Matt Reynolds could impact the Mets as a utility player

Matt Reynolds could very well be major leaguer.

Coming off a week in which he hit .533/.588/.767, the 23-year-old Reynolds was named the Pacific Coast League’s Player of the Week for the period ending August 3. In 43 games in Triple-A, in the thin air of Las Vegas, he’s hitting .329/.390/.470 with 15 walks and 41 strikeouts while playing eight games at second base and 33 at short.

MiLB: April 28 - St. Lucie Mets at Tampa YankeesThe Mets drafted Reynolds in the second round of the 2012 draft out of Arkansas, where he was primarily a third baseman. They shifted him back to his natural shortstop position for his professional career. Reynolds isn’t going to dazzle anyone with his range or his arm, but can he hit enough?

Reynolds hit a disappointing .226/.302/.337 in 117 games with St. Lucie in 2013. He did not show much power – just three home runs. He didn’t walk much – just a 7.4 percent walk rate. And his overall line was torpedoed by a .263 batting average on balls in play.

Fast-forward to 2014, where he has put up big numbers at both Double-A (.355/.430/.422 in 58 games) and in Triple-A.

Reynolds, who still lives in Arkansas in the winter, credits offseason work, especially with Rick Strickland, a Mets scout based in St. Louis, for his improvement this season.

“I’d work out in Fayetteville for a week, then drive to St. Louis and stay up there for a week,” he said. “I’d hit twice a day and probably take 500 swings a day. It’s paying off. I’m glad I did it,” he told the Las Vegas Review Journal last week.

Reynolds told Newsday that he just had to iron out a few “kinks” in his swing.

“[O]ne big thing we saw, right when he was ready to make contact, he wasn’t releasing the bat in the proper order,” Strickland said.”He was pulling the bat across the ball, which was producing a lot of soft ground balls.”

Now, Strickland and Reynolds believe the young shortstop is staying through the ball better, which has obviously impacted his stats at the plate.

Looking at his numbers and projecting his stats shows nothing to suggest that Reynolds is an above-average everyday shortstop.

That Reynolds might be an improvement as the Mets everyday shortstop says a lot about the Mets, and a little about Reynolds, who would most likely be a below-average everyday guy at the position. However, with his defensive versatility and on base ability, he’d look just fine on the bench as a very cheap, MLB minimum guy, who can handle short, second or third.


For the full analysis of Reynolds’ numbers so far and where he projects to be, read on…


Reynolds’ groundball rate in 2013 and 2014 is nearly identical. The real change in his batted ball profile is the change in composition between “line drives and fly balls.” His line drive rate has skyrocketed, at the expense of fly balls and infield pop ups.

Ground Ball Fly Ball Line Drive Pop Up FB+LD All Air
2013 49.7 32.0 9.7 8.6 41.7 50.3
2014 48.3 21.0 25.5 5.2 46.6 51.7

Consider these observations with a degree of caution. From a batter’s perspective, more line drives are better. However, the line drive statistic, especially at the minor league level, is not very reliable. Chris Moran at Beyond the Box Score argued recently that since line drive rate at the big league level did not correlate well with any other important offensive statistic, or even itself on a year over year basis, it was just not useful. Colin Wyers, who now works for the Astros, wrote extensively about the bias in measuring line drive rate at Baseball Prospectus and Hardball Times.


The BABIP Monster

What accounts for the change in Reynolds’ offensive production? Let’s look at Reynolds’ important secondary indicators: his strikeout, walk, and extra-base hit rates for his early professional career. All percentages are expressed in total plate appearances.

Year/League XBH% SO% BB% HR% BABIP ISO 1B%
2012 SAL 6.3 14.9 6.9 1.7 .292 .108 17.2
2013 FSL 6.6 16.4 7.4 1.0 .263 .111 13.5
2014 EL 3.7 16.9 12.0 0.4 .433 .066 27.3
2014 PCL 8.2 22.4 8.2 1.6 .421 .140 21.3
2014 Total 5.6 19.3 10.4 0.9 .428 .099 24.7

There are four important changes in the data above:

  1. His batting average on balls on play at both Double-A and Triple-A in 2014 has soared compared to his rates in 2012 and 2013.
  2. His BABIP is higher because he’s hit more singles, not more extra-base hits. His extra-base hit rate combined between AA and AAA is below that of a-ball.
  3. His walk rate increased in Double-A and, at 10% for the year, is up significantly over his 2012 and 2013 sub-7.5% rates.
  4. His strikeout rate is up a bit, combining Double-A and Triple-A. At 22.4% in Triple-A, it would be his highest at any minor league stop yet.

Direction
Is he pulling the ball less?

Reynolds Heat Maps

Heat maps from MLBFarm.com

Sort of. The angry red mark around shortstop has gotten a little smaller, while Reynolds is using more of centerfield.

This is clearer in chart form. Here’s the location of his batted balls in 2013 and 2014, again using data from MLBFarm.com.

Left field Center field Right field SS+3B 2B+1B
2013 14.4% 15.2% 17.4% 32.3% 15.7%
2014 13.8% 21.7% 19.7% 27.9% 12.1%

As it happens, shortstops fielded 17.7 percent of Reynolds’ batted balls in 2013 and 17.6 percent in 2014. What’s happening mostly is that balls that were fielded by the corner infielders and the second baseman are going into centerfield.


Line Drive Rate, Singles and BABIP

So, again, we know that much of Reynolds’ offensive improvement is driven by more singles and a higher BABIP. But how much of Reynolds’ BABIP improvement this year is real – the result of better contact and more line drives – and how much is stuff beyond his control, like randomness and playing in better run environments?

To answer this question, here’s Reynolds’ batted ball profile again – his ground balls, fly balls, infield popups. Combine that with his line drive rate, use stolen bases as a proxy for the players’ speed and plug all of into wonderful, “simple” expected BABIP calculator at the Hardball Times.

Year/League BABIP xBABIP
2012 SAL .292 .303
2013 FSL .263 .297
2014 EL .433 .317
2014 PCL .421 .340

A few notes:
– This calculator was created for MLB, but here it’s applied to minor league performance. Among other things, MLB fielders are far superior to their minor league counterparts.
– All batted ball data in this section comes from Reynolds’ page at Minorleaguecentral.com.
– BABIP and xBABIP are a function the run environment. Per Baseball America, games in Savannah feature, on average, 7 runs per game, while those in Las Vegas feature 12.81 runs per game. To correct for this, I used the stadium with the closest run environment to the given minor league facility: Coors Field for Las Vegas, Busch for Binghamton and St. Lucie and Safeco for Savannah.

Now, the expected BABIP can be plugged back into Reynolds’ performances for all of his minor league stops to get his expected performance based on his actual batted ball profile. Basically, this means adding a single to his line in Savannah, adding 13 in St. Lucie, subtracting 20 from his line in Binghamton, and 10 from his performance in Las Vegas.

His on base percentage plus isolated slugging (OBP+ISO) can be used to track Reynolds’ production by level. This is OPS minus batting average. One of the problems with OPS is that it counts batting average (and singles) twice: in the on-base term and slugging. OBP + ISO, avoids this issue, and measures the two important things for hitters: how often they get on base, and how much power they provide.

Reynolds OBP+ISO

Looking only at the blue bars and blue trend line, Reynolds’ raw statistics, there’s a player who has improved wildly between this year and the last two.

Looking at the red, which is normalized for his expected BABIP, he’s a player who has improved, but much less so.


So, What?

BABIP is a funny beast. The players who hit more balls hard will have a higher BABIP. I’d expect potential Major League hitters to run a higher BABIP in the minors than their peers who are destined to top out in AA and move on.

Basically, I think Reynolds’ massive uptick in BABIP in 2014 is the result of: 1. a hitter who was unlucky in 2013, 2. a hitter who has been a lucky in 2014 and 3. a hitter who has improved between seasons.

Plugging in Reynolds’ expected BABIP in Double-A (a league that plays more like the MLB than the offense-friendly PCL) and his a strikeout rate of 20 percent(which is less than his Triple-A rate of 22 percent) yields a .251/.339/.318 hitter in the big leagues. That feels about right on the optimistic end for Reynolds, who makes contact, and can work a walk. It’s suggesting that he will get on base at an above average rate and hit for below average power. This is Ruben Tejada’s game. This is Cliff Pennington’s game.

If we plug a .350 BABIP and a 20 percent strikeout rate into Reynolds’ power production in Double-A, we get something like .275/.350/.341 that’s playable at short, but nothing more.