Ryan Ludwick: One Shining Season


Ryan Ludwick was once a brilliant young prospect. In the late 1990s, he was a veritable force. During the 1998 Baseball World Cup, he hit .407 for Team USA, posting seven runs and eight RBI as well. Over two-and-a-half years with the UNLV Rebels baseball program, he established an excellent offensive repertoire. In his freshman year (1997), he slashed .354/.398/.668 with an OPS of 1.066. He also posted 16 homers and 68 RBI that season. In fact, he was the only player to put up double digit home runs on that entire team. (For the record, the ’97 Rebels went a rather disastrous 24–34, and failed to make the NCAA Tournament.)

This type of talent should surely translate to an excellent big league career…at least, in theory. Unfortunately for Ryan Ludwick, it didn’t. That’s why he’s in an unexpected seasons series instead of “greatest of all-time” series. Because, if statistics are any kind of a mirror into the type of player he was, he should have been up there. Now, he’s here, and it’s time to give him his due. A decade after starring on Team USA, he became the star of the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals. If ever a statistic line spoke to a player’s motivation and desire to go far, it is this. Ryan Ludwick may not have the prettiest big league story, but the tale of this one year fairly makes up for all the rest.

Ryan Ludwick: Prospect to Struggling Big Leaguer

First, some context must be noted. Ryan Ludwick was taken by the Oakland Athletics in the 2ndn.d round of the 1999 Draft. He played 43 games that season for the Class-A Modesto A’s, but it was in 2000 where he truly broke out. In 129 games, he smashed 29 homers, and put up 102 RBI. In 2001, between Double-A and Triple-A, he had 26 more homers and 103 RBI. Then, in something of a surprising move, the Athletics traded him to the Texas Rangers in January of 2002. After hitting .285 with 15 homers in 78 games with the Triple-A Oklahoma RedHawks, the Rangers promoted him.

Unfortunately for Ludwick, none of his first few forays into baseball were very long. He hit .215 with one homer in a year-and-a-half with Texas. Then, midway through 2003, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians. He improved while there, slashing .247/.305/.467 with 13 homers and 35 RBI in 73 games over three seasons. However, he still wasn’t anywhere near the level of promise that he had shown when coming up. Then, after spending the 2006 season in the Detroit Tigers’ minor league system, he signed with the Cardinals.

A Scorching Beginning

After a fairly successful first full big league season in 2007, Ryan Ludwick got off to a scorching start in ’08. He picked up three hits in the Cardinals’ opening day victory over the Colorado Rockies. His April slash line looked like this: .309/.390/.647 with a 1.037 OPS. He had four homers, seven doubles, 14 RBI, and 21 hits in 23 games. Although he did strike out over 32% of the time, when he put the ball in play, he was almost unstoppable (.405 BABIP). This helped contribute to a Cardinals outfield that had a league best .356 BABIP that month.

Through May, Ludwick continued his torrid pace. He slashed .333/.412/.713 for the month with a 1.124 OPS. He pounded out nine homers, and six doubles in only 87 at-bats. That’s a HR/AB ratio of 9.67. While his strikeouts were still high, he managed 13 walks. When he wasn’t hitting the ball a country mile, he was still finding success when making contact. His BABIP ranged in the low .320s. A wRC+ of 187 for the month ranked highest among National League outfielders with 100 or more plate appearances. He beat out the likes of Jason Bay, Adam Dunn, Ryan Braun, and Alfonso Soriano in this category.

A Sizzling Summer for Ryan Ludwick

Over the summer, Ryan Ludwick continued his good work. While it wasn’t quite as powerful as earlier, it was still very respectable. June and July brought a slash line of .273/.354/.490 with an OPS of .844. He hit ten more homers, and knocked in 24 runs while posting 53 hits in 52 games. When he made contact, he was batting .314. Unfortunately, his strikeouts were beginning to catch up with him. 50 in 194 at-bats meant that he was still whiffing over a quarter of the time. He also showed less patience at the plate, walking a mere 21 times in 224 plate appearances (9.4%). Luckily for Ludwick, August was on its way.

The dog days of summer brought back the heat of Ryan Ludwick’s bat. In August, he slashed .320/.376/.660 with an OPS of 1.036. He launched nine more homers, drove in 24 more runs, and added 33 hits in 26 games. His BABIP jumped to .338 as he began to find that earlier spring groove once more. He also had eight doubles and 22 runs scored during the stretch. Again, the only troubling thing about it was that he continued to strike out around a quarter of the time. But, when he made contact, he continued to make good on every opportunity.

Success in September

September was yet another successful month for Ryan Ludwick. He slashed .291/.371/.570 with an OPS of .941. He endured his first real tough stretch here as well. Over the first 14 games of the month, he hit .200 (11-for-55) with 19 strikeouts. During a seven game losing streak for the Cardinals, Ludwick hit .179 (5-for-28) with nine strikeouts. His performance turned severely after this, and he hit .452 (14-for-31) over his last 11 games. He added four homers, bringing his total for the year to 37.

Summary

Overall, Ludwick finished with a .299/.375/.591 slash line with an OPS of .966. He had 113 RBI, and 161 hits in 152 games. His excellent performance earned him his first, and only, career All-Star nod and his only Silver Slugger award. He finished 16thth in MVP voting. He wound up regressing a bit the following season. After a promising start to 2010, he was shipped to the San Diego Padres. Severe regression followed, although he did have return to form in 2012 with the Cincinnati Reds. All in all, Ryan Ludwick was able to eke out a decent big league career. However, it was his 2008 Cardinals campaign that will forever define who he was as a player.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images

Players Mentioned:

Ryan Ludwick, Jason Bay, Adam Dunn, Ryan Brown, Alfonso Soriano

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.