A few weeks ago, I wrote a plea for the Mets to resign Reyes. My premise was based not on any numbers, but on the emotional connection I felt towards the player (suck it, Jonah Lehrer). But, you know, it's a few weeks later and HOLY DICKEY ARE THOSE NUMBERS STILL RIDICULOUS! So I guess you can title this follow-up piece, "Why I Want the Mets to Resign Jose Reyes (because he has turned into Ty Cobb - the violent temper and possible game-fixing + THE CLAW)"
Through 80 games of the 2011 season, Jose Reyes has amassed 5.1 fWAR (all WAR stats from here on out will be fWAR). That leads all National League players and is a mere .2 less than Jose Bautista, who is having a Bondsian season for the Blue Jays. If advanced stats aren't your cup of tea, he is also on pace to break a ridiculous hodge podge of team records. As that baseball-reference post points out, Reyes is basically having one of the greatest deadball era seasons of all time. But as we approach the halfway point of the season, the question is, can he keep it up?
The B-Ref blog also points out that Reyes does not have much of a split between first and second half performance. Of course, he has never had a first half quite like this. Reyes' BABIP is nearly sixty points above his career average, and he has done that while actually hitting slightly fewer line drives than normal. However, he has made the most of them, putting up a 2.127 OPS on line drives. Now, line drives are obviously the most successful of batted balls, but Reyes has still been about 50 percent better (sOPS+) than the average hitter on line drives this year. This confirms what I would anecdotally argue I have seen, that Reyes' line drives have been particularly line drivey this year, so to speak. I wish I had access to Inside Edge data to confirm this, as they track and grade all batted balls in a more granular way. Reyes has also been more successful than the rest of the league on groundballs. Now you would expect him to do better on grounders, due to his speed, but he is still well out-performing even his own career averages on grounders, and doing it without appreciably more infield hits. So that success looks more luck driven than leg driven.
This is all to say that it is unlikely he maintains his BABIP over the rest of the season. Now it's certainly not impossible. In fact, one of the most common ways to have a career year is to get a little BABIP luck. Joe Mauer's 2009 MVP season, for example, was fueled by a .373 BABIP. Mike Piazza had a three year run with a BABIP over .350 (his career average was .314). And even Ted Williams legendary .406 came with a BABIP 50 points higher than his career norm. So while Reyes likely hasn't turned into Ty Cobb, we do know he's capable of looking like Ty Cobb for 80 games.
There are also a few elements in his batted ball record that suggest this performance is somewhat sustainable, or at least less likely to regress all the way back to his 06-08 numbers. He has a career low HR/FB rate this year of (2.5%). He was at 5.6% last year, and is hitting almost exactly the same amount of flyballs, so he should see a few extra home runs in the 2nd half. He has also become a very good two strike hitter this year, which has translated to a career low K%. Strikeout rates stabilize fairly quickly (at 150 PA), so this is more likely to be an actual change in skillset than, say, his higher batting average on groundballs. This is not to say he will continue to post an OPS 98% better than the rest of the league with two strikes, but less Ks means more balls in play, which means a better chance of sustaining his high batting average. Just slightly less damaging to batting average than strikeouts are infield flies, and Reyes is posting his lowest infield fly rate since 2005. These tend to fluctuate enough that he could certainly post a full season IFFB% around his current rate.
All my discussion around sustaining a high batting average is due to the fact that Reyes isn't walking anymore, so is he is going to be reliant on a high batting average to fuel his other slash stats. But I also expect some more walks as the season goes on, as he is seeing basically the same number of pitchers per plate appearance as from 06-08. At the risk of a bit of armchair psychology, this might just be a case of Reyes thinking, 'why walk when I can hit a line drive into the gap every time up?' You can also expect to see more IBB (he's already on pace for a career high), especially if Terry Collins keeps Justin Turner in the 2 hole.
While I think at least some of Reyes' performance is sustainable, it is foolhardy to project any player for 5 wins over half a season. Hot streaks end and regression is a cruel mistress. One of the reasons Reyes has closed the gap on Jose Bautista is because over the last six weeks Mr. Bats has gone from looking like large forehead Bonds to normal forehead Bonds. So what can we reasonably expect the 2011 Jose Reyes season to look like? Fangraphs uses ZIPS as their projection system for the rest of the season, and it updates daily. Let's take a look at what it says for Reyes: A .306/.353/.470 triple slash, which translates to a .367 wOBA. As a reference, that wOBA is identical to his 2006 wOBA. In the projection, his BABIP regresses to a more reasonable .325. He also hits a few more home runs, strikes out a bit more, walks a bit more. The projection seems reasonable. So Reyes' end of season WAR could look something like this.
38.8 batting + 4 baserunning + 5 defense (UZR/150) + 24 replacement level + 7 positional adjustment = 78.8 RAR or ~8.5 WAR.
So how would that rate among the best Mets seasons of all time?
|Doc Gooden||1985||9.0 WAR|
|David Wright||2007||8.9 WAR|
|Doc Gooden||1984||8.6 WAR|
|John Olerud||1998||8.4 WAR|
|Tom Seaver||1975||8.0 WAR|
Seaver's 1971 and 1968 seasons would also probably make this list, but Fangraphs doesn't have pitcher WAR for anything before 1974. The 1971 season is likely #1 all time, as Seaver tossed 286.1 innings with a ridiculous 1.93 FIP. For comparison's sake, Ron Guidry's 1978 season featured an identical FIP- of 59 in about a dozen fewer innings. That was good for 9.2 WAR. Even that would be in play with a little continued BABIP luck or a hot run with the glove in the 2nd half. It looks like, barring injury or (sigh) trade, Jose Reyes' 2011 season will be one of the greatest seasons in Mets history.