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An optimistic look at Franmil Reyes

The big man can hit; he’s gonna do it good this year

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

We’re all excited for Franmil Reyes this year. It’s obvious why that is, we aren’t idiots. It’s this:

Only a rube, a hayseed, wouldn’t see this and think that the future is bright. That dinger shows the kind of power we haven’t seen with any regularity since maybe the first year of Edwin Encarnación, but honestly I feel like you have to hearken back to the country gravy strength of a young Jim Thome to really capture what Reyes brings to the table when he really runs into one. This is fun, the kind of thing we always want around in Cleveland.

His overall numbers in 2019 were solid, a building block for something wonderful. He posted a combined 109 wRC+ between San Diego and Cleveland while blasting 37 homers, and while the strikeout rate approaching 30% isn’t exactly a selling point, we don’t care about strikeouts as much anymore, right?

The hope is that what he did last year is merely a starting point. That we just saw his first full season where he learned the game as a full-time player and had to deal with those adjustments to his incredible accidental power, had to go through a move across the country and into a whole new league with a new batch of pitchers to learn, and learned what he had to do to succeed for the future. If he did what he did in 2019 again, that’d be wonderful, a nice positive dose to the Cleveland offense. If he could do what he did specifically in San Diego with the 116 wRC+ and the HR/FB ratio over 33%, that’s just golden. The real hope is that he just gets better than any of that.

Again, Reyes really likes to strike out. He’s a typical hitter for this age, as apt to vaporize a baseball as he is to miss completely. In 2019, though, he showed a decided eagerness to try to hit compared to his first stint in 2018. In every sense — in the zone and out, at pitches he could hit and couldn’t — he swung the bat more and more. It’s not good of course, but he does do the most damage when he’s actually doing that, what with the walk rate and muscles and all.

What if we could do something about that walk rate though? Not we really, but specifically Reyes. He’s had something like 700 or so plate appearances at this point, he has to be getting used to what pitchers are doing to him. He could just give into it like so many before him have, but it’d be nice to dream that he would make a change. Reyes likes to strike out. It happens. Sometimes you miss a pitch, or chase something unhittable. He did a little bit of both:

About the only place he didn’t miss was those middle-in pitches, but other than that he was pretty equal opportunity. Again, it happens. The hope is that those pitches that he can’t hit, the ones that are simply silly to swing at, maybe he stops swinging at them quite so much. So here’s all the really unhittable-ish pitches he whiffed on in 2019:

This is a region of the plate that he went 2-for-57 on when he did make contact. These just aren’t pitches he should really be going after, especially those really down-and-away ones. Reyes is really, really strong, so even pitches on the edges, and sometimes out of the zone, he can absolutely demolish them. That GIF up top, that pitch isn’t in the zone. You can understand why Reyes goes after them — he thinks he can blast anything, any time, anywhere. We don’t want to temper that feeling, just maybe refine it a bit.

We want him to swing the bat — it’s how he stirs the drink. Just not when it’s really not hittable. Those telephone pole arms have the range, but doing damage is the goal. Reyes needs to create situations that give him a chance to do that damage. So maybe if he didn’t swing at pitches out of the zone, when he’s already ahead of the count, wouldn’t that be good? You know, these pitches?

It’s a smaller subset of that last chart, the same pitches basically, but situationally a bit more patience would lend itself to Reyes being in the position he wants to be in, where the pitcher does have to put one in the zone, or nearby, letting the big man hammer it.

In raw numbers, ones I admittedly dreamed up, the numbers look like this. He had a .310 OBP in 2019, how can we get that to, say, .350? First, the hope is that in his second full year he’s simply better at hitting major league pitching, and gets a full 600 plate appearances. The way he does that, he goes from 123 hits to 150 total hits (in an extra 52 plate appearances) and another 13 walks. Swap in a couple hit-by-pitches for hits or walks or balance the hits and walks a bit to make it make sense and getting to 210 total times on base, in 600 plate appearances, suddenly he’s at .350. That’s an OPS over .850, which places him right around Francisco Lindor in 2019, even ignoring any increase in his slugging percentage. That’s what the team needs.

Look, this isn’t easy. A guy doesn’t just up his walk rate by two or three points by accident, but it’s not hard to dream about a 24-year-old hitter getting more in tune with the pitching he’s facing. Whether refining his approach, learning what they’re doing to try to get him out, getting even stronger so bloops turn into lasers, it’s the growth you expect. It doesn’t seem unfair to expect that from Reyes. We want him to succeed, and him not swinging at pitches he can’t hit, taking more walks, and of course hitting more dingers, that’s what a good 2020 looks like for Reyes. It’s not for sure, but even optimism can be completely realistic.