8-22-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)
The picture of Bryan Reynolds above was taken at 2:17 PM EST on March 12, 2020 from beside the bleachers on the deck of LECOM Park in right field, moments before Major League Baseball, and ultimately the world, shutdown.
Several weeks prior to this I was in line with my three kiddos at PiratesFest, waiting for them to get an autograph from ROYnolds himself. Each of them intently holding on to their caps, bats and baseball cards in anxious anticipation.
Rewind even further back, and I found myself in Section 131 on Steve Blass Night at PNC Park, disappointed I wouldn’t get to see Reynolds live one more time that season-during which Pirates Fans saw him slash .314/.377/.503 with 16 homers and finish 4th in NL Rookie of The Year voting-due to a hamstring injury suffered earlier that week.
In each of these instances I had so much hope for what the future could hold for the Pirates new rising star, not knowing the torment 2020 had planned for the majority of Pittsburgh’s lineup; especially considering that up until that point Reynold’s had not hit below .300 or had an OPS of less than .800 his entire professional baseball career. Yet, in 55 games of the shortened season he hit .189 with an OPS of .632; a small sample size, and one that Reynolds vowed to move on from, but not forget.
Nevertheless, and in spite of some impassioned comments on his part, the only thing that could truly make this go away would be a rebound from his sophomore slump; with the bat, but not the glove and arm as he earned 6 DRS and had 5 outfield assists.
To start the season, and in turn trying to dissuade his doubters, Reynolds reached base safely in all but 4 games during the first month of the season; ending April with a .278/.381/.411, good for an OPS just under .800 with a couple of homers.
His May would continue as much of the same; right around the same average (.293) with a little more power (.958 OPS and 5 homers). Then in June he really hit his stride; slashing .376/.442/.645 with 7 long balls for the month, and reaching over .300 for only the third time since April-a benchmark he has yet to fall back under.
During this time, Reynolds was named to the NL All-Star Team by his peers (eventually becoming a starter alongside then teammate Adam Frazier), and reached the mark where he accumulated more fWAR (3.2) than during his amazing rookie campaign (3.1).
For many who reach an apex such as this the only place to go is down, but not for Reynolds. Since the All-Star Break, and only 30 games started later, he has added an extra 5 homers, his first three triples of the year, 7 more doubles and an additional 1.2 fWAR; which now has him sitting at 4th overall (4.4) in the National League behind Fernando Tatis, Jr. (4.9), Max Muncy (4.9) and Trea Turner (4.6). Still, some don’t see him as a superstar. He leads all NL Outfielder with an OAA of 8, is 7th in wRC+ (146), has an OPS of .920 (9th) and is 4th in hits with 132, but is not considered a superstar in spite of all of this and more.
For some it is as simple as the fact that he is on the lowly Pirates (43-79), where even a good player can look great; while others point to his 21 homers and his 72 RBI as not being enough to put him in the conversation. Never mind the fact that as a team, Pittsburgh has the lowest number of RBI (410) and the 4th worst overall average (.232) in all of MLB. If guys don’t get on base it’s pretty hard to knock them in.
However, to me it‘s even more straightforward as to why he avoids this label in some fans eyes. The first reason is because he is not in major market, which equals not as many eyes that see him play. The second is due to the manner in which he approaches the game both on and off the field, at least the part fans get to see. He does nothing flashy with no bat flips, is rarely caught smiling even after a big hit, and he conducts stoic interviews with little to say. Not that there is anything wrong with this, and in all actuality makes him the type of player I am drawn to more often as my favorites in the game.
So, maybe that’s why I find it easier to identify him as a superstar, even if some of you still don’t agree. All because he doesn’t fit a specific mold, play for a competitive team, or falls below your standards in certain statistical categories; which still makes me wonder why the first two matter and what the third one even means.
Maybe, this faction of the fanbase could enlighten me.