The veteran journeyman earned his playing time by returning to his old, power-hitting form.
Coors Field has not seen playoff baseball since 2009 when the Colorado Rockies secured a wild-card berth. However, thanks to an improved pitching staff and a balanced offense, the Rockies are in first place of a highly competitive NL West. The biggest surprise thus far is the MVP-like performance of Mark Reynolds, which is something the team did not expect when they signed him to a minor league deal.
Originally seen as Ian Desmond’s backup, Reynolds’ hot hitting has resulted in Desmond being relocated to left field for the time being. Reynolds has soared to a .301/.384/.558 batting line, good for a .942 OPS, easily above his previous career high. He has also regained his form as a power hitter after only hitting 14 home runs in 2016 despite being at the hitter-friendly Coors Field for half the season. So far this season, Reynolds has homered 18 times and has 56 RBIs, which is among the highest in the National League.
So what has worked for Reynolds? A look into his wOBA this year shows how Reynolds has returned to his power-hitting form while still hitting for a good average. Early in his career when he was with the Diamondbacks, Reynolds was characterized as a power hitter that struck out way too often.
Between 2008 and 2010, Reynolds hit 268 home runs, but also topped at least 200 strikeouts each season. However, despite the huge strikeout totals, Reynolds had an above-average wOBA, suggesting that his power-hitting and overall offensive contributions compensated for his high strikeout totals. However, in 2013 through 2015, Reynolds saw a huge decline in his wOBA:
In 2017, Reynolds’s wOBA currently sits at .395, well above the league average. The main question for Reynolds is why his wOBA was below-average in 2013 through 2015. Offensive statistics show that Reynolds, after being a formidable power hitter for the Diamondbacks, began to produce less home runs.
In the three seasons that Reynolds had a below-average wOBA, he only hit 54 home runs in total, an average of 18 per season. However, his lower home run total only tells part of the story. His OBP and SLG were all significantly down from his career averages of .329 and .457 as the chart below shows:
His struggles at the plate in these seasons, first noticeable with the Indians, revolved around one main variables: his BABIP was down. In these three seasons, Reynolds’s BABIP percentages were .282, .218, and .300. While he was with Cleveland, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, Reynolds struggled mightily at the plate. His putrid numbers reveal what can be attributed to his lack of success in these seasons.
As the table shows, Reynolds was not a power hitter in his home ballpark. Instead, in 2013 and 2014, he struggled mightily with left-handed pitching. His low home run output also suggests that his numbers were impacted by the ballparks he played his home games in. Progressive Field, Miller Park, and Busch Stadium are known as pitcher’s parks, which may partly explain why his batting average and home run totals took a noticeable dip.
With the Rockies, however, he is doing better and currently sporting a .364 BABIP. But his home/away splits really emphasize the causes of his success. At Coors Field, Reynolds is hitting .371 against right-handed pitchers and .250 against left-handed pitching. On the road, Reynolds is hitting .301 against right-handed pitching, much higher than he has than in recent years. Reynolds went from struggling against right-handed pitchers to excelling against them.
Although some of his success can be attributed to hitting at Coors Field, Reynolds has become a better hitter by attacking right-handed pitchers more effectively. This has led to him hitting more home runs against them:
So what does this mean for Reynolds? As a power hitter, Reynolds needs to continue to hope he can maintain his 30.5% HR/FB rate. As long as he can maintain his probably unsustainably high current BABIP, he’ll generate offensive value the more he puts the ball in play. As a hitters park, Coors Field represents a perfect fit for Reynolds.
Since he, a right-handed hitter, tends to pull the ball to the left side of the field, the short fence down the Coors Field line, which is only 347 feet, plays directly to Reynolds’ advantage. Due to the high elevation of the ballpark, baseballs tend to fly farther through the thin air; this should help Reynolds continue to hit home run totals similar to his early season nu with the Diamondbacks.
Although Reynolds’s All-Star numbers may not send him to Miami in July due to a strong first basemen group in the National League, his offensive production has the Rockies soaring in the first half of the season. The hope is that Reynolds can sustain his first-half success and help propel the Rockies to the postseason, and hopefully, their first World Series appearance in 10 years.
*(All data has been retrieved from ESPN, Baseball-Reference.com, and FanGraphs.com)
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