Is a sub-par performance in 96 plate appearances enough to cause you to look for other alternatives?  It was for the Baltimore Orioles last May when they shipped Nolan Reimold to Triple-A after the 26 year old outfielder hit just .205 with a .230 TAv to go along with a pair of home runs and 10 RBI.  

Triple-A?  We are talking about the guy who last year led all American League rookies in home runs (15), total bases (167) and slugging percentage (.466).  He also paced all AL rookies with a 20.8 VORP.  He did this despite not joining the team until mid-May and posting only 411 plate appearances.  Fantasy owners liked him:  He was the 157th average draft pick in ESPN’s mixed leagues.  PECOTA liked him, too, projecting he would hit .271 with 22 home runs and 68 RBI with a .270 TAv.  Instead, this May, he was riding buses in the International League.

Reimold is a dead pull hitter.  Sure, he will occasionally go opposite field, but in most cases, that particular batted ball ends up a harmless, shallow pop out.  From Texas Leaguers, here is Reimold’s spray chart from his entire 2009 season.  Note the lack of plots in deep right field, the cluster in shallow right and how the majority of the plots in the outfield (particularly the deep ones) are from left to center.

It’s about a quarter of the plate appearances, so it’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions, but his spray chart from 2010 seems to represent a departure in his approach from last season.  This year, Reimold was going to the right at a greater rate when hitting the ball to the outfield.  On those at bats where he pulled the ball, he was keeping it on the ground, resulting in outs.  

While it may appear he's hitting more grounders this year, his ground ball rate of 46% isn’t far off from his 48% GB rate in 2009.  Last year, he hit .130 when the ball stayed in the infield.  In 2010 he was hitting .111 when an infielder made the play.  Ground balls weren’t an issue.

The problem was the fly balls and Reimold’s inability to yank the ball to left.  In 2009, he hit .630 when he delivered the ball to the outfield en route to an overall .316 BABIP.  This year, going more to the opposite field, his average dropped to .467 when hitting to the outfield.  That, combined with his lower average on the infield, meant he owned a .244 BABIP when he was farmed out to Triple-A.

Oftentimes, we will look at a guy with a low BABIP and assume he was unlucky.  Reimold is a perfect example that’s not always the case.  For whatever reason (decrease in bat speed, organizational insistence he hit more to right, whatever…) he changed his approach at the plate.  The result in this small sample size was a loss of power, a drop in batting average and a wholesale decline in value.  Sometimes a lot of damage can be done in those small samples.

When Reimold was sent down, he apparently still hadn’t completely recovered from off season surgery on his left Achilles', battled undisclosed personal issues and continued to struggle in the minors. He hit just .221 with eight home runs in his first 240 at bats until he got hot in August.  Over his final 97 at bats for the Tides, he hit .320 with a pair of home runs and six doubles.  Overall, he posted a line of .249/.364/.374 with 10 home runs in 337 at bats for the Tides.

Now back in Baltimore, Reimold will be in the mix in the Oriole outfield (and designated hitter role) but according to new manager Buck Showalter, he’s not a lock for extended playing time down the stretch.  In his first game on Wednesday, he hit a liner to left, a sac fly to left-center and a single to center.  Hitting the ball up the middle and to his pull field was an encouraging start and will be a key in evaluating how he finishes the season.  However, his undefined status on an expanded roster means he’s not an option in mixed leagues down the stretch, but if he is back to pulling the ball, he could be worth a flier in an AL-only league.

Here’s to next year…

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At 26, the Orioles may just not see much room for further development in Reimold. Not that me might not make for a fair complementary piece, but perhaps not worth sweating blood and diamonds over. If I'm Baltimore, I'm more worried about the flattening production curves of guys like Markakis, Wieters, Jones and Pie. As for his difficulty pulling the ball, is it possible that pitchers figured Reimold out and are keeping the ball on the outside of the plate, where he can't hit anything but the aforementioned weak flies?
Interesting theory... I only have swing data (which looks similar to his swing data from '09) so I can't say if he's making more contact on pitches on the outer part of the zone. However, his overall contact rate on pitches outside of the zone is a little lower this year. Any Oriole fans who have watched Reimold this year and last care to chime in?