Sunday, June 5, 2011

O's need Reynolds to turn it around

The move to trade for Mark Reynolds was supposed to do two things: 1) provide the Orioles with a legitimate power threat and 2) give Reynolds a fresh start with a new team. But so far, Reynolds has not played as well as Andy MacPhail and Co. would have hoped.

In 2009, Mark Reynolds had a career year with the Diamondbacks. He hit .260/.349/.543 with 44 home runs. During that season, he struck out 38.6 percent of the time -- his highest mark in three seasons -- but he got on base at a pretty decent clip and hit with a ton of power. Those two abilities made up for his lack of defensive prowess at third base.

However, Reynolds took a step back in 2010, batting .198/.320/.433 with 32 homers. According to UZR, his defense at third was actually better than average that season, though that hasn't continued in his first couple of months with the Orioles. Reynolds's walk rate jumped from 11.5 percent to 13.9 percent, but his already-high strikeout rate rose as well (38.6 percent to 43.3 percent). His line drive percentage also took a hit, which was partly to blame for his career low BABIP of .257 (his previous low had been .323 in 2008). Except for his first season in 2007 when he hit .279, which was fueled by a .378 BABIP, Reynolds has not been a high-average type of hitter, but hitting under .200 in a full season had to be extremely disappointing, not to mention embarrassing.

Unfortunately for both Reynolds and the O's, Reynolds has not been able to rekindle his 2009 numbers in Baltimore. He's currently hitting .189/.306/.378 with eight home runs and an abysmal .312 wOBA. Those eight homers actually leads the O's right now, but that's not saying a whole lot for a team as offensively challenged as the O's have been.

The odd thing, though, is not that Reynolds has struggled (though not many people thought he'd be quite this bad), but that he's doing so in a slightly different way. His walk percentage (13.7 percent) is almost identical to last season's, but his strikeout percentage, which has risen in each of his first four professional seasons, has been cut to 31.4 percent. Was that a conscious change? Possibly. Is it making him less effective at the plate? Probably.

His BABIP is again very low (.223), but he's also hitting even fewer line drives than he did last season. It's also not a positive trend that his line drive percentage has dropped every season. In terms of plate discipline, Reynolds is attacking fewer pitches overall (both inside and outside of the zone), and he's also making more contact in general (again, both inside and outside the zone). Because of that, it makes sense that his walk rate is about the same and that he's cutting down on his strikeouts. But he's also not getting on base nearly enough or doing the type of damage the O's envisioned when they traded for him. He's likely due for a few more hits to drop in now and then, but if he's not hitting the ball hard, that hardly matters as much. The contact hitter version of Reynolds certainly isn't as scary as the power hitter version.

Reynolds has time to turn things around. After a sluggish April, he has improved his on-base and slugging percentages by more than 50 points each. That's still not good enough, really, but it is a start. And since Reynolds is essentially guaranteed to be in an Orioles uniform next season as well -- he's due to make $7.5 million -- he may as well get familiar with Camden Yards for a little while.

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