Let’s start by being honest about how bad it has gotten. The Pirates are down a couple runs in the bottom of the 8th and they have a couple speedy runners at second and third. Bryan Reynolds steps to the plate, you actually find yourself wishing it was Newman or Gonzalez.
Even as you feel that way, you tell yourself, no, it’s just a matter of time, Reynolds is the right guy in this situation. Then he chases a belt high fastball, I mean a pitch he would have hammered last season to the gap on a line. Next he chases a breaking pitch down at his ankles and loses his helmet in the process. Ok, last year he probably spits on that one and you can tell from the look on his face he knows it too. You know he won’t chase like that again, you can just tell looking at him, so he takes a pitch that you can’t afford to watch with two strikes and takes a seat.
That scene has played out countless times in 2020, ok not the runners on base part, but the approach at the plate sure has.
Now, the Pirates won’t say it, but it’s pretty clear either the Bucs or Bryan have altered his swing from 2019. Swing changes take some time to bear fruit, but anyone that watched him play last year is screaming at the screen right now ‘Why would you mess with him!?’ and the answer may very well be his 16 home runs in 2019.
Let’s not forget that Derek Shelton came from the Minnesota Twins who came out of nowhere last season to become the league leaders in home runs. They focused on launch angle and pitch selection to create a lineup that hunted and more often than not captured the long balls they were seeking. It makes sense he would want to bring that here, but not all hitters are created equal.
Reynolds greatest strength in 2019 was his balanced approach and quick swing that created line drives.
In fact let’s take a look at his Slugging Percentage on pitch types.
The trends don’t lie, his slugging percentage for Fastballs and Breaking pitches is down, breaking is frighteningly so. The only improvement is on offspeed pitches which tend to be splitters and changeups. This would seem to signify more success when the ball is down a bit. Typical for players who focus on launch angle vs hitting line drives.
The funny thing is, in 2020 he’s actually seeing some increase in pitches in the zone which belies his walk percentage going up.
That’s a very sharp increase in breaking pitches that find the zone. Remember earlier when I said last season he would just spit on that breaking pitch at the ankles, well when the pitchers are coming into the zone with it that much more it has a couple effects. First, you can’t just spit on them if they’re finishing for called strikes at an almost 50% clip, and second if you don’t show you can’t do as much damage, you’ll see far more.
OK, so pitchers are throwing more breaking pitches in the zone, Bryan just needs to swing at them then more often right? Maybe, but take that increased in zone percentage and couple it with his swing and miss percentage.
Pretty clear here why he’s seeing so many breaking pitches. While the percentage in the zone has increased dramatically, so has his swing and miss. Many times you can tie this to chase, but these two numbers tell you something, he has to swing at these pitches, and if he doesn’t start making more contact on them, improvement won’t come. On top of that, you also see Fastballs have migrated out of the zone and those he is chasing.
Again the only thing he is actually improving on tends to be the offspeed stuff. Alarmingly that’s not what it looked like when Lucas Giolito was brutalizing the entire lineup with change ups.
Being forced to swing at breaking pitches and offspeed stuff goes against his strengths, which has been barreling up the fastball. I mean, it’s good he isn’t missing the changeups as much, but that doesn’t add up to more barrels.
In fact in 2020, he has yet to barrel up anything not classified a fastball. Scouts aren’t paid to ignore things like this, and he’ll have to show he can change these trends to get back to a more advantageous pitch mix.
Looking for good news or a sign he is coming out of this? It’s not very apparent if you are, the only metric I can find that has actually gone up is BB%.
I’m not ready to throw in the towel on Reynolds, that natural ability we saw on display in 2019 is still in there and on occasion he still displays it. Far too often he looks like his approach is not his comfort zone, if anything I’d say look to his personality as the greatest chance he rebounds, Bryan is not the type of player to allow a hitting coach, organization or even his own attempts to make changes get in the way of success. Problem is there isn’t time in this 60 game sprint to really give the time it takes to show results on the field.
Even the numbers I posted are based on a relatively small sample, but they’re still rather telling. Perhaps we’re missing the obvious, a second year player has been fully diagnosed by opposing scouts and knowing what he can and can’t do they’ve altered their approach to him. This happens all the time, sometimes month to month, again, there are only two this year so that doesn’t bode well.
One thing is absolutely true, if Bryan Reynolds doesn’t figure this out, the organization is further behind than even the most bitter fan projected.