Since 2010, the difference between the Cincinnati Reds winning the NL Central division or not seems to be correlated to the performance the team gets from the left fielders.
When the Reds won the division in 2010, left fielder Jonny Gomes hit 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs. Gomes, along with primarily Laynce Nix, compiled 95 runs scored, hit 21 homers and drove in a total of 95 runs. The .275 BA/.335 OBP/.776 OPS slash marked a productive addition to a lineup powered by the Reds’ core of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips.
When the Reds won the NL Central in 2012, it was Ryan Ludwick who supplied the difference from the left field position. Ludwick hit 24 homers and drove in 74 runs, and the left fielders combined to hit 29 long balls while knocking in 96 runs and producing a .271/.339/.824 slash.
But the drop-off in left fielder production at the plate has proven considerable in the years when the Reds didn’t win the division.
The 2011 team that finished below .500 produced a .227/.310/.680 slash from a left fielder combination of Gomes, Chris Heisey and Fred Lewis. Gomes’ batting average dropped to .234, but he maintained a .781 OPS before he was traded. Heisey and Lewis both hit .201.
Last year’s Wild Card Reds didn’t fare any better than the 2011 lot. The expectation that Ludwick would produce like he had in 2012 ended quickly when he tore his shoulder on opening day and missed most of the year. Ludwick did return in the second half, but he along with Heisey and part-timers Derrick Robinson and Xavier Paul produced a collective slash of .250/.313/.687.
This year’s Reds left fielders look a lot more like the 2011 and 2013 group than the division-winner. A trio of primarily Ludwick, Heisey and Skip Schumaker have managed just a .254/.312/.685 slash.
Until the Reds address the left field situation through trade or benefit from vast improvement by the current candidates, the 2014 Reds will be lucky to finish as well as last year’s team and will more likely struggle the rest of the year to avoid a losing record like the 2011 Reds.