Mark Reynolds and Regression

Reynolds retroWe here at RRSMB love guys like Mark Reynolds. We used to own Russell Branyan’s b-ref page and it’s a pretty sure bet that we’ll own Mark’s at some point as well. There are a few reasons we like players like this:

1. Home runs are awesome.

2. Really really far home runs are even more awesome even though they don’t count for anything extra.

3. We like a guy who isn’t too proud to take a walk.

4. We like a guy who understands that striking out isn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things.

The other day Rob Neyer did what all national media people do when a team they see as mediocre at best gets off to a hot start: write about how unsustainable it is. It’s easy to pick apart a team when it’s winning at a .700+ clip, but near the end Neyer made a flippant aside about two Brewers:

“Right now, they’re … actually, I’m not convinced they’re good. Take away these unsustainable things — by the way, I haven’t even mentioned Carlos Gomez and Mark Reynolds yet — and they’re just fair.”

 

This caught my eye. You can certainly argue that Carlos Gomez, currently enjoying his finest season, might come down to earth a bit.* I’m not sure the case is that strong for Mark Reynolds.

*Or maybe he’s just super awesome and finally completely adjusted to the changes he’s made at the plate while enjoying hitting lead-off.

Will Mark Reynolds experience regression to the mean? Of course. Everyone does. The question is always “what is the mean?” For Mark Reynolds, it’s probably better than you think. It’s almost certainly better than Rob Neyer seems to think.

The first thing to note is that Mark Reynolds is not old. He is nearly 2 full years younger than Corey Hart having turned 30 last August. He may not be in his prime anymore, but to the extent he’s entered his decline, it just started.

The 2nd thing to note is that Reynolds isn’t actually off to that great a start considering his historical numbers. His current .339 wOBA would only be the 4th highest total of his 7 year career. He had a .335 wOBA just 2 seasons ago when he hit .221/.335/.429 in Camden Yards. It’s not as if this start is unprecedented. A lot of analysts expected roughly this kind of production.

Mark Reynolds

Current slash line: .229/.297/.486, .335 wOBA

PECOTA preseason projection: .220/.323/.440

ZIPS(U): .232/.322/.478, .349 wOBA

Steamer(U) .222/.313/.455, .337 wOBA

While his power might be a bit on the high side*, we would actually expect his OBP, and therefore his overall value, to go up.

*Though maybe not in Miller Park. Camden Yards has actually been a decent place for right-handed power hitters lately but Miller Park is consistently one of the four friendliest.

There are some things you can nitpick about his early numbers. His HR/FB rate is high at 28.6%, but it’s not that unusual for Reynolds to have a HR/FB over 20% and he finished 2009 with a 26% mark. Miller Park is a very friendly home run-hitting environment and seeing a jump into the 20s isn’t that strange. While his LD% is down a bit that statistic is notoriously unreliable (especially over a small sample), and his BABIP isn’t strange in any way. Looking at his swing rates and contact rates doesn’t raise any huge red flags either. I suspect Neyer just saw his raw numbers, assumed they were better than they should be and didn’t look any further.

There is one other indicator that Reynolds may actually see his numbers get better. Historically about 30% of his PAs have come against left-handed pitching and while he doesn’t have huge platoon splits he does hit lefties better, especially in the OBP department (.315 v RHP, .360 v. LHP). This season only 20% of his PAs have come against lefties despite the presence of a platoon partner. He’s made up for this a bit by absolutely destroying the lefties he has faced (.300/.417/.600 in 24 PAs), but if that ratio normalizes a bit he could see further offensive gains just by reducing his right-handed exposure.

The Brewer have done a good job with Reynolds to this point. Keeping him mostly at first has limited his defensive problems and according to fangraphs he’s actually been substantially better defensively than Lyle Overbay. He’s a quantum leap over what they had last year and there is reason to believe that he may actually get better as the season goes along. He faces lefty Francisco Liriano tonight and I am looking forward to it. To close out, here’s a dinger.

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