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Aggression is key for a Franmil Reyes turnaround

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The big man has been too passive this year, considering his track record

Cleveland Indians v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

I cannot help but love Franmil Reyes. The perfect type of baseball player is not the flashy fielding shortstop or the 5-tool wonder center fielder, not the unhittable fireballer or even the 45-year old knucklerballer. No, I think every baseball fan, young and old, will always love the gigantic power hitter. The kind of guy that might just crack the moon one of these days with a home run. It’s what we all want on our team, what Cleveland fans constantly clamor for. They loved him in San Diego for his dingers, his attitude, and his flair, and I have every expectation that he’ll seize the collective heart of the baseball fandom in northern Ohio sooner or later. Heck, he already helped beat the Reds once. There’s so much potential in him. So far this season though — and Tuesday notwithstanding — he’s just driving me nuts.

The whole offense is in the pits right now; Chris Davies wrote about it yesterday. Basically we have José Ramírez hitting, the two Santanas getting on base, and César Hernández doing a decent job at the top. And that feels like overselling everything. Before Reyes’ home run, a couple runs scoring on a wild pitch and a walk were considered a rally.

Reyes is batting fifth though, and is supposed to be this massive, right-handed threat that helps anchor the offense. Instead he’s been generally terrible, with a sub-500 OPS and two extra-base hits. What’s so frustrating, for a guy who was never known to walk a lot (career .315 on-base percentage and an 8.3% walk rate) he’s been just passive. He seems to have no feel for what’s going on, and is being completely in his own head. I found three pitches that fully sum up what I’m talking about. It’s not just the pitch itself, it’s the whole situation.

We’ll start with this one, which is as much a demonstration of Reyes’ issues as it is an indictment of Cleveland’s entire approach this year, and maybe last. It’s a 3-2 changeup against Lucas Giolito from last week:

It’s not a massive moment, sure. Like the rest of the team, Reyes didn’t know at the time that Giolito was going to throw 40 changeups out of 85 total pitches in that outing. It’s a really good pitch, too, and a favorable call. Still, if you’re looking fastball, and you see a pitch that ostensibly looks like one, why are you taking? I’d almost rather he swing. Beyond that, it’s a 3-2 count, wouldn’t anything close be something you have to swing it? It’s not a horrible thing, and Giolito’s zone did look like this -

It was just a small thing, and a hint of things to come.

The next came in Monday night’s Ohio Cup opener. Reds pitcher Sonny Gray was dealing, and sat 1-2 to Reyes. Surely we’d see the curve he’s thrown 26.8% of the time this year, his second most used pitch. Guess what?

That is a sinker down the middle. Up, and down the middle. The Indians had the lead at the time, and Gray was really getting into a groove. It would’ve been nice to see a guy, maybe a huge mountain of a man, club a baseball into the Ohio River. Or at least swing, god damn.

So that was a bit frustrating, but again, not a massive moment. The Indians even had the lead. Maybe he was expecting a breaking pitch, that curve I mentioned before. It’s not the end of the world. He’s going to strike out a lot, it’s part of his profile, and a little patience is something we’d all like out of him. If he can boost his walk rate up towards 10%, suddenly he’s something approaching elite. There was another pitch that game though, the third in our trio here, that just … I don’t know what’s going on here, when he’s 3-2 against Rasiel Iglesias in the top of the 9th. down one:

This is their last chance. The Indians need baserunners, sure, but they need a run at the end of the day. There’s literally nobody in the lineup, in that entire dugout, with more potential to park one on that riverboat than Reyes. Like, when he came over from the Padres, the dingers were the thing. The fact that he was in the top 2% in exit velo last year, that’s what move the needle. On top of that, Iglesias, has allowed three earned runs in 4.1 innings this year, after a rocky 2019. It’s not like he’s unhittable right now. For a player, and team, that’s been baffled by everything that isn’t a fastball all year, this one stung.

There are other takes that have bothered me, but these are just the ones that were so out of character for a guy who’s supposed to be the big swing-and-miss guy. Which is part of the problem — the pitches he’s whiffed on are just brutal to look at:

It’s not just the diving sliders, or the grooved fastballs, it’s those two at his head. What is going on with those? We all know that this year is going to be weird, and not having six months to talk about growth and evolution and the settling down of players means that these little things matter.

There was a potential turning of the corner last night, when Reyes found himself in a familiar position: late in the game, the Indians desperate for a run. He again worked a long count off reliever Nate Jones and saw another fastball come down the middle of the plate — the same type of pitch that has bizarrely tripped him up so many times this season.

What did he do with it this time?

Reyes credited his teammates for helping him keep his head up through this slow start, and maybe there’s something to that. It’s clear that whatever is going on with Reyes — just not being comfortable, having no time to adjust to a league that’s adjusted to him, who knows — is a real problem at the plate right now. His one swing changed the game, and it could be the boost in confidence he needed to get his season going.

If he can remember who he is and what he can do, success — and mammoth home runs — are sure to follow.