If it were still April, the “shaking off the rust” excuse would still apply to Jose Reyes. However, we’re now getting into mid-May, and Reyes is floundering with a .229 batting average and a .281 OBP. Those certainly are not the numbers you’d expect from the best offensive player on your team — a.k.a. the number-three hitter.
Could this batting third thing be getting into his head?
It seems to me that his plate discipline has gone out the window since moving to the #3 spot — but that’s just my old eyes and my unreliable memory talking. So, as much as I tend to eschew “the new math” of baseball, I took a suggestion (via Twitter) from Craig Glaser of Sabometrics and took a look at “swing rates” on Fangraphs.
Accordng to the numbers, Reyes’ “outside swing percentage” (or “O-swing%”) — the percentage of balls outside the strike zone that he’s swung at — is over 35%, which is a significant jump over his career rate of 25%. So maybe my eyes and memory aren’t so bad after all.
There are two problems with this number. First, is the obvious — it’s a small sample size, and those can’t ever be trusted to explain anything. Second, this 35% number covers the entire year, and it appears he’s been at this rate while hitting both third and first. However, I would argue that the rate was unnaturally higher from the beginning — when he was hitting leadoff in his first 11 games — because he was both rusty and incredibly anxious after missing almost an entire year of competition. Reyes — like most ballplayers — is a human being and therefore can be affected by internal pressures, motivations, and other things going on between the ears. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Reyes’ discipline level down back to his career 25% over the last month if he were hitting leadoff — where he is expected to take walks.
You can say all you want about batting position being meaningless, but some individuals change their approach based on their place in the order. Reyes could be one of those guys. (Just like Mike Jacobs might be one of those players who can’t handle batting cleanup.) When Willie Randolph became manager, one of his “pet projects” was to get Reyes to understand the idea of OBP and its importance in the leadoff spot. As a result, Reyes nearly doubled his walk total from 27 in 2005 to 53 in 2006, then jumped to a career high 77 in 2007. So it could be argued that Reyes changed his approach to be a more valuable leadoff hitter. It could also be argued that he simply learned not to swing at bad pitches as a result of experience. You make the call.
This year, hitting in the third spot in 17 of his 28 games, he’s walked a grand total of 9 times — which projects to about 45 over a full season. As mentioned above, 35% of the pitches he’s hacked at have been outside the strike zone. The rust should be gone by now, and it’s fair to at least consider the idea that Reyes’ wild, undisciplined, impatient, and overly aggressive approach has something to do with his mindset regarding the responsibility of the #3 spot in the order. Maybe he’s swinging more because as the third hitter he feels a need to drive in more runners, and/or hit the ball further and more often. Maybe not being a leadoff hitter is a cue to him to not watch too many pitches pass by.
It’s all conjecture, of course. For all we know, Reyes has the exact same thoughts in his head that he had from 2006-2009, when he was swinging at pitches outside the zone 10% less often. In other words, this is a slump that knows no batting position. Perhaps, after hitting in the 3-hole over another 50-60+ games, that “O-swing%” will trend back down toward 25% — and this argument rendered moot.
Time will tell.
About the Author
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.