Reynolds will help, but is he the right fit for the Indians?
Let’s start with a prediction; no player is going to more polarizing on the 2013 Cleveland Indians than Mark Reynolds.
It would be too easy to say that Reynolds is an upgrade from Casey Kotchman and leave it at that. Reynolds will be an upgrade from Kotchman, that’s a slam dunk. The real question, as the title asks, is whether or not Reynolds was the right move on the free agent market.
The Indians were heavily involved in negotiations with Kevin Youkilis up until the point they agreed to terms with Reynolds. The only other first basemen they were rumored to heavily be interested in was James Loney prior to his signing with the Rays. Other first basemen on the market included Mike Napoli, Adam LaRoche, Lance Berkman, and Carlos Pena, but the Indians had limited interest in them.
Reportedly, the Indians offered Youkilis a 2 year deal for 18 million. He ended up signing with the Yankees for 1 year at 12 million. Loney got 2 million with the possibility of another million in incentives. Carlos Pena recently signed with Astros for 2.9 million with the possibility of another 1.4 million in incentives. Those figures give us a ballpark of where the free agent market is at for first basemen, and allow us to compare the value of the Reynolds contract.
Let’s set aside the Indians apparent interest in Loney and look deeper into Mark Reynolds versus Kevin Youkilis.
Reynolds certainly has warts as a player, and those warts are not without their fair share of publicity. He’s going to strike out in 30% of his at-bats, his batting average will be lucky to top .230, and even at first base he’ll never sniff a gold glove. For his career, Youkilis has struck out 18.5% of the time, has a .283 career average, and would be a better option defensively. Coupled with his relationship with Terry Francona, these are likely the reasons the Indians pursued him as their first option to fill the void at first base.
Is Kevin Youkilis still that type of player though?
Youk posted a .234/.336/.409 slash line with the Red Sox and White Sox last season. Those numbers can be partly excused by career low .268 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), showing that he ran into a bit of bad luck. With that considered, Youkilis’s OPS against left-handers was .878, a number that would be a huge boost to one of baseball’s most futile offenses against southpaws (.664 OPS). His OPS against lefties over the last three years? 1.034.
On the flip side, Youkilis's strikeout rate continued to creep upwards, his walk rate was down, and before the season begins he’ll be 34 years old. While he can still rake against left-handers, it does seem that Youkilis is in decline. Locking him in for two years would have come with risk.
Mark Reynolds' value is two-fold; first off he’s a true power bat, and secondly he’s cheaper.
Power is something that the Indians have needed more of for years. Reynolds is a virtual lock for a 30 home run season if he stays healthy. The Indians’ team isolated slugging percentage (ISO, calculated as slugging percentage minus batting average, essentially a measure of extra base hits) was .131, 27th in Major League Baseball. Reynolds’ ISO in 2012 was .208 and his career number is .240. Just for the sake of our comparison, Youkilis’ ISO was .174 last year.
What is the importance of those numbers? Out of the ten teams that made the playoffs, six of them finished in the top ten in isolated slugging percentage. Only one team went to the playoffs after finishing toward the bottom of the league in ISO.
That one outlier was the San Francisco Giants, who coincidently won the World Series after finishing second to last in all of baseball in ISO. The Giants rode their stellar rotation to the playoffs. However, it should be noted that they belted 14 home runs in the playoffs, the most of any team. You can make the argument that power is the most important tool a position player can possess, and Reynolds has it in spades.
If you accept that power is the most important tool for a position player, especially first basemen, it’s hard to believe that Youkilis is going to be such a superior offensive player in 2013 that he’s worth a commitment of 12 million more dollars. His value is that he’s a better pure hitter, but his numbers are trending downward.
Reynolds should receive additional considerations for his younger age and superior durability. There’s no doubt that Reynolds penchant for striking out and general lack of contact skills are going to frustrate us at times; however, there is room in the Indians lineup to absorb a player like that. Believe it or not, the Indians struck out only 17.5% of the time last season, the third best mark in baseball.
If you add all of this up it’s hard to disagree with the value the Indians received with Reynolds. He fills the offense's biggest need at a relatively cheap price and allows them to allocate that savings toward others part of the team. While he didn’t grade out well defensively in his first full season at first base he’s still an athletic fielder who should improve a bit.
If that doesn’t sell you on him, well hey, he’s going to be better than Casey Kotchman.
None on: .205/.726
Runners on: .241/.811
Scoring position: .256/.908
Scoring position/two out: .317/1.131
In case you're wondering if that was a fluke, here are his three-year averages (2010-2012):
None on: .189/.708
Runners on: .245/.862
Scoring position: .256/.908
SP, two out: .230/.827
Definitely put him in the five hole behind the high OBP guys. Santana should get better pitches to hit with Reynolds on deck.
This guy is a producer when pitchers have to throw to him.
Would think Reynolds in the cleanup spot and then either Santana or Swisher (preferred) in the 5 spot.
Swisher Brantley then Stubbs would be an interesting 5-6-7
I'm still a Youkilis fan and preferred him, but Reynolds is a solid fallback option. No doubt he brings some much needed RH power at the expense of a lot of Ks. The Indians have really worked hard this offseason to get more balance in the lineup, and I think it will help. I think he will turn out to be an underrated signing when the season ends.
Reynolds and Stubbs should be great pickups, even with the nasty K%.