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The Curious Case of Jose Reyes

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Back on April 30, Jose Reyes was hitting .356/.442/.596. He was ninth in all of baseball in OBP and tenth in SLG, and everyone was touting this as the year he became a superstar. Four-and-a-half months later that appears not to be the case. Though his season batting line -- .292/.363/.434 -- is far from horrible, most of us probably expected more out of him. Those expectations were unfairly inflated by his absurd April, but even coming off of a .300/.354/.487 line in 2006 I don't think it was unreasonable to think he would at least improve upon his output from a year ago. It hasn't happened.

I think Reyes *could* be the player we saw for the first month of the season, but counting on it will probably just lead to more frustration all around. He really seemed to have figured things out: He was drawing lots of walks, hitting for average, hitting for power. His biggest problem this season has been consistency, though.

Split H/PA UBB/PA 2B+3B/PA HR/PA BA OBP SLG OPS BABIP
April/Mar. 30.8% 10.8% 11.7% 1.7% 0.356 0.442 0.596 1.038 0.385
May 23.8% 10.3% 5.6% 0.0% 0.268 0.349 0.348 0.697 0.323
June 28.5% 6.5% 2.4% 1.6% 0.330 0.405 0.425 0.829 0.363
July 24.6% 6.3% 8.7% 2.4% 0.265 0.317 0.453 0.770 0.267
August 24.5% 7.9% 3.6% 2.2% 0.272 0.341 0.392 0.733 0.277
Sept./Oct. 22.2% 2.2% 8.9% 0.0% 0.238 0.273 0.357 0.630 0.278

These are all percentages of total plate appearances. H is hits, UBB is unintentional walks (total walks minus intentional walks), 2B+3B and HR are self-explanatory. I don't like to give batters credit in the plate discipline department for intentional walks so I have removed them from the equation here. I lump doubles and triples together because triples are generally a byproduct of speed (or placement of hits), and though triples count more than doubles towards a player's slugging percentage they are really equivalent hits in terms of required power.

It's easy to see why Reyes's April was so impressive: His walk rate was very strong and his 2B+3B rate was outstanding. He *did* benefit from an extraordinarily high batting average on balls in play, a marker that has not-so-surprisingly correlated well with his overall success from month-to-month.

When May rolled around Reyes stopped hitting. His BABIP was still pretty high but his hit rate fell off a cliff and along with it went his extra-base hit rates. Interestingly, his walk rate declined only marginally, perhaps indicating that Reyes's approach at the plate had evolved to the point where he could maintain a respectable on-base percentage even when his bat went cold. Unfortunately, that seems to have been wishful thinking as Reyes's walk rate took a nose dive in June and has remained well below his April-May rate ever since.

His BABIP has been below average the past three months, so I would be inclined to chalk some of that up to bad luck if I hadn't actually been watching him everyday. I'm going a bit on memory here because I don't have access to batted ball splits, but Reyes has been hitting a lot of pop-ups over the past couple of months and I wouldn't be surprised if that has some natural effect on his BABIP. Pop flies are converted into outs something like 99% of the time, putting them right on par with strikeouts in the race for "Least Productive Out". I'm not about to sign up for the Buster Olney Productive Out Topiary Society, but groundballs and flyballs do often score runs; strikeouts and pop-ups almost never do.

So what conclusions can we draw from this? I think clearly Reyes isn't the player we saw in April. But is he the player we've seen since? A .279/.346/.400 hitter? I hope not. If not, I don't really know how to explain why he has been so inconsistent this year. It's easy to forget that he's still just 24 and still has three years or so before reaching the onset of his baseball "prime". He has shown some signs of life the last few games, and we can only hope that he picks things up over the final two-plus weeks of the season and into the post-season.