When news broke Sunday night that the Cleveland Indians had signed Mark Reynolds, there were two general categories into which Tribe fans’ reactions fell. The first camp (with whom I agree) liked the deal. While he’s an underwhelming first signing after the Shane Victorino and Nick Swisher rumors we heard during the Winter Meetings, Reynolds fills the Indians’ hole at first base while providing some sorely needed power from the right side for the reasonable price of one year and $6 million—not bad for Cleveland’s first big move of the winter.
But there was another group who held a more skeptical view. At the risk of oversimplifying the other side’s argument, the biggest objection I saw raised by those who opposed the Reynolds signing can be summed up in one word: strikeouts.
Yes, Mark Reynolds strikes out a lot. And I mean a lot. In 2008, he set a new MLB single-season record by seeing strike three 204 times. He then broke his own record a year later, fanning 223 times in 2009—it’s been only three years, but so far he still has the honor of having struck out more times in a single season than anyone else in MLB history. Since he first broke into The Show in 2007, he’s led the majors with 1,122 strikeouts and no one with at least 1,600 plate appearances has topped his 32.6% strikeout rate. There’s no way to deny that he gets punched out a ton.
But despite what conventional wisdom might tell you, strikeouts aren’t that bad—they’re only very slightly more damaging than batted ball outs, and some of the best hitters in the game see strike three quite often. Your 2012 MLB strikeout leaders were Adam Dunn and Curtis Granderson, both considered very good hitters; looking at K%, it’s Dunn and Pedro Alvarez, who started to come into his own this year. Heck, look at Jim Thome. He struck out almost 200 times in 2001, and no one ever questioned his ability to play first base in his heyday.
Just looking at Reynolds’ résumé shows that his strikeouts are not a fatal flaw because they come with walks (his BB% rounded to 14% in two of his last three seasons) and power (he’s averaged 34 home runs per 162 games). Striking out by definition means losing an opportunity to reach base, but Reynolds’ Carlos Santana-like ability to walk helped him to a .335 on-base percentage last year—the same as Jason Kipnis‘—and his OBP has never fallen below .320.
According to wRC+, a linear weights-based statistic that puts all batters on a scale based on runs created, Reynolds has been 9% better than the average MLB hitter in his career despite striking out in almost a third of his plate appearances. So while it will be incredibly frustrating to see him get fanned at least once a game in 2013, it won’t mean he’s a bad hitter.
Strikeouts will always hamper Reynolds’ value—a player with his power would command a lot more than $6 million if he didn’t have some major flaw—but don’t be fooled by the panic about his tendency to swing and miss. So long as he keeps up the other two of the “three true outcomes” (walks and home runs) he’ll be a terrific addition to the Tribe’s lineup.