Trend Spotting: Mark Reynolds,improved pitching and defense
In the second week of May one thing is clear, Mark Reynolds was one of the five best acquisitions in baseball this past offseason.
Just based on WAR value to date, Reynolds’ 1.3 wins would be worth $6.3 million dollars. Meaning that if Reynolds offered negligible value from here to the end of the season the Indians still got value exceeding their one year $6 million contract.
More importantly, Reynolds has been one of the best players in baseball through the first month which raises a few questions that should be addressed: how long will this rate of production continue, should the Indians extend him, at what cost, and how will his line look at the end of the season?
|Year||Plate Appearances||BABIP||LD%||FB%||HR/FB||Contact %|
Reynolds' BABIP is a particularly interesting case as he has huge fluctuation from the beginning of his career to date. Which, in part shows the imperfection of the statistic as well as the trouble predicting major regression/progression from year to year based on the statistic. Looking at Reynolds' batted ball profile it is pretty clear that nothing major has changed that would lead us to believe that his current start can be maintained.
This is nothing new to Indians fans as most knew upon the signing that Reynolds was going to be a peak and valley guy whom to date has yet to reach one of those valleys. The HR/FB rate should be expected to regress but by how much is a different question. I believe that Reynolds 2012 data, which holds his career HR/FB below 21% is not particularly valuable. Reynolds spent a majority of the opening months playing through injury and was sapped of the power that makes him an asset. I think that stretch was beyond a predictable valley but an injury wrecked stretch whose relevance to projecting Reynolds is limited.
Returning to HR/FB, let’s say excluding a majority of 2012 Reynolds HR/FB rate is closer to 21.3% which makes his current rate while unstable not as big of an outlier. This is also considering that over a 660 plate appearance season in 2009, Mark sustained a rate of 26%.
If I was a betting man I would wager that Reynolds HR/FB would regress to around 23% at seasons end (I do not know who would actually wager on HR/FB rates, but hey, something to consider Vegas). However, when it comes to batting average and consequently on-base percentage I think some statistics suggest that he is an evolving beast.
The first being contact rate which has steadily increased since 2009 to date, eventually dwarfing his past career high which occurred in 2007 due to a smaller sample. Returning to the steady increase, contact rate and further a decrease in swing and miss rate directly affects strikeout rate which as the graphic displays has decreased gradually of late. Thus as Reynolds' strikeout rate decreases and the number of balls in play increases assuming a relative flat line on BABIP Reynolds average as well as overall OBP should increase.(This is assuming that Reynolds is not sacrificing good contact for more frequent contact which does not appear to be occurring.)
What this means is, yes, the valley will inevitably occur and perhaps a few more cycles of both high and lows throughout the season but there is some reason to believe that in some areas Reynolds is gradually improving. If Reynolds continues to not avoid but limit strikeouts and his contact rate improvement is legitimate one might expect some batting average and OBP improvement. Indeed it is very possible that he matches his previous career high in batting average of .260 and teeters between .250-.265 the entire season. As far as the power is concerned the HR/FB will regress but not enough to stop him from hitting 38-45 homeruns assuming a healthy completion of the season.
The Starting Rotation
The last few weeks of the rotation have offered near perfect world scenarios for the staff. Each starter, outside of Masterson, is pitching close to what we hoped for exiting spring training. The IBI’s Steve Orbanek, in a strong piece, highlights the staff’s numbers over their last three starts including surprising production from Jimenez, Kluber and Kazmir. Three consecutive good starts from any of them would be a surprise but all three clicking at the same time is astounding. So here is a look at how the Indians starters rank in a few key categories:
|LOB %||72.90%||14th Highest|
Looking at these numbers it is important to consider the sample and the role the length in time has played in the inflation/deflation of the stat.
For instance, how Brett Meyers few healthy starts severely inflated the HR/FB statistic as his current HR/FB is around 25%. The Indians starters’ elevated rate in this category signifies both a good thing and a bad thing. Bad being that the long ball has been a major issue to date particularly in the case of Jimenez and Meyers. However, the size of the sample has caused an unsustainably high rate which is a good omen going forward for the rotation.
Second, is strand rate where the Indians have been middle of the pack so far, which to me is incredibly encouraging. Encouraging stemming from my fear that our success had partially been from smoke and mirrors the way the last few years began, as guys like Derek Lowe had pitched well throwing 88 MPH cookies that were barreled right at guys or did not quite leave the yard. The fact that we are middle of the pack means that we are not the benefactors of exceptional luck in terms of teams failing to hit with runners on base.
Lastly is staff BABIP, which is third lowest in the league and in many ways concerning. Perhaps as it regresses towards the mean and HR/FB does the same, the effect on the starting rotation's production will be negligible. The BABIP against Indians starters is .269 and the MLB median is .295. The difference is so vast that the Indians will absolutely trend closer to the median over the coming months. To provide season to season context, last year the Indians had the fourth highest BABIP against at .310.
There are a few explanations to this change, all of which I believe play some part in influencing the vast difference. First, most obviously, and already mentioned is sample size, some shift is to be expected and I will try to stop beating that dead horse.
The second is who comprises the rotation this season. While we all had our concerns entering this season on paper it looks at least a small step better than the soft throwing conglomerate of Jeanmar Gomez, Josh Tomlinand Derek Lowe.
The last explanation is defense and most relevant to this Indians rotation is outfield defense.
The Indians defense, like defense in general, has been one of the undervalued parts of this young season. The Indians defense, especially the outfield, was overhauled this past offseason with acquisitions of guys like Bourn, Stubbs, and even in a small way Aviles. Though defensive statistics are still relatively flawed and imperfect as really any statistic is, looking at UZR in addition to UZR 150 help highlight the defensive improvement the Indians have seen as well as its possible impacts on the starting rotation.
|Year||UZR (UZR in runs above avg)||UZR/150|
UZR has its imperfections and is not a pristine tool, however, to date it is the most widely accepted approach for evaluating defensive value outside of the eye test.
Now for me the eye test in and of itself is pretty disparate compared to last season watching Brantley compared to Damon/Duncan, or Bourn/Stubbs in center compared to Brantley or Stubbs compared to Choo in right there is no contest which this metric validates. Obviously there were some defensive changes that were not as positive, from Hannahan to Chisenhall or perhaps in a small manner Kotchman to Swisher.
What UZR tells us is that the Indians went from the worst defensive team in 2012 to a top ten team in 2013. This shift has the potential to have a legitimate effect on BABIP, quite sizable at that. This is especially true for guys likeZach McAllister, Corey Kluber, and Scott Kazmir who tend towards being neutral or fly ball pitchers.
Thus while I believe BABIP will regress some towards the mean, I also believe that the Indians various defensive improvements have provided for a large part of the BABIP shift in 2013.
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My point is, I don't think that anyone saw the Reynolds numbers coming, and if they did...chances are pretty good that they'd be lying. The overall consensus by fans across Indians land on all the boards is that he was a better option than they had last year, but wasn't anything special, compared to some of the other guys they signed.
I would have agreed with that assessment as well.
You can now argue that he was the best signing, and that he has a legit shot at MVP. Of course, if you go back a year ago...that guy would have been, unquestionably, Derek Lowe.
My point here is that it's early. I hope that he keeps it up, and I hope that he hits 50 homers, drives in 150, and DOES drive his price through the roof.
Regardless, it was a great signing, up to this point in the season.
My bet is that it balances out throughout the year, even with his new approach.
I don't agree that with a regular Mark Reynolds year prior to his 2012 struggles, that he'll command a 60 million dollar deal...so without a mammoth year, I do think he would be affordable should the Indians want to re-sign him...
...but I'm not going to kill myself over worrying about a club option. When they signed him to a one-year deal, nobody flinched, and many people whined about the amount. My point here is...we're talking icing on the cake here at this point, so let's just enjoy it while we've got it...
He's got twice as many RBI's as anybody else on the team. He's the clear team MVP of the season so far. I wish they had included a team option for another year in his contract because we'll never be able to afford him if he keeps this up.
The guy has definitely been on a tear since he got healthy.
It looks to me like he's trying to cut down on the K's by going up the middle and to right field when he has two strikes on him. That could account for the higher contact rate. He said the other day that when he was younger he put more "big swings" on the ball, but now he's trying to improve his BA.
I don't see anything out of line with this year's numbers except the HR/FB percentage, which is the highest of his career. That's unusual given that the ball doesn't carry as well in cold weather, and the Indians have played a lot of cold weather games. You could argue that his HR percentage might even increase or you could argue that it will revert to the mean. But he did put up a 26% rate that one season and he's at 28% now, so maybe he keeps it up.
What impresses me about Reynolds is his ability to hit with runners in scoring position. Last year he hit .286/.970 with RISP, which was way above his overall numbers. This year he's at .364/1.127, which is clearly unsustainable, but again, he's hitting better when the at-bats are more important.