Nearly every advanced metric will paint Victor Reyes as an objectively terrible player in 2018. The eye test screamed that he was outclassed by almost every pitcher he faced and numbers hardly paint a prettier picture. When the Tigers snatched him up from the Diamondbacks’ system, he was advertised as an adequate center fielder. Even average defense was a real selling point, considering the butchery we expected from Nicholas Castellanos in right. What he provided defensively just scraped average.
In other words, it takes some real squinting to see his 2018 season as worthwhile. The first thing that generally comes under the scrutiny of that squinting is context.
Reyes, as a Rule-5 draft pick, and an obvious reach at that, didn’t have many expectations coming into the season. The fact that he was even able to tread water on a major league roster for a whole season is somewhat impressive. Of course, that had more to do with the Tigers ability to absorb bad play to stash him on the roster in hopes of brighter days in the years ahead. He was never considered legitimately ready for the show. The jump from High-A to Double-A is the most infamous one, but it isn’t the hardest a prospect has to make in his career. That honor goes to a player’s first stint in the majors.
You see, there’s no equivalent to Christian Yelich or Jacob DeGrom in the minor leagues. Any player that much better than the league is promoted to the next level. In the majors, there is nowhere left to go, and players are allowed to squash lesser players who have the misfortune to face them on a daily basis. For 100 games, Victor Reyes was that guy getting squashed. He didn’t stand a chance.
With this in mind, the purpose of a review isn’t to discuss just how unprepared for the major leagues the outfielder really was. Far more useful is an examination of the little things he did well that may point to future success.
One big stat: 9 percent wRC+ increase in second half
In an article published here on Bless You Boys in July, we suggested that Reyes manage his batted balls to minimize fly balls. In an era of baseball that is seeing players focus more and more on increasing launch angle to overcome the shift, this seems like irresponsible defiance of modern wisdom for the sake of being contrarian. Line drives are somewhat falling out of favor.
However, a player like Reyes who has little power stands to gain very little from hitting a lot of fly balls. They will become outs at a higher rate than any other batted ball. That’s fine for players who are able to muscle them over the fence. Reyes, on the other hand, hit only one home run all season, and he batted a mere .106 on fly balls. Most of his hard contact was on the ground. Moreover, he was playing the best baseball of his life when that article was written. What was fueling that outburst? You guessed it: line drives.
Because baseball is annoying, Reyes did exactly the opposite. Fly balls comprised a huge percentage of his second-half batted ball results, and his line drive rate plummeted. Because baseball is weird, it worked, despite no real change in his exit velocities off the bat.
As expected, his batting average on balls in play took a hit. Falling from .288 to .269 is a step in the wrong direction, to be sure. His surface numbers perked up a little, including the appearance of a few walks here and there. It also led to his first home run. It looked almost like an accident, but it was a home run nonetheless.
While the results were often lacking, he showed decent bat-to-ball skills over the course of the season. His plate discipline numbers weren’t pretty — he swung at roughly 16 percent more pitches out of the zone than your league average player. Despite that, he was able to put wood on the ball in nearly 77 percent of those instances. He also made contact at a nearly identical rate as the league on pitches inside the zone. There’s still plenty of work to be done on pitch selection, but if he can polish that skill up, his ability to make contact will be far more useful.
Finally, he cut down on strikeouts. Before the All-Star Break, he was whiffing at a 22.9 percent rate. That number fell to 19.5 percent after the break. While that calculates out to less than one strikeout per twenty at-bats, it’s still a step in the right direction. With a player as over-matched as Reyes, you sometimes have to search to see the silver linings.
In the end, that’s the thing. Reyes was truly abysmal in 2018. He didn’t contribute anything of value to the offense. His 2.2 UZR isn’t terrible, but it won’t even approach something resembling “floating the profile.” He’ll spend most — if not all — of the 2019 season in the minors working on the flaws MLB action exposed. With his addition to the system, though, the Tigers have an extra depth piece and a legitimate 4th outfield prospect.
Victor Reyes wasn’t ready for the MLB in 2018, but his opportunities to figure it out are far from over.
What grade would you give Victor Reyes’ performance in 2018?
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