The Eighth Pitch to Josh Reddick

In the wild and remote southeast corner of Oregon, tucked near to the eastern side of the Owyhee River, there’s a canyon that used to be known as Dugout Gulch. It was renamed Leslie Gulch in remembrance of Hiram E. Leslie, an area rancher who, in 1882, was struck by lightning. It wouldn’t be fair to say that getting struck by lightning was a habit of Leslie’s. He was no more likely to get struck than any other rancher in the region. Yet get struck by lightning, Leslie did. Well past a century later, it’s how we recall him today.

Josh Reddick has spent a career being unclutch. Greatly unclutch, incredibly unclutch, almost unfathomably unclutch. Ben Lindbergh wrote about it at the end of June. We have a win-expectancy-based Clutch metric on our leaderboards, and, since Reddick debuted, no hitter has a lower Clutch score. We actually have this stuff going back to 1974, and, since then, on a per-600-plate-appearance basis, Reddick currently stands as the least-clutch hitter out of everyone. He just edges out Ron Kittle and Richard Hidalgo. If you think that this is somehow misleading, it’s not. When Reddick has batted with the leverage low, he’s posted a 121 wRC+. When he’s batted with medium leverage, he’s posted a 99 wRC+. When he’s batted with the leverage high, his wRC+ has been 70. The history is all right there, inarguable. Josh Reddick has not exactly risen to the occasion.

This always seems to lead to the same conversation, about how clutch performance isn’t predictive. That’s true — it’s not. Or at least, it’s not easy to spot when it is. Possibly, or even probably, Reddick isn’t an unclutch hitter. But Hiram E. Leslie probably wasn’t lightning-prone. At some point, you’re just defined by what’s happened. It’s not easy for Reddick to erase his own record.

Yet days like Monday can help. Monday, in Boston, Reddick drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth. The Astros went ahead by one, and the Astros finished ahead by one, having eliminated the Red Sox in four games. A number of different players all helped the cause, but in the eighth, with baseball’s most unhittable pitcher on the mound with two outs, the least-clutch hitter in decades knocked an RBI single the other way. The Astros found themselves on the verge of advance.

Only minutes before, Alex Bregman had homered to tie the game up. A little more contact meant the end of Chris Sale, but that only meant the start of Craig Kimbrel. The same Kimbrel who, this season, struck out half his opponents. With two out and one on, Kimbrel walked George Springer. That brought Reddick, with runners on first and second.

The at-bat that followed lasted eight pitches. Kimbrel’s more accustomed to needing three or four. But this is just one of the ways the Astros can get you — no lineup in baseball was tougher to strike out. Reddick, if nothing else, forced Kimbrel to labor. But then, seven pitches deep, Reddick made a decision. He changed his own plan of attack, in response to what he’d seen.

The at-bat began with an up-and-in fastball. 100. Reddick swung and fouled it off. Here is a picture of Reddick’s follow-through.

The next pitch was a fastball, up. 100. Reddick took it. The following pitch was similar — a fastball, up, at 99. Reddick took it as well. Pitchers with big fastballs can get a hitter in swing mode, and a hitter in swing mode might be likely to chase at his own eyebrows. Reddick held back, working the count to 2-and-1. Then Kimbrel came with a low curveball. 90. Apparently that’s a pitch that exists. Reddick swung and fouled it off. Here is a picture of Reddick’s follow-through.

Kimbrel is lethal when he gets to two strikes. Kimbrel is lethal when he gets to two balls, but all he needed was one more strike. Tried a curveball, down. 90. Reddick took it, and the count went full. So Kimbrel came back with inside heat. 99. Reddick swung and fouled it off. Here is a picture of Reddick’s follow-through.

The next pitch was the same. A few inches higher. 100. Reddick swung and fouled it off. Here is a picture of Reddick’s follow-through.

Kimbrel and Reddick went at it again. The eighth pitch was a fastball, more over the plate. 99. Reddick swung and hit a sharp ground ball. Here is a picture of Reddick’s follow-through.

This is where it clicked. Even one pitch before, Reddick was meeting Kimbrel’s power with power.

Look at Reddick open up. Look at Reddick try to put a ball through a fence. There’s nothing so extraordinary about the swing; it’s a left-handed swing. Reddick’s got some pop, after all. What makes this sequence notable is how Reddick’s swing changed between deliveries. Seven pitches into the at-bat, Reddick was having trouble getting Kimbrel squared up. No real shame in that, for him or for anyone, but for the eighth pitch, Reddick looked to do something different.

For the eighth pitch, Josh Reddick channeled his inner Ichiro Suzuki.

The plan, the swing, the follow-through — it was all ever so Ichiro-esque. I don’t know how else to describe it, with Reddick shooting the ball between short and third base. It’s not, perhaps, what you might consider elegant. It’s not a ball off a wall, or a ringing line drive. The result is a grounder an opponent would’ve fielded, had an opponent been in position to field. But that’s just exactly the thing. Reddick looked as if he was guiding the ball. There’s not a player in the world who can actually do that, but you can find some convincing attempts.

Said an elated Reddick to J.P. Morosi, after the game was over:

He’s throwing 100 up there with a good curveball, and I was telling our hitting coaches, this is the first time I’ve choked up all year, before I got the hit.

Seven pitches in, Reddick might not have felt like he had a chance. Not unless he did something different. So against Kimbrel’s eighth pitch, Reddick shortened his swing and tried for the slap. Sure, you could argue he only got lucky. The grounder was hit only feet from the shortstop, and the majority of grounders are outs. You might feel like sitting there and saying that Kimbrel got BABIP’d. But when Reddick has batted with the leverage low, he’s posted a BABIP of .299. When Reddick has batted with the leverage high, he’s posted a BABIP of .246. Reddick has been so clearly unclutch, in part because he didn’t get bounces. Monday afternoon, he got his bounce. Reddick delivered maybe the biggest hit of his life. That might not quite clear him of everything else, yet now there’s a new reason for Josh Reddick to be remembered.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Joe Joe

Reddick for his career seems to have a problem with lefties more than most LHBs. I suspect a big portion of Reddick’s unclutch behavior is that he is more likely to face LHPs in high leverage situations when not facing an ace reliever. Weaknesses are more likely to be exploited in a high leverage situation.