Mark Reynolds and His Missing Strikeouts

reynoldsslamThere were not many sure things coming out of this off-season.  Maybe Michael Bourn would age gracefully or maybe he’d become Juan Pierre.  Maybe Justin Masterson would wrangle some control and be a front-end option or maybe he’d fall apart with his ongoing struggles against left handed batters.  Maybe Jason Kipnis would take the next step to developing into a power-speed second baseman or maybe he’d languish with a sub-.720 OPS for two straight years, reminding us all of that Josh Barfield jersey we burned last decade.

But one thing we were all sure of: Mark Reynolds would strike out.  A LOT.

Among players with more than 1,500 plate appearances, Mark Reynolds led the known universe in strikeout percentage from 2009-2012, managing to K in nearly 33% of his plate appearances.  Over that four year span, he struck out 790 times in just over 2400 plate appearances—averaging just a hair under 200 Ks per season.  The only other player to strikeout in more than 30% of his appearances was Adam Dunn, who could at least make up for his whiffs with a remarkably patient batting eye (15.2% BB-rate, compared to 12.7% for Reynolds).

Below I’ve summarized some of Reynolds’ stats from 2009-2012 (taken from my MLB player dashboard):

Mark Reynolds – Rate Hitting Stats



Mark Reynolds – Strikeouts, Walks   & Contact Stats



As you can see, after a great 2009 season (adjusted OPS 27% better than league average), his production regressed in some pretty basic ways.  His BABiP dropped from .338 to the .260 – .280 range.  His isolated power went from nearly .300 to the low to mid .200s.  In 2009, more than one out of every four flyballs he hit became a home run; over the next three years, that became less than one out of every five.

But the one thing that stayed pretty consistent was his tendency to strikeout: over that four year span, only once was Reynolds not the MLB leader in K-rate (2012).  Back to that minimum 1,500 PAs over the four year span, Reynolds contact-rate of 64.2% was the lowest in all of baseball.  His swinging-strike rate of 16.3% was second only to Miguel Olivo.  He’s just a remarkably consistent whiffer.

And since we expected Reynolds to be an everyday player for this season in some capacity, everyone just marked him down for another 600 plate appearances and another 200 Ks.  We hoped for 25 homers along the way, but we were pretty sure we’d get some nice breezes out of the deal.

But something funny is happening on the way to strikeout-city: Reynolds is making contact with the baseball at heretofore unexpected levels. And it’s making him one of the game’s most valuable hitters.

Check this out:



By increasing his contact rate and reducing his swinging-strike rate, Reynolds has cut his strikeout-rate from a ghastly 33% to a mortal-ish 23%.  That’s by itself isn’t going to win any awards, but when you have the sort of power Reynolds does, any appreciable increase in batted balls is going to translate pretty quickly into more home runs.  So far this season he leads the league in home runs (10) and isolated power (.350), and has already been worth more than a win above replacement, only one month into the season.

While I’d hesitate to believe that nearly 30% of Reynolds’ flyballs will continue to become home runs (that’s absurdly high, even for him), I’d suggest that it’ll almost certainly remain above 20%.  Couple this with the notion that plate discipline stats like Swing%, Contact Rate and Strikeout rate all begin to mean something (i.e. tend toward real development rather than fluky aberration) after only 100-150 plate appearances, and you start to think that perhaps Reynolds has really figured something out in his approach or mechanics that is leading to a decreased rate of strikeouts.  After all, he’s already accrued 117 plate appearances so far this year: we’re getting beyond the point of small sample sized hand-wringing with some of these developments.  Would I bet that he finishes the season with a strikeout-rate below 24%?  Probably not, but I would bet that he’s going to set a career low this season–and that’s nothing to turn your nose up at.

I don’t think Mark Reynolds will be one of the most valuable hitters in the game this year.  But in 2009, he hit 44 home runs and OPS’d close to .900.  And that was with a strikeout-rate of 34%.  I’m not sure what those numbers would’ve been had 10% more of his plate appearances ended with a batted ball instead of strikeout.  But I’m ready to find out.

  • Harv 21

    Easy now, it’s early May, too soon for serious saber wielding. I’d be slightly more impressed if the stats were broken down into months to show he’s never had a plate-disciplined, high contact month like this. Like his homers, his SOs might come in big, fat, ridiculous bunches.

    Doesn’t mean he’s not greatly valuable – in the last few years only Cabrera has had the ability to carry the team for weeks at a time. But this may not be unprecedented for him, just the latest example of Good Mark.

  • Kildawg

    The irony of baseball: more strikeouts are being recorded but yet Moonshot Reynolds has a DECREASING strikeout rate?

  • WFNYJon

    Fair enough, but you should read the linked FG piece–approach and discipline stats normalize MUCH more quickly than most stats. There is a possibility–perhaps even a probability–that we’re seeing something real here.

    And he’s already accrued as many Wins+ this season as he had in any other outside of that 2009 season. So even if it all goes away tomorrow (and I don’t think that’s going to happen), the contract has already been worth it.

  • Michael

    Sell high!
    In all seriousness, who is going to overpay for him next year if he keeps playing like this?

  • BIKI024

    he’s playing his way into a nice 4 or 5 year deal @ $10-$12m per from the half dozen teams who are in need of a 3B/DH. Could easily see Yanks, Dodgers, Angels or White Sox throw him a big contract if he can hang on for 35+ dingers and 100+ RBI which barring injury he’s projecting out to.

  • nobody

    According to your stats, his K% has dropped about 3%/year since 2010, and older players tend to be smarter…so there might be a chance he doesn’t end the year in the top 5 in Ks (25% of 600 is about 150, which is where I’d expect his end of season K total to be).

  • You didn’t even mention that he’s 1/1 in Revenge Home Runs this year.

  • BIKI024

    Best part of last night’s Reynold’s blast was him showing up Parker with not only the slow walk, but the loogey he spat with disgust right after he threw his bat down. he rarely shows emotion so it was cool to see him get fired up.

  • WFNYJon

    Reynolds called it “The coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

  • Harv 21

    re your last sentence – 100% accord. Even if he deep freezes and ends up with only 25 homers, comparable to his total last year, I’m glad the 10 in a month came early season in potentially meaningful games, rather than in September when they’re 6 games out of the playoffs and it’s Pad Stats Against Expanded Rosters time.

  • Steve

    A team that still needs a 1B/DH, and maybe plays 3B in a pinch, all of that preferably from the right side. I can think of at least one team right off the bat.

  • mgbode

    completely agree his contract has been worth it. and he’s been a fun guy to cheer for as well. however, overall, I agree with Harv that this is mostly the result of a hot hitter. Reynolds is a well-known hot/cold hitter and it’s basically a month sample size.

    remember how hot he got in August last year culminating in that amazing NYY series that basically helped catapult the O`s to the postseason?

    take a look at these statistics and you will find some similarities to his current start:

  • mgbode

    last year Kipnis carried the offense for stretches when we were still good (and completely fell apart when the team did).

  • mgbode

    so, you think he’ll join (or replace) Pronk.

  • WFNYJon

    I’m not saying it’s all skill, but in that period you link to, (8/5/12-9/2/12, and fairly arbitrary) his BABiP was .333, which would indicate some scary good luck on batted balls. (

    So far this season it’s a perfectly reasonable .303. No matter how hard I try, I can’t say he’s just lucky this season. Something’s new.

  • Mark

    How old is Reynolds? 29? I’ve got 2 words for you: career year.

  • JNeids

    “It’s early May, too soon for serious saber wielding.”

    I bet a lot of serious saber wielding goes on May the 4th every year.

  • vespo09

    2/2. The one last night, and the one where he thought he got hit, the ump didn’t call it, and he homered on the next pitch.

  • Harv 21

    true dat. In each of the last few seasons Carlos also would seriously heat up, at least for a week or two.

  • mgbode

    yeah, he carried the offense in Aug/Sep last year, but I want to forget those months happened 🙂

  • mgbode

    fair enough. I was more looking at his SO% in that timeframe. It was down that month as well.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    And we’re getting it on the cheap! Talk about a great deal.

  • JacobWFNY

    Great job as always, Jon. Just one small bone to pick. I’m pretty surprised you didn’t mention this: Reynolds’ K% dropped by 3.8% in 2011, dropped by 2.5% in 2012 and is dropping again to the whopping tune of 6.5% in 2013.

    2010 = 35.4% (596 PAs)
    2011 = 31.6% (620 PAs)
    2012 = 29.6% (538 PAs)
    2013 = 23.1% (117 PAs)

    These aren’t small sample sizes either. Certainly, it’s not really fair to expect a catastrophic drop like he’s had so far, but the narrative is there for the taking: Maybe Reynolds has actually gotten better at this whole not-striking-out thing.

  • Harv 21

    wow, that’s very important. Shows a both consistent and fairly precipitous drop. Impressive improvement even getting it into the low 20s, given that power hitters generally sacrifice contact for the swing required to hit it out (unless they’re hall of famers).

  • WFNYJon

    Yep, shoulda mentioned that too. I was concentrating on his 2009 season so much (his excellent one) and that one bucks the trend you point out.
    But you’re right, that has the looks of a meaningful trend.

  • JacobWFNY

    I looked into it in terms of first halves/second halves since 2009. Not a whole lot of substance.

    There’s lots of random things going on there, including an awful K% end to 2011. He struck out in 79/207 PAs in August-Oct 2011, equaling 38.2%.

    Overall, it’s just been a different scene since May of last season when he also missed some time.

    33.1% (2,905 PAs) — Career through 2011
    41.1% (73 PAs) — Mar/Apr 2012
    20.8% (48 PAs) — May 2012
    29.3% (92 PAs) — June 2012
    31.2% (93 PAs) — July 2012
    25.5% (98 PAs) — Aug 2012
    28.4% (134 PAs) — Sept/Oct 2012
    23.2% (95 PAs) — Mar/Apr 2013
    22.7% (22 PAs) — May 2013