Spirit of St. Louis

The Cardinals offense this year was supposed to be Albert Pujols, Rick Ankiel, and not a whole heck of a lot else. Ryan Ludwick apparently had other ideas. He hit his 8th home run of the season last night and is now second in the National League in OPS behind Lance Berkman. Chipper Jones is getting a lot of notoriety, since he’s hitting .400 and all, but Ludwick is producing at a similar level through the first quarter of the season.

Not a bad return for St. Louis, who picked up Ludwick on a minor league contract in December of 2006, after four previous organizations decided he wasn’t in their plans. A former 2nd round pick of the A’s, he’d shown some power while climbing the minor league ladder, but his aggressive approach and lack of contact caused teams to question whether he’d produce enough to justify a regular job in a corner outfield spot. Poor major league performances, albeit in limited trials, from 2002 to 2004 didn’t help his cause, and last season was his first real chance to play on even a semi-regular basis. He showed the same aggressive power hitter skill set as always, but improved his contact rate enough to get his batting average and on base percentage up to respectable levels.

Given a mostly regular job so far this year, he’s performing like never before. His line drive percentage is an other-worldly 39.1%, or higher than Lance Berkman and Hanley Ramirez‘s combined line drive rates. The next highest LD% is Matt Kemp at 32.3%, and Aaron Rowand (30.1%) is the only other guy in baseball above the 30% threshold. Ludwick’s hitting line drives almost 40% of the time. That’s just ridiculous.

It’s also totally unsustainable. The highest full season LD% from 2004 to 2007 belonged to Brian Roberts in 2005, at 27.4%. As good as Ludwick is going, he just can’t keep hitting line drives at a 40% clip. He will cool off, and regression to the mean will rear its ugly little head. But for six weeks, Ludwick has been about as good as anyone in baseball.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Alex G
Alex G

So what does Ludwick project to if he hits at league average rates for the rest of the year?