What Mark Reynolds Brings to the Indians at First Base
Ronnie Tellalian | On 10, Dec 2012
First base has long been a place of woe for the Cleveland Indians. From Casey Kotchman to Matt LaPorta, Shelley Duncan and Andy Marte, the last three years have produced abysmal offense from an offensive-driven position. This off season the Cleveland Indians sought to remedy those struggles, most notably their pursuit of free agent Kevin Youkilis.
Sunday the Tribe took a left turn by signing 29-year old first baseman Mark Reynolds to a one-year, $6 million deal. Several questions may linger in the minds of Indians fans. What contribution can Reynolds make in 2012? What does this mean for Youkilis? Did the Indians make the right choice?
Reynolds spent the majority of 2012 manning first base for the Baltimore Orioles. He has put up some seesaw numbers in his career and things have been no different since joining Baltimore in 2011. He hit 60 home runs over the last two seasons, averaging 34 home runs per 162 games. He also averaged 87 RBI, 86 runs scored, and 83 walks per 162 games during that same span. To go with that is an above average .328 on-base percentage and a .458 slugging percentage. The other side of that three year seesaw is his poor .221 average, and his massive number of strikeouts, 355 in 290 games. The real question is what can those numbers tell us, and what can he bring to the Indians lineup in 2013?
Cleveland fans have been forced to watch a revolving door of ineptitude at first base over the last two years. In 2012, Indians first basemen hit 16 home runs and posted a slash line of .236/.269/.345. A slash line represents a player’s batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. If we look at what Mark Reynolds did in 2012, he hit 23 home runs with a slash of .221/.335/.429. That is a major improvement in power and on-base percentage with a small decline in batting average.
In 2011, Indians first basemen hit 16 home runs again with a slash of .251/.310/.440. Reynolds smashed 37 home runs in 2011 and managed a .221/.323/.483 slash; again, much more power and on-base prowess with a lower batting average.
We can see some good things and some bad things in those numbers. One of the things Reynolds does very well is hit home runs. Over his six year career, Reynolds has hit 181 home runs. Of all the other current players on the Indians roster, the closest to that number is Shin-Soo Choo with 83 career dingers. Reynolds hit a career high 44 home runs in 2009, and smashed 37 more in 2011. The Indians are in desperate need of that kind of power. To top it off, Reynolds brings that power from the right side of the plate. This could bring that long needed relief to a lefty heavy lineup.
What Reynolds does very poorly is strikeout. He has lead the league in strikeouts four times in his six year career. He holds the single season strikeout record with 223 and he holds the record for the worst strikeout percentage of all-time (minimum 3000 plate appearances) at 32.6%. To put that in perspective Reggie Jackson, the current all-time strikeout king, whiffed 2597 time in his career at a rate of 22.7%. If Reynolds matched Jackson total at his current pace, he would strikeout 3,722 times. That is the Webster’s definition of epic.
Reynolds is going to strikeout. Based on his track record if he gets 600 plate appearances, he will strike out nearly 200 times. If he gets 600 plate appearances he will also hit 30-35 home runs. Are fans willing to take those strikeouts in exchange for all those exciting and quick hitting long balls?
Another way to look at his strikeouts is through the microscope of on-base percentage (OBP). As most know, OBP measures how often a player steps up to the plate and does not make an out. Outs are the most precious commodity in baseball. Baseball has no clock; the only thing that limits a team is outs. Each team is given three outs per inning and 27 outs per nine inning game. Not making outs means that you can continue to hit and score runs. Until that third out in an inning is made, anything is possible. Theoretically a team could bat indefinitely in the first inning if they never made that third out. OBP judges exactly how likely it is that the player is not going to be just another step towards the end of the inning.
In terms of OBP, Reynolds is not only an above average hitter but he would bring some life to the Indians lineup. Reynolds career OBP is .332 which is on par with Michael Brantley’s .329. Asdrubal Cabrera has averaged a .332 OBP over his last three seasons. Even though Reynolds strikes out a great deal, he is reaching base more often than the average hitter and, therefore, making less outs than the average hitter.
With all those strikeouts can the Indians lineup take the hit? In spite of their reputation, the Indians were one of the toughest teams to strike out last year. Only two out of 30 teams in the Major Leagues struck out less than the Indians in 2012. The Tribe stepped up to the plate and put the ball in play more often than 27 other teams. Even if you replace Kotchman’s 49 strikeouts with Reynolds 159 in their 2012 total, they are still better than 18 teams.
One reason Reynolds strikes out so much is his very high swing and miss percentage (SwStr%). The average Major League hitter swings and misses at between 8.5-9% of the pitches they see. Reynolds SwStr% is nearly double that at 16.6% for his career. Those numbers have gotten better and better each year from a high of 17.8% in 2009 to a career low of 13.1% in 2012. Those are Matt LaPorta-esque numbers, but if that trend continues, he could be a lot closer to the league average in 2013. His home runs far and away separate Reynolds from LaPorta in terms of offensive value, but he separates himself from the much maligned LaPorta in another way, plate discipline. Reynolds only swung at 25.2% of the pitches he saw outside the strike zone; the league average in that category is 30.8%. So he may whiff a great deal, but at least he knows when a pitch is over the plate.
So what about Youkilis? Now that Reynolds inked that contract, Youkilis is likely out of the picture. That may not necessarily be a bad thing. Youkilis, who turns 34 in March, is five years the elder of Reynolds and Youkilis’ body has been breaking down while Reynolds has been durable. Over the last three years Reynolds has averaged 145 games played per season. Over that same span Youkilis has averaged only 115. That is not the only place Reynolds has found superiority over the last three years.
Reynolds has averaged 31 home runs per season since 2010 and Youkilis only 18. Since 2010, Reynolds has averaged 77 walks to Youkilis’ 59 walks and 80 RBI to Youkilis’ 67 RBI. Youkilis does have the far better batting average in that time at .264 to Reynolds’ .213. Youkilis also outshines him with a much better .373 OBP over that span compared to Reynolds’ .326.
Is Reynolds a better buy at $6 million than Youkilis at $9 million per year? Are Reynolds incredibly high strikeout out totals and his poor batting average made up for with his home run power and his on-base percentage? These are questions that will be answered in the months and season that follows. As always, you the fans will be the judge.
Photo: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images