In a recent post, Brian Heise made the point that the Indians have to live with the Mark Reynolds who is currently striking out in half of has at bats in order to reap the benefits of another hot streak like he had in April and is generally able to produce several times each season.
As it happened, I was in the process of reading that post in the fifth inning of a recent game against the Royals. Carlos Santana led off the fifth inning with a double in a scoreless game, bringing Reynolds to the plate. This was a situation that screamed for any kind of contact. In the worst case scenario, a ground ball or a deep fly would have likely put Santana at third with one out, where the next hitter would have had an excellent chance to drive him in. But Reynolds swung at a 3-1 pitch as though he was trying to hit the ball to Toledo, then got fooled on 3-2 and struck out.
The Indians never scored, which became relevant when the royals threatened next inning. For a while it looked like the best opportunity of the night had been squandered because Reynolds was incapable of making contact. Fortunately, he got an opportunity to redeem himself in the seventh. With two on and nobody out, he dropped a perfect bunt single to load the bases. Michael Bourn followed with a two run pinch hit single that turned a nail biter into a 3-0 lead.
Now, I know Reynolds is a power hitter, and he doesn’t get paid to bunt, but that was a perfect example of the fact that there are times when you just have to change your approach.
My dad was an excellent golfer who could drive the ball 300+ yards back in the days when woods were made of wood. But he was helpless on par threes because “grip it and rip it” was the only way he could play. It’s the same with batting. There are situations where you just have to shorten up and make contact any way you can. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do because it will help your team win, and sometimes a blooper to right is the best you can do in an at bat, so you should take it and be happy about it. It helps to work the count, which Reynolds was doing somewhat in April but has completely abandoned lately. If you get ahead 2-0, you know the pitcher will be doing his best to throw a strike and you might just get a fat pitch. That’s a perfect time to “grip it and rip it.” But if you swing and miss at the first pitch, the pitcher can work the corners, and you almost have to go the other way in order to have any success at all, unless you are Ted Williams.
You may say that Reynolds’ approach works pretty well for him, so why should he change? Actually, it hasn’t been working all that well lately. At the end of July last year Reynolds’ OPS was .674. He rescued his stats in August and September, but his overall season did not leave enough of an impression to get him a multiyear contract or big money. His OPS for this year is again under .700, which is amazing considering where it was a couple of months ago. .700 is OK if you are a Gold Glove shortstop, steal bases, or have any other way of contributing to the team.
Reynolds is a below-replacement fielder at third and average at first. He ran a lot early in his career, but no longer does. At one point it looked like Reynolds’ career would mirror Adam Dunn’s but he no longer appears to be a 35-40 home run kind of guy, and he doesn’t walk as much as Dunn. So while Dunn is on a four-year deal worth over fifty million, Reynolds will be lucky to get another one-year deal for the same money he got this year.
So Reynolds is looking at being a free agent again at the end of this year, which should motivate him to rethink his approach. Unfortunately, he may not get the opportunity in Cleveland. At some point giving at bats to Reynolds at the expense of Yan Gomes (.770 OPS) and Ryan Raburn (.908 OPS) seems foolish. Lonnie Chisenhall’s emergence at third closes off another option for playing Reynolds, although he will probably play there against some left-handers. Unless he shows some improvement in the near future, Reynolds may find himself grasping for playing time down the stretch, with limited opportunities to post the kind of numbers he will need in order to draw offers this offseason.