can never figure out what to do with him because he’s not ready to help the Major League team until he gets a little plate discipline but there’s no real point in keeping him in the minors.


So Red Sox nation, who do you suppose Mr. James is talking about?


I’m guessing that it’s Josh Reddick.


Reddick  at Fenway re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


The 23-year-old outfielder is having a tremendous spring for Boston, batting .438 with 5 doubles, 1 triple, and 1 HR in 12 games.  His OBP is .455 and his slugging percentage is .750.


But he’s only walked once.


Yea, I know – considering Reddick’s 1.205 OPS in the Grapefruit League, that’s like studying the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and pointing out that Brooklyn Decker has pointy elbows.  But drawing more walks and being more disciplined at the plate is the key to Josh’s future. 


Last year Reddick began the season at Double-A Portland and displayed good – not great – plate discipline as he batted .277 with 30 walks for a .352 OBP in 63 games.  But his numbers plummeted above Double-A as he batted .127 with a .190 OBP in 18 games with Pawtucket, and .169 with a .210 OBP in 27 games with Boston.


“I think the biggest thing we noticed last year is he’s such a free swinger and aggressive kid, and he started swinging at more strikes,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona told reporters in this story on MLB.com.  “That’s what was noticeable. If he swings at strikes, he’s got so much good natural ability and some strength in that swing, he’s going to be pretty successful. Now that’s easier said than done.


“We don’t want clones, but we want guys to swing at strikes. If you swing at strikes, and you take nice, healthy swings at strikes, it leads to guys getting on base, hitting for extra-base hits. I think they all tie together. I don’t think you go up looking for a walk. You do that, you’re going to be just hitting down in the count a lot.”


That sure sounds like the player that Bill James was referring to.


Baring an injury to somebody in the Red Sox outfield, Josh appears almost certain to begin the season in Pawtucket. 


The Red Sox front office – including Bill James – will be watching to see if Reddick displays an improved “eye” at the plate.


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