22 October 2012

2012 Orioles Retrospective: Mark Reynolds

Mark Reynolds did not have a particularly good 2011. Though he hit pretty well, his atrocious defense at third-base ate into his value enough that he ended up being only barely above replacement level. With a dearth of good options coming into this season though, Reynolds was sent right back out to the hot corner. 6 errors in 15 games quickly put that effort to an end; especially since he wasn't making up for his lead glove with his bat (just .143/.260/.206 in April, as he K'ed a ton and hit for no power).

Things started to turn around after that - Reynolds hit .308/.457/.654 in the first couple weeks of May - but a strained oblique landed him on the DL. He came back striking out less (and thus hitting for a somewhat higher average), but the power was still lacking. At the trade deadline, Mark Reynolds - who had hit 44, 32, and 37 homers the previous three years - had just 8 longballs in 79 games and was slugging .367.

From August 6th to September 8th though, Reynolds went on an absolute tear; .320/.431/.773. He homered 3 times in 3 games (twice in the opener) in Boston as the O's won a par. He went to New York and had a two home run game leading to a W, and then did it a again two days later. The Birds went up to Toronto, and we went deep twice more (the O's again took two of three on the road). Then the Yankees came to Baltimore on September 6th (Cal Ripken Jr. Statue Day), and Reynolds hit two home runs again. He added another round-tripper in the third game of that series. 29 games. 13 home runs.

Reynolds fell into a slump again to end the season, and continued it into the playoffs where he struck out 10 times in 25 plate appearances with just 3 hits (all singles) and a walk. Still, that one hot streak was enough to push his season batting line to an above average .221/.335/.429. He struck out less frequently than he ever had before, in (a still high) 29.6% of his times to the dish. He had the best season of his career when it came to working walks, drawing a free pass in over 13% of his plate appearances (excluding intentional walks).

It was pretty much just the power-outage that hurt him. Perhaps Reynolds had re-worked his swing or something, since his line-drive rate (according to FanGraphs) went way up - from just over 13% in the past two seasons (pretty low) to over 20% (a career high) - while his flyball rate was a career low. Fewer flyballs means that even a small drop in power would lead to a more substantial drop on home run production, and Reynolds HR/FB rate was his lowest since his rookie season (though 18% is still pretty good).

One would think that hitting more line-drives could drive up a player's batting average, and though he hit just .221 Reynolds did have his highest BABIP since 2009 at .282 (was ~.260 the last couple seasons). Trading some strike-outs for singles is good, but trading some strike-outs and some home runs for singles isn't especially helpful. Still, at least he made his home runs count; 6 came against the Yankees and 7 against the Red Sox, of his 23 total.

On the other side of the ball, things were perhaps a little more ambiguously interesting. Reynolds shifted across the diamond to first-base, and people began to talk about him being a Gold Glove caliber player over there. It strikes me now that perhaps this is no dissimilar to the story from Moneyball where - in an effort to bolster Scott Hatteberg's confidence as he transitioned to first - he was repeatedly told that he was a "pickin' machine".

Reynolds posted a -3 UZR at first-base this year - better than his -5 at third (in only 15 games!), but still below average. It seems like he often makes plays that look like they're hard, but they only appear hard because he had a tough time with them. The fall-down stretch at first can be a display of coordination and athleticism, or it could be the mark of a guy isn't the best at making a regular stretch (or both). The many sliding stops seem good, but they often just display a lack of range. The numbers didn't get better as the year went on, either, but that gets into some small (or, one should say, even smaller) sample sizes. Plus, when you account for the positional adjustment (allowing for first-base being easier to play than third), Reynolds had the second worst defensive season of his career.

Sure the metrics aren't exact, but all the ones I've looked at are in agreement that he's not a good first-baseman. "Fall-down" range at third-base isn't going to translate into excellent first-base play all that often. Maybe if he keeps working at it he can be adequate over there, but a Mark Reynolds who isn't hitting 30-35 home runs just isn't a useful player for a team looking to be at all competitive (and, perhaps at this point in his career, not even for a team that isn't). Given that, I'm not sure it's really worth bringing him back for 2013, despite his desire to return. Maybe a really cheap contract (definitely not his $11 M option), while not counting on him to start every day. Perhaps even in a platoon role to compliment Chris Davis and Wilson Betemit, as Reynolds has a career 123 wRC+ versus lefties (105 versus righties). That's a lot of all-hit no-field guys to keep on the roster though.

In any case, it was always enjoyable seeing Mark Reynolds hit those long home runs while in an Orioles uniform. The Sheriff of Swatingham indeed.


Bret said...

Money is not the issue in terms of bringing him back from my perspective. 11 million or 5 million is irrelevant, it is the fact that he thinks he is obligated to play every day and he isn't good enough.

He came here to play 3rd. He sucked at 3rd to the point he was destroying the team and then refused to DH because he "can't keep his head in the game". If you can't field yet insist on playing the field every game that strikes me as a problem.

You have it right. He is a platoon player but when a guy who is a platoon player thinks he is an everyday player that is an issue.

I let Reynolds go and my number 1 offseason target is Jeff Keppinger. Let Andino go. Keppinger starts at 2nd most of the time and you could move Reimold to 1st when lefties start.

The 2 biggest issues on the team are 1B and 2B.

It is going to be very difficult to catch the Yankees when they have a consistent 7-8 win 2B while we throw out a negative 2.5 WAR combination. We don't have to win that battle but we have to come a heck of a lot closer than we are now. Relying on Brian Roberts to become Benjamin Button isn't the answer either. Oakland used a straight platoon at many positions this year to great effect. O's need to start moving in that direction.

C-Dizzle said...

Well Keppinger is a nice thought, but he isn't a free agent...He is still arbitration eligible this off season, so I guarantee the Rays keep him around.

I love the idea of Reimold playing first, I love the idea of Reimold playing in general because the guy is an absolute stud, just can't stay healthy.

But I think you wait, if I was running the team, I am trying to improve it through free agency first. I would start with taking some more Ranger players off their hands. Napoli and Hamilton are both free agents, and I am going HARD after both of them. Napoli would probably be the greatest addition to this team because of his ability to play first, but the idea of him is a back up catcher is a dream come true. Not often can you have a back up catcher that hits like him.

I just find it stupid if we don't pursue top dollar free agents. With guys also like Shields, Ortiz, and Grienke out there, you have to at least try. We proved we can win, we proved we can fill the yard, now it's time to attract some players.

Also, speaking of 2B, I would wait and see what Roberts has left. If he can be anywhere close to what he used to be, that's a hole lot better then what Andino and Flaherty bring to the table...

Bret said...

Keppinger is free agent. Signed to 1 year deal last offseason. Check Cots contracts.

No interest in Hamilton because of the age, the salary he would command and the drug addiction.

Napoli is an interesting guy but I feel like he is Reynolds 2.0 (same high K totals, same below average defense at 1B plus he is older). If they could work him in at catcher maybe but don't think he is a great fit.

Free agency is not a good way to build a team. All the premium guys are over 30 (Hamilton, Swisher, Napoli, Peavy) and all will cost draft picks. Only reason I'm advocating Keppinger is that he would be pretty cheap and it is a position they desperately need to upgrade with no other real alternatives.

Matt P said...

"The numbers didn't get better as the year went on, either, but that gets into some small (or, one should say, even smaller) sample sizes."

How do you know? My understanding is that neither baseball reference nor fangraphs show month-by-month fielding data. Where did you find some?

Daniel Moroz said...

FanGraphs does show you month by month WAR if you use the splits when looking at the O's stats by player, and there's a fielding component there.

Matt P said...

"FanGraphs does show you month by month WAR if you use the splits when looking at the O's stats by player, and there's a fielding component there."

What I think it does is take the players fielding score and divide by the number of plate appearances or innings in that month. You may have noticed that Reynolds' Fielding Scores have surprising little variation (and what variation does exist can be explained by playing time).

I looked at the fielding scores for 75 right fielders from July and August. Of those 75, only three had a major change. Those three guys were Pence, Suzuki and Snider. All three of them were traded between those months to different teams.

Seems like proof to me. And if I am right and the fangraph numbers don't show an actual month-by-month fielding score, I suspect that Reynolds did improve as the season continued. Given that he was learning the position, it's reasonable to give him some leeway.

Bret said...

One doesn't need UZR to understand that Reynolds is an awful defensive player. He made an error in the Rangers play in game, he made an error against NY. He makes easy plays look hard and he doesn't hit enough even if he were a good fielding 1B. 1B is a position where you need offense and a 3 week hot streak while sucking the other 5 months is not good enough. You want a minimum low to mid-800 OPS player there, Reynolds has proven over the last 3 seasons that isn't him.

The bigger issue is where do the O's improve? I think Machado shows dramatic improvement but Hardy, Jones, Wieters and Markakis are what they are and the bullpen will almost certainly regress regardless of moves made. Assuming McLouth is brought back there are really only 3 ways to get better. 1B, 2B and DH. That is where the emphasis and money (if necessary) needs to be put and clogging one of those holes with an average hitting awful fielding player is no way to go through life. Go after LaRoche again, try to find a platoon partner for Davis. Just do not make me watch another 162 of Reynolds, I will burn my hat.

Jon Shepherd said...

Matt...based on my understanding fangraphs only splits defense by month for teams, not individual players. It required too much computing time otherwise.

That said, those sample sizes for individual say exceptionally little about the talent level of the player.

Watching a division series game, I thought it obvious Reynolds was not good out there and the scout I was watching it with was in full agreement. It was hilarious how it was reported that he was good out there. Nice hands...nothing else.

Daniel Moroz said...

Thanks Matt. I probably should have gone with my instinct that the numbers looked a little bit off when I saw them, but at the time I was just happy to have found a loop-hole to see them.

As Jon (and I in the post, sort of) said though, even if there were actual numbers they wouldn't really tell us anything.

Philip Taggart said...

Gosh you guys are hard on Mark...
Isn't it pretty clear that findind someone for second base is more important than replacing someone who is, at worse, passable?
especially since he wants to be back and will re-sign with the Osfor a lot less money

There's not much money to spare, given Mr Angelos' parsimonious nature, and he already coughed up 85 Mil for Jones, so high-prices FAs are unlikely.
Napoli is dreadfully expensive and he's not a big improvement... plus, the rangers will re-sign im.

A good second baseman, is paramount. And 2-3 singles hitters... who hit lots of singles, would not go amiss, either.

Matt P said...

Fangraphs may say the reason is that it takes too much computing time, but I find that highly unlikely. Pitch f(x) data definitely uses considerably more computing resources than UZR. It's more plausible that they think it's not worth the effort to let users see the data if they're not sure about its reliability.

Certainly you couldn't use the monthly UZR numbers to determine an actual fielding value for a player. Nor do I think I'd use it as a predictor for future years to determine an exact value.

But at a minimum, it should be at least as indicator to determine whether a player showed progress defensively over the period given visual evidence.

It's like hitting data, I wouldn't use a good September as proof that a player will have an excellent year next year but I may use it to hypothesize that a player has shown improvement.

Stats aren't all or nothing. Just because something isn't definite doesn't mean it's worthless.

Jon Shepherd said...

"But at a minimum, it should be at least as indicator to determine whether a player showed progress defensively over the period given visual evidence."

No, it can't. Using a month of fielding data is like using week by week hitting performances. The sample size is so amazingly small that it is basically worthless.

According to what was mentioned to me, FanGraphs wants to be able to put up monthly splits and home/road splits, but their current design simply makes it too extreme of a search to do that.

Also...I am rather certain computation of UZR is much more difficult than Pitch F/X having used the Pitch F/X raw results myself. That is an easy system to use. UZR may be more of an issue of different databases communicating with each other, which is likely to present more problem than simply having a simple number file. That said, I have not been involved in the nuts and bolts of defensive metrics...only Pitch F/X.

Jeremy Strain said...

As Jon said, Mark's strength is that he has good hands, which is why he is better at scooping balls than making normal defensive plays at the corners. The problem with the eyeball test for corner infielders is that they tend to heavily weigh scoops for 1B and arm strength for 3B.

Mark, with all his flaws is in a group of defensive 1B that includes Ryan Howard, Carlos Pena, James Loney and Joey Votto. Some may say these guys aren't great, some may say they are middle of the pack. Defensive metrics are FAR from perfect so trying to use them to gauge a player's true defensive value is going to end up frustrating, but coupling them with some scouting might give you an idea.

Is he an $11m player when you combine defense, low average and strikeouts with the power and walks he provides? Probably not, BUT he's still under arbitration whether we pick up his option or not, and I'm fairly certain he won't win a truckload of money in arbitration. At a lower pricetag, he is worth the money, especially considering the cost to replace him (both $$$ and asset wise).

As for needing a mid-.850 OPS over there, those days have shifted, since there were only 6 players in all of baseball with an .850+ OPS at first base last season. Reynolds was 14th in the league which is about middle of baseball with a .763 OPS which was a good chunk down from his career average of .807 which I'm sure he rebounds towards this season if he sticks at 1B and isn't moving around. If he had a career average year last season he's right there with Tex and AGon. I'll take that from a player with no crazy long term ties to that doesn't kill your budget.

Liam said...

I think Reynolds is an example of a player who defensive metrics don't "like" for some reason. He's not GG caliber but he did play pretty well there for anyone watching the games.

He made some ridiculous scoops by any standard and most of his problems arose in terms of positioning and knowing when or when not to pursue a ball. You can't tell me that all those foul ball catches and diving plays down the line he made were actually routine plays that he simply struggled with.

At the end of the day if Reynolds can be considered an average defensive 1B and post his career average .800 OPS, we have ourselves an above average first baseman for a very reasonably cost.

Jon Shepherd said...

Liam...he struggled with balls hit hard near him. His first step in incredibly slow. It is what hurt him at third (often leaving him in a poor position to throw) and it hurts him at first. He is an aggressive defender and, if he has time, he will make good plays. He has nice hands, but it seemed obvious to me that he had issues when he fell on balls the average first baseman would snag.

I mean...I think he is not good, the scout I talked to thinks he is not good, Dave Cameron thinks he is awful, Dan Szymborski thinks he is slightly better than awesome...it just kind of goes on from there. It really has not much to do with metrics.

Liam said...

It seemed to me that he just had terrible hands at third and couldn't do anything right over there. The first step was the least of his worries. Like I said, watching him play first made it clear he struggled with decision making, but his reactions looked pretty good to me. He made a ton of plays on balls scorched down the line.

I watched most of every game this season, and I honestly can't recall many instances of him really screwing up, other than chasing balls he should have left to the pitcher or 2B. Was the scout you talked to an Orioles scout or with another org? He certainly didn't make many plays look easy but at the end of the day he made them.

Jon Shepherd said...

Another organization...I don't know any scouts with the Orioles anymore. They have moved on.

That said...watching the games as well, first step was and is slow. He makes up with excellent looking snags because he has great hands and can lunge for balls other players can move on their feet to pick up. The New York series is always a good one to compare first basemen. Teixeira is an excellent first baseman and the difference between the two is amazing. I think Reynolds actually has slightly better hands, but they both have excellent ones. Tex just is better at everything else (well, not arm strength).

Jeremy Strain said...

^Great illustration of the little things involved in defense and how they add up to a big picture.

Difference between Reynolds being a GG first baseman really comes down to his "first step" or reaction speed. He's got great hands, and a great arm, but without that 3rd component, which determines a lot of range, he's more a middle of the pack 1B.