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August 21, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Not Quite a Reynolds Wrap

by Jay Jaffe

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Though the Diamondbacks' year is a lost cause as far as the playoffs are concerned, third baseman Mark Reynolds is having a season for the ages, with numbers that are a statistical freak show unto themselves. Pay a quarter and gawk, because you won't see the likes of them anywhere else.

The first thing that most fans know about Reynolds is that last year he became the first batter in baseball history to strike out over 200 times in a single season, finishing with 204 and becoming the third player in five seasons to rewrite the record books in that particular category. He's on pace to obliterate that mark this year, having struck out 168 times through the Diamondbacks' first 122 games, a 223-strikeout pace. Despite that, Reynolds isn't a totally undisciplined hacker. However hot his blistering pace, he's actually striking out a hair less often on a per plate appearance basis this season, in 33.1 percent of his PA instead of 33.3 percent; it's not like the hole in his bat got bigger. Meanwhile, his unintentional walk rate has edged upwards, from 10.4 percent to 11.2 percent, so his overall strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio has fallen by about eight percent relative to last year.

Amid that avalanche of strikeouts, Reynolds is also having an historic season when it comes to batting average on contact [H / (AB - K)], as Joe Sheehan pointed out recently. If he could maintain his .453 clip, he would rank fifth among all hitters since 1900, behind Manny Ramirez (.478 in 2000), Babe Ruth (.478 in 1921, .455 in 1920), and Ryan Howard (.455 in 2006). His .960 slugging percentage on contact would crack the top 10 in that category as well, behind guys named McGwire, Bonds, Ruth, Sosa, and Thome-a group of players whose lowest career homer total is Thome's 563. So Reynolds is in the company of some off the heaviest heavy hitters of all time.

Indeed, Reynolds is keeping heady company on the leaderboard these days. He's second in the majors in home runs (38) and isolated power (.314) behind Albert Pujols, and third in slugging percentage (.595) behind Pujols and Joe Mauer. He's hit an MLB-high 14 homers since the All-Star break, including a flurry of 11 blasts in a 13-game span from July 26 through August 9.

When he connects, the ball travels a long, long way. According to Hit Tracker, Reynolds is the owner of the longest home run of this season in terms of both true distance (481 feet) and standard (normalized) distance (477 feet) via a blast that he hit off the Phillies' Brad Lidge, who knows a little something about giving up monster home runs. That shot wasn't an anomaly, either; Reynolds is second only to Nelson Cruz in Hit Tracker's Golden Sledgehammer standings with an average standard distance 416.6 feet for each homer, over two feet further than the average Pujols homer.

The extremities of Reynolds' performance raise the question of how much regression might be in store for him in various areas. Applying Brian Cartwright's batting average on balls in play estimator (15 * FB% + .24 * GB% + .73 * LD%), to Reynolds' batted-ball data yields an expected BABIP of just .286. The 79-point gap between that and his actual figure of .365 ranks as the third-largest among batting title qualifiers, behind only Hanley Ramirez and Ichiro Suzuki. Beating such estimates isn't a new phenomenon for Reynolds, however; over the span of his three-year career, he's exceeded that estimate by 39 points, which is ninth out of 277 players with at least 800 plate appearances in that span. Even with considerable regression from his .281/.371/.595 line, he'd still rank as an above-average offensive force.

The other question is what kind of impact regression might have on his astronomical percentage of home runs per fly ball. He's at 31.9 percent this year, tops in the majors (via our MLB Advanced Media numbers, which differ from other sources). That's a sharp increase from last year's rate of 17.8 percent, but even so, he still ranks eighth with 21.8 percent over the last three years. Ahead of him are Ryan Howard, Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez, Jack Cust, Carlos Peņa, Adam Dunn, and Prince Fielder; behind him are Marcus Thames, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, and Mark Teixeira-a group that includes just about everybody who's anybody when it comes to putting the ball over the wall. Even if he were only averaging homers on 21.8 percent of his flies this year, he'd still have 26 dingers, which would crack the NL top 10.

Reynolds isn't just a one-dimensional slugger, either; he has enough speed to have stolen 21 bases, giving him the major league lead in the Bill James-created Power-Speed Number, which rewards players who combine home-run hitting and basestealing. Alas, the net impact of his thievery is a negative one because he's also been caught seven times-four of them trying to steal third-and picked off an additional two times; he's cost the Diamondbacks 2.5 runs due to that aggressiveness, and has been slightly below average in his other baserunning endeavors as well. While he's got the tools, they're in need of refinement.

In Baseball Prospectus 2009, we knocked his play at third base ("he stinks defensively" were the exact words). Our static defensive system, FRAA, had him 10 runs below average last year and 14 below this year, but via our new play-by-play metric, he was just one run below average. Other systems such as Ultimate Zone Rating (-3.0 last year, -0.3 this year) and the Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus (-8 last year, -1 this year) view his performance relatively charitably; below average, sure, but hardly enough to warrant such scorn.

The bottom line is that for all of his freaky and potentially fluky stats, Reynolds is a valuable player , good enough to crack the NL top 20 with a .304 EqA without giving too much back on defense. While some regression is inevitable regarding the extreme aspects of his performance, given that he's just in his age-25 season (he turned 26 on August 3), there's plenty of potential for growth as well. The select company he's keeping suggests we could be looking at player who's going to stick around and rack up some serious home run totals before he's through.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

Related Content:  Mark Reynolds

5 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Brian Cartwright

A very big thank you for plugging my article - however, I am doing further research on the BABIP formula your referenced.

First, popups should be broken out as they are outs 99% of the time. Popup rates (from Gameday data 2006-2009) range from Eric Byrnes at 16.9% to Derek Jeter at 1.5%. This has a high correlation to BABIP, better thn LD%.

Second, I've split ground balls into those that stay in the infield, and those that go to the outfield as hits.

Fast players who hit the ball to the left side, especially left handed batters, get the most infield hits. Not including bunt attempts, these range from Ichiro at 17.3% to Sean Casey's 2.5%.

Guys who can hit the ball more sharply get more ground balls to the outfield, ranging from Mike Lamb at 24.6% (and Sean casey 23.4) to Barry Bonds 10.8% (shifting the infield must do some good!). Besides left handed sluggers, the bottom of the list is also populated by guys like Alex Cintron, Angel Berroa and Jose Castillo.

Now to Mark Reynolds -


mlb <2009 2009
GB% .460 .396 .410
PU% .079 .099 .074
FB% .265 .304 .283
LD% .195 .200 .234

IFH% .079 .102 .127
GBH% .176 .217 .210
FBH% .174 .221 .203
LDH% .727 .794 .754


He's dropped his popups 25% and increased his linedrives 15%. His infield hit rate is up, but hits on grounders, flies and linedrives are slightly down from his pre 2009 levels, but they are all still well above mlb averages.

Of major league batters from 2006 through yesterday with 500 or more plate appearances, Reynolds ranks 50th of 362 on infield hit rate, 29th on rate of ground ball hits to the outfield, 33rd on fly ball hit rate and 25th on line drive hit rate. Then, of course, he ups his homerun rate on contact 65% to jump from 26th to 8th on that list.

Mark Reynolds is fast and hits the ball very, very hard. That allows him to rank in the 85th percentile or higher on hit percentage in all breakdowns of batted balls, which should allow him to maintain a high BABIP. Reynolds may strike out at record rates, but when he hits the ball, duck.

Aug 23, 2009 09:12 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Brian, thanks for your input. It's good to hear you're continuing your research in this area.

FYI, unlike the way it's presented on some other sites (such as Fangraphs, where your piece ran), the BP batted ball breakdowns classify popups (infield flies) as a separate category from outfield flies - something I didn't discover until towards the end of my writing this piece. In other words, when you see POP% in our new sortables, it's a percentage of infield flies per batted ball, as opposed to infield flies per total fly ball. That alone probably makes a difference in the coefficients I should be using in the BABIP formula.

The other consequence of that "discovery" is that what I've expressed here as HR/FB is actually HR/(FB + POP), which yields a percentage that's comparable to what's on Fangraphs or THT; without it, Reynolds' HR/FB percentage is closer to 37% than 31%. After some discussion with my colleagues, I think we may move towards expressing this a bit differently, removing line drive homers - which IIRC constitute about 10% of home runs - from the home run total and dividing that by outfield flies only. It may yield a slightly different scale than what people are used to, but I think it will capture that component of performance better.

Aug 23, 2009 09:45 AM
 
Brian Cartwright

I use Gameday data, and their classifications of grounder, liner, fly or popup. I divide each by the sum of all four, so that the four groups percentages add to 1.00. This would be the same as BP's POP%. I describe foul pops, which are a subset of popups, as a percent of all popups, which is helpful for park factor calculations.

For HRs, I mainly use balls contacted or alternately outfield flies (FB+LD) as the denominator. BTW, there have been eight groundball homeruns in professional baseball in the last four seasons.

Thing is, I am losing faith in a BABIP estimator, as there are a range of hit values between players for grounders, flies and even liners (63% LDH% for Jason Kendall, 83% for Delmon Young). I'm working towards using weighted historical data for each player in each of the categories. Isolated power might be able to be used as a regression value for hits on grounders, flies and liners.

Aug 23, 2009 11:10 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

It's hardly surprising that there's still going to be a broader range of hit values across a population of players, and I can certainly see the value of using weighted historical data within a sophisticated projection system.

That said, I don't think that detracts from the idea that within some limited range we can get a ballpark estimate of what a player's BABIP should be based on his batted ball breakdown - in the same way we can use a pitcher's peripherals to estimate ERA, whether that's via FIP, QERA, or something else - as a first-cut way of identifying outliers.

Aug 23, 2009 12:46 PM
 
Brian Cartwright

I apologize for misreading my own formula - I did not see a popup term and it made me think it was not being considered - but PU%*0 = 0 so it can be left out, as long as things are defined so that GB+FB+LD = 1-PU. So strike that comment from my original post, but I do believe that fly ball hits and ground balls hits are seperate, repeatable skills that may be able to be estimated by other measures such as isolated power or line drive rate - ways to see which batters hit the ball on average more sharply than others - the research continues.

Aug 24, 2009 08:23 AM
rating: 0
 
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