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The Mets' Jose Reyes gamble is paying off

Reyes has performed well for the Mets, thanks in large part to his newfound power.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Jose Reyes experiment has worked out well for the Mets so far. In his 29 games since returning to New York, the infielder is hitting an impressive .281/.333/.488 (118 wRC+), with four home runs, seven doubles, three triples, 13 RBIs, 20 runs scored, six stolen bases, and 0.7 fWAR.

Reyes’s current production would put him on pace for one of his best seasons in the majors. Over 162 games, Reyes’s 2016 numbers translate to 22 homers, 39 doubles, 17 triples, 73 RBIs, 112 runs scored, 34 steals, and 3.9 fWAR. His home run and doubles totals would both be career highs, and his wRC+ would be tied for the second-highest of his career.

The biggest source of Reyes’s value has been his power. Interestingly, this newfound power coincides with what could be a new approach at the plate: namely, one that involves keeping the ball off the ground. Reyes’s 44.0% fly ball rate is by far the highest of his career, while his 38.0% ground ball rate is the lowest.

Another interesting development is that Reyes has basically become an all-or-nothing hitter. His 30.7% hard hit rate and 31.7% soft hit rates are both career highs, while his 37.6% medium hit rate is a career low. In other words, Reyes’s balls in play have either been hit very well or very poorly; there hasn’t been much of a middle ground.

Reyes’s plate discipline numbers also signify an all-or-nothing approach. While his 33.8% swing rate on pitches out of the zone is in line with what it’s been for the past two years, it is still significantly higher than his career norm. Conversely, his 57.3% swing rate on pitches in the zone is one of the lowest marks he’s ever posted.

This approach has taken a toll on Reyes’s contact numbers. The infielder’s contact rates on pitches in and out of the zone—86.5% and 72.0%, respectively—are both several points lower than his career norms. As a result, his overall contact rate of 80.8% is more than six points worse than his career average.

It’s hard to know whether Reyes consciously changed his approach, but these trends suggest that he has. On possibility is that Reyes is becoming more of a guess hitter. This would explain why he’s swinging at more balls and taking more strikes, why his contact rate is way down, and why his swinging strike rate—8.6%—is the highest it’s ever been.

It could also explain his outcomes on balls in play. Perhaps Reyes is sitting on certain pitches and waiting to put hard uppercut swings on them. When he’s gotten those pitches, he’s driven them well. When he hasn’t, he’s been fooled badly.

The question is, if this is indeed the result of a new approach, whether that approach is sustainable. Right now, Reyes is doing serious damage on balls he puts in the air. If that continues, he can make up for his relatively low contact rate.

If, however, some of those balls start getting caught, Reyes could be in some trouble. He is no longer the kind of player who bunts for hits or beats out infield singles very often—and he’s never had a high walk rate. As a result, Reyes is now relying on extra-base power to provide much of his value.

Something else to keep an eye on are Reyes’s platoon splits. Against lefties, Reyes is mashing to the tune of a .366/.447/.707 battling line (205 wRC+). Against righties, he is hitting just .238/.271/.375 (71 wRC+). The switch-hitter has always hit lefties better than righties, but this year’s splits are stark.

In all likelihood, Reyes’s numbers from the both sides of the plate will start to regress to their career norms. Still, if his overall power numbers continue at their current rate, Reyes could be a dangerous offensive weapon and a worthwhile gamble for the Mets to have made.