Baseball

Pirates Spotlight: The Lone Bright Spot?

Comparing hellish years for the Pirates is probably folly. Is this worse than winning 98 games and getting half of a playoff game? Or every season that’s come after it? Still, this one has particular sting, because not only have the Pirates been bad–last place in the division–but they’ve been startlingly unpleasant. Constant fights with other teams and themselves, capping off with leading, raging prick Kyle Crick (we’re a poet and don’t even know it) sending himself to the IL for the rest of the season in a fight with closer Felipe Vasquez. It’s one thing to be bad, it’s one thing to be no fun, but it’s another to be the former while trying to shard to be the latter. Penguins training camp can’t come soon enough.

Amongst the flood of horseshit baseball and horeshit people and horseshit tactics, there has been something of a bright spot. Bryan Reynolds led the NL in batting average for a long stretch, and has put up a pretty impressive season in left for his rookie campaign in The Confluence. He’s fallen off Anthony Rendon’s pace a bit, but has still managed a .326 average and a 137 wRC+ for a 3.2-WAR season so far. That’s something, right? It might ever so slightly soften the blow that he and the human thumbtack in the skin Crick were the return for team hero Andrew McCutcheon, no? Well, maybe not.

Reynolds has been good, but he’s probably been lucky too, and what that will translate to in the future is a hard guess. Reynolds has benefitted from a .404 BABIP on the season, which is absurd. It’s the highest mark of any qualified hitter in the majors, besting out Tim Anderson by nine points. And Reynolds doesn’t come with high-end speed that leads to beating out a lot of grounders that boosts a BABIP.

Reynolds carried a higher-than-average BABIP in the minors, so having a high number can be expected. In fact, he never had one below .376. Still, .404 is basically rude. Reynolds gets there by hitting the ball hard, but he doesn’t hit it as hard as most of the dominant hitters in the league. His 44.4% hard-contact rate is not even in the top-30 in baseball. His 23.8% line-drive rate is 29th. That’s good, but hardly dominant.

As you might expect, Reynolds can crush a fastball, which is how kids usually come up through the minors and arrive. He’s hitting .421 on them with a .726 slugging. Which makes you wonder why anyone’s throwing him fastballs at all at the moment, as he doesn’t have a .300 average on any other pitch and has been utterly helpless against sliders and change-ups, whiffing on over 40% of his swings against them. They’ll get there soon enough, y’think.

Going forward, Reynolds will probably have to add power to his game or the Pirates will have to find it in rarer spots. A left-fielder who only hits line drives puts a team behind the eight-ball a bit. He hasn’t been particularly good in left field either, and the Bucs might want to consider flipping him to right, which in PNC is the easier field to play. Would the Pirates ever swap their corner outfielders based on home or road? It’s the kind of outside-the-box thinking they used to specialize in, and then watched the rest of baseball catch them and pass them by.

This is what Pirates fans have to hang on to, which lets you know just about how bleak it’s been.

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