For a player who wasn't even supposed to be here, and who barely took the field at the Triple-A level, Bryan Reynolds has quickly turned into an indispensable part of the Pirates' current and long-term plans.
A 24-year-old switch-hitter acquired from the Giants as part of the Andrew McCutchen deal, Reynolds strolls up to the plate to Johnny Cash and then proceeds to cut 'em down. Reynolds' adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS+) is 158, which ranks behind only the Mets' Pete Alonso (166 OPS+) among 2019 rookies. That's also the best OPS+ since World War II for a Pirates rookie with 200+ plate appearances in a season. Few living Pittsburghers have ever seen a first-year hitter dominate the majors this quickly, this authoritatively.
What's behind Reynolds' sudden and unexpected assault on MLB pitchers?
Here are a few key reasons why he's suddenly in contention to join Jason Bay (2004) as a Pirates Rookie of the Year award winner ...
He's opportunistic. Reynolds may be a little more aggressive at the plate than you would like, with a chase rate on pitches thrown outside of the strike zone (33 percent, per Fangraphs) above the MLB average (31 percent). But he won't be confused with, say, Starling Marte in that regard. And on pitches thrown within the zone, Reynolds is both aggressive and smart. He's swinging at 73.7 percent of pitches thrown within the strike zone, well above the 68 percent big league average. On pitches that MLB Statcast classifies as "meatballs" -- pitches thrown to the horizontal and vertical middle of the plate -- Reynolds has an 86.3 percent swing rate. That's well north of the 75 percent MLB average. The bottom line: When Reynolds gets an extremely hittable pitch, he's taking a huge cut.
That aggressive, but intelligent approach is paying huge dividends on the first pitch of at-bats. Reynolds swings at more first-pitch offerings than most (32.7 percent, 28.1 percent MLB average), and he's annihilating those first pitches. He's batting .519 when he swings at the first pitch of an at-bat, with a .667 slugging percentage. For comparison's sake, the average MLB player is batting .348 when they swing at the first pitch, with a .614 slugging percentage.
He's crushing all pitch types. It's early, but Reynolds hasn't been exposed by velocity, breaking balls or offspeed stuff. Whatever opponents throw, he's raking. Fangraphs tracks a hitter's performance by pitch type compared to an average MLB player. Reynold has been an absolute terror versus fastballs, curveballs and changeups, and comfortably above average versus sliders. Check out where he ranks among MLB hitters per 100 of each pitch type seen:
He's taking care of business from both sides of the plate. Reynolds truly exploits his platoon advantage, posting a .979 OPS versus right-handed pitchers and a .990 OPS against lefties. Against righties, 52.9 percent of pitches that Reynolds has put in play have been hard hit (meaning 95 mph or faster). Against lefties, his hard hit rate is 45.2 percent. He's not a switch hitter in name only.
He elevates his game in the late innings. During the first three innings, Reynolds has an .828 OPS. That figure increases to .970 from the fourth through the sixth innings, and jumps to 1.102 during the seventh inning or later. When managers try to unleash a procession of fire-breathing relievers with nasty breaking pitches, Reynolds doesn't flinch. He has .859 OPS against starting pitchers, and a 1.191 OPS versus relievers.
Reynolds has been unquestionably awesome so far. But will the baseball gods eventually cut 'em down? He has benefited from an unsustainably high .443 batting average on balls in play. Even though he's making really hard contact, Reynolds' BABIP is going to fall significantly. No hitter who has ever walked the earth has gotten hits on balls put in play that frequently. The projection systems on Fangraphs suggest he'll be an average to slightly above average hitter during the rest of the 2019 season. I wouldn't expect Reynolds to keep up this Ty Cobb-caliber performance, but I'd take the over on those projections.
What do you think the future holds for Reynolds? Sound off in the comment section below!
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