The Only Problem with Reyes

Deer in headlights
I love Jose Reyes for so many reasons — his ability, his constant smile, his electric style of play, and his obvious sheer love of playing. But there’s one issue that bothers me: standing at the plate waiting for a hit ball to go foul.

It’s a little thing, I know, but he did it enough in 2007 to annoy the crap out of me, and he’s already done it a few times this spring — most recently, last night in his first at-bat against the Orioles. Most of the time, it’s not a big deal, because the ball does eventually bounce foul. But occasionally — such as last night — the ball is called fair, and there is Jose standing in the batter’s box like a deer in headlights for a moment.

Yes, once he saw the ump call the ball fair, he took off like a bat out of hell and was rounding first before you could blink — I don’t doubt his hustle. But I do doubt his decision to “play umpire” and think about whether the ball is going fair or not. What he should be doing is taking off at full speed immediately after contact, until the umpire calls the ball foul. That’s the way I was taught, and the way everyone else was taught way back in little league: “run hard until someone tells you to stop”.

What added angst to my ire was the quip by Gary Cohen immediately afterward: “oh well, it’s only spring training.” Here’s my issue: what you do in practice, and what you do in spring training, is what you’ll do when the “real” games start.

In July of last year, Reyes was reprimanded and disciplined for “dogging it” during a game. The way I remember it, it was EXACTLY the same situation as yesterday’s “meaningless” contest: Reyes hit a bouncer down the line, and rather than run to first, he watched it, thinking it would go foul. Again, it wasn’t a lack of hustle, but a bad decision — don’t think, just run!

Other than that one little caveat — which has earned him a negative rep as a “dog” by some — Reyes is close to perfect in my book.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude March 21, 2008 at 8:00 am
    I remember discussing this topic at the tail end of last season on this blog after attending a game in which Reyes popped the ball up on the infield and chose not to run it out. Not the same as not running out a foul ball, but the same principle is being violated. And that is never to assume anything as a baserunner. And I remember arguing that this flaw with Reyes stemmed from a lack of discipline and maturity, while others thought it was because Reyes was mentally and physically fatigued from a long season and it was affecting his approach to the game. Well, it’s spring training – the time of the year players should be LEAST fatigued – and here we see Reyes still displaying the same flaws.

    I agree, Joe, that Reyes’ overall game is near-perfect. His approach at the plate has vastly improved. His fielding is sparkling. His attitude, passion, and personality is great. But you can no longer blame his lapses in hustle to fatigue. And you are 100% right when you say “don’t think, just run!” I have to believe that’s the same message he’s getting from Willie and company, so either it’s a bad habit he needs to (and most likely will) shed over time as he matures, or he’s becoming too arrogant and lazy, and picking and choosing when he feels like hustling. He got booed at the end of last year when he fell into his massive slump, so if the trend of standing at the plate like a deer in headlights continues, I think he’ll be subjected to much of the same treatment – especially if it’s causing the team to falter.