By the time the dust had settled on the 2019 trade deadline, the Cleveland Indians had rolled the dice on the rotation’s stability by trading away starter Trevor Bauer. Alongside three prospects they also acquired two players capable of addressing their 2019 offensive deficiencies. Those players were, of course, Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes. It is the latter of the pair who provides the most intrigue to both the short and long term of the club.
Reyes is a recently turned 24-year-old product of the Dominican Republic standing six foot five and weighing 275 pounds. With him come five and a half years of team control. He is an absolute masher – currently ranking 14th in all of baseball in average exit velocity while ranking in the 93rd percentile in hard hit%, 88th in xSLG and 75th in xwOBA. Along the way, he has picked up 45 home runs in his first 709 plate appearances with a 111 wRC+ and .338 wOBA. His acquisition was to keep the window of contention open as well as address an anemic first half put forth by Tribe designated hitters who ranked 14th of 15 teams in WAR, wOBA, wRC+, and OPS.
But as most fans know, August has not been kind to the young slugger. Through 70 plate appearances in a Tribe uniform, Reyes has disappointed to the tune of a 16 wRC+, .481 OPS and 37% k-rate albeit in a small sample. However small the sample, August 2019 has been the worst month put forth by Reyes in his budding career.
Terry Francona came to the defense of Reyes in a recent interview stating “Like a lot of guys that change teams for the first time, he’s trying to hit it a mile instead of just 340 feet”. In other words – Reyes appears, at least to his manager, to be pressing at the plate. While the task of quantifying the concept of “pressing” is difficult, we can evaluate data to determine if there are signs that he is trying to do too much.
It is first important to confirm that his 2019 August performance is indeed an outlier. The chart below illustrates Reyes’ career to date by month. It appears that he settled in at around .350 wOBA from August 2018 through July 2019 (six full months). Over that period, Reyes accrued 528 PA, 37 home runs, .364 wOBA, .877 OPS, 128 wRC+ and 2.3 WAR. Pretty impressive stat line for what amounts to his 23rd year on the planet. But the month of August 2019 shows a precipitous drop to .204 wOBA – the lowest of his career. While possible that Reyes simply forgot to hit, the data actually would suggest that his August 2019 is an outlier.
If we assume that this is merely a blip on the radar, can we find evidence to support Tito’s assertion that Reyes is trying to do too much? The logical place to start would be to evaluate plate discipline.
Reyes has increased his swing percentage outside of the zone by a wide margin. He’s also seen his contact rate inside and outside of the strike zone fall off drastically. The result is more swinging strikes and, of course an 11% jump in k%. The charts below reveal that Reyes has actually seen his highest percentage of strikes in August while whiffing on nearly 43% of them – the highest of his career. Pitches in the zone have gone from friend to foe in the month of August.
It is reasonable at this point to ask what role pitch selection might play in this picture. And indeed, Reyes has seen a near 8% increase in breaking balls to the detriment of fastballs. Perhaps his in-zone inadequacies are primarily against the breaking ball. And there you would be partially correct. Reyes is seeing the highest in-zone whiff of his career against breaking balls: but the same is also true of off-speed pitches and even fastballs. He is non-discriminating in his swing and miss in August. Reyes also saw a similar pitch mix in September of 2018 where he punished pitchers with a 136 wRC+ and .850 OPS in 102 PA. Pitch mix appears not to be the culprit.
One final area to check is within his batted ball profile. Looking through a split of 2018, 1st half of 2019 and August reveals a few telling nuggets. First, his FB% is extremely elevated versus prior periods including an extremely high amount of pop-ups (14.3%). He’s also seen a career-low HR/FB in August at a mere 9.5% versus an almost 35% for the first half of this season. His Pull% is also raised while hard contact has been traded out for medium contact. Translation: he’s hitting more balls in the air, but they are pop-ups and/or medium fly outs – not the home runs he was seeing in San Diego.
A case can be made here that Reyes is trying to do too much. It appears he is trying to pull the ball at the expense of the all fields approach which worked for him prior to coming to Cleveland. Perhaps Tito is correct in his assessment that Reyes is trying to hit it a mile. The batted ball profile supports a change in approach which, when fed back through the plate discipline can be interpreted as “going for broke”.
It is nearly impossible to validate whether one is “pressing” at the plate. But seeing the amount of softer hit, pulled fly balls signals that Reyes is trying to go for the long ball – read into this “do too much”. Couple this with the fact that he is whiffing at all pitches in the zone and swinging more freely in general and you have a case for a batter who is pressing at the plate. Reyes will be a solid member of this core moving forward. His ability to drive the ball is elite. Once he returns to a more balanced approach at the plate we will see the side of Reyes that was so desirable. Expect Reyes to right the ship and expect to love the results.
Oh, and Happy 7th Birthday to my daughter Charlotte!