Mark Reynolds is currently on pace for 38 home-runs, 107 RBI... And, of course, 229 strikeouts, breaking by six his own major-league single-season record for strikeouts, set last year. It is naturally the last of these that has received the most scrutiny, with the usual voices (in the usual places) demanding Reynolds be sent to Triple-A, traded for a relief pitcher, or hung, drawn and quartered, apparently depending on whether they have taken their meds or not.
But, as he went into last night's game with the Yankees hitting just .218, is there room for concern?
Of course, this isn't exactly a new issue. All the way back in 2008, we wondered on this very site, Are Mark Reynolds' strikeouts an issue? The conclusion? "While it would be great if our third-baseman could improve the contact rate when he swings, it's not something on which we should rely." Not much has changed since then. His contact rate - the percentage of time he makes contact when he swings at a pitch - was 62.3% in 2008, 61.8% in 2009 and 61.6% this season. The last number is the lowest in the majors, by some way, with the current #2 being Mike Napoli's 68.4%.
What is now happening, is Reynolds is being pitched more carefully. Only 45.2% of pitches are strikes this year, down five percent from the original article. That doesn't seem like a surprise, as everyone now knows that he can very easily deposit a mistake beyond the reach of any fielder. What has changed this season is that Mark is hacking at fewer of these. He swings at a pitch out of the zone 24.8% of the time, down from 27.3% in 2009. The improved discipline has helped his walk-rate increase from 11.5% of plate-appearances, to 12.3%. As a result, while Reynolds' BA this season still languishes below .220, his OBP is close to that of 2009, only sixteen points lower.
"But... But... But he strikes out! A lot!" Yep. Yet in the broadest scheme of things, it just doesn't matter. Toward the end of last season, Yahoo! Sports analyzed a decade's worth of games and found out - bold, please - "There is no connection between the number of times a team strikes out in a season and the number of runs it averages per game." That the Diamondbacks as a whole are on pace to strike out a major-league record number of times this year, just doesn't matter. Now, pitchers who get K's are good, but as Adam Dunn eloquently put it in the piece linked above, "If you strike out with two outs and nobody on, who gives a ____?"
Particularly when the bases are empty, a strike-out is just about the same as any other out. Of course, there are times when a strike-out is bad. As soon as runners get on base, it's better to move them along, and it's hard to do that on a K. There's always the risk of a twin-killing - basically the worst outcome possible - but in general, you want to try and put the ball in play, and try to advance the runners. While the usual small sample-size warnings apply, the evidence seems to suggest that Reynolds does have a different approach with runners in scoring position this year - and it's a great deal more productive.
|on 3rd, < 2 out||16||8||4||2||4||4||.500||.500||1.375||1.875||.333|
|on 3rd, 2 out||10||9||3||0||1||3||.333||.400||.556||.956||.500|
Most obviously, his K-rate drops from 40.9% with the bases empty, to 29.9% when there are RISP. His walk-rate more than doubles, jumping from 9.1% to 20.7%. And the batting average and slugging percentage each more than double as well. While players as a whole hit better there, the National League BA goes up by only fourteen points in the same situation, with an OPS that's 63 points higher. Reynolds is in a whole different area - though you may be forgiven for thinking otherwise, based on last night, when he struck out twice with men in scoring position, including the game-ending K.
But he has been the team's best performers in the clutch, even after yesterday, as the table below shows (Min 20 RISP PA's - this one includes last night, which the table above does not. Hey, sue me...).
One of the suggestions made by Mark Grace in the broadcast last night, was that Reynolds' lower average this year is in part caused by him no longer using all of the ballpark. Let's take a look at his spray charts for this season and last, which show where he is hitting the ball, to see if there's any evidence for this. [Click each pic to enlarge]
There does seem something to what Grace said - last season, Reynolds was indeed getting more hits going the other way. However, he was also getting more hits pulling the ball. In 2009, 39% of his hits went to the left-third of the field; 50% the middle; and 11% to the right-third. This year, the comparable numbers are 35%, 56% and 9%. though only a solitary one of Reynolds' 17 homers has gone to the opposite-third to date.
Likely a more important factor in the BA drop is that Reynolds' line-drive percentage has slumped. Last year, 20% of the time, he was hitting line-drives; this season, that has collapsed to only 13%, last among the regular players. Conversely, his infield-fly to fly-ball rate has increased from 11% to 17%, trailing only Chris Snyder on the 2010 Diamondbacks. Line-drives are very much more likely to become hits than infield-flies, obviously. These two numbers, largely explain why Reynolds' BA on Balls in Play has dropped sixty points this season, to .278 and, in turn, why his batting average has sharply declined.
I'm just curious to see what, if anything, Reynolds does differently. with runners in scoring positions, because his BABIP there suggests that he is hitting line-drives rather than pop-ups. I was hoping to get some idea from last night's game, but the two at-bats he had in those circumstances, resulted more in frustration for Diamondbacks' fans than any meaningful conclusion. It's something to keep an eye on as we move forward; perhaps Mark can incorporate whatever changes into his regular approach at the plate, and get back to hitting more line-drives, as well as tape-measure homers.