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Franmil Reyes is no myth

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The big man is hitting the ball like a madman; it may not be all sample size mysticism

MLB: Cleveland Indians at St. Louis Cardinals Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

Franmil Reyes’ performance so far this year is nothing short of spectacular. This is quite literally everything that Cleveland fans and front office types were hoping for, as the big slugger is posting a 141 wRC+, walking a career high 9%of the time, and even cutting down a bit on his strikeout rate. It’s wonderful to have this force of nature in the midst of the lineup, a sort of player that was missing for most of last year, and even beyond.

There’s also the worry that a bit of it might be fools’ gold. With so much noise and small sample sort of stuff going on in the game with just 60 games to play, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. Hot streaks will stand out starkly as a couple game long slump, and one has to wonder if that’s the case with Franmil Reyes. One thing we can point to as some sort of truth is, what is his BABIP? It’s not perfect, but BABIP does give us a sense of how lucky a player has been. Right now, the league average BABIP is .292, right around where we’ve seen it in past years. Reyes’ own BABIP sits at .398.

Evidently, there’s something to be said for being lucky over being good, but if there’s one thing that separates Reyes from the average hitter, it’s that he’s gigantic. Well, more what that leads to — his uncommon ability to absolutely club a baseball. That might have some sway over how sustainable his current output is in the long term. It’s his biggest, most obvious and attractive attribute, so hopefully it works.

When he came to the Indians a year ago, he was in the 98th percentile in exit velocity, tracking at 93.3 mph. This year he’s still up there in the 94th percentile at 92.8 mph on average. This is great for lots of reasons. It’s harder to react to a harder hit ball, and that helps hitters. I got to wondering what that does for BABIP. Not every player is going to have an “average” BABIP. Some will be lower because they hit dinkers, some who blast lasers might trend higher. I decided to look. Here’s the top 20 hitters in exit velo over the last five years, along with their BABIP:

Top exit velo hitters w/ BABIP

Name BABIP Exit Velo (MPH) wRC+
Name BABIP Exit Velo (MPH) wRC+
Aaron Judge .353 95.0 153
Joey Gallo .272 93.6 113
Nelson Cruz .323 93.5 152
Giancarlo Stanton .308 93.4 140
Miguel Sano .344 93.0 122
David Ortiz .289 93.0 151
Franmil Reyes .319 92.9 120
Matt Olson .275 92.9 127
Matt Chapman .300 92.5 126
Miguel Cabrera .334 92.4 125
Pedro Alvarez .274 92.2 111
Christian Yelich .353 92.2 141
Josh Donaldson .300 92.1 146
Ryan Zimmerman .288 92.0 106
Kendrys Morales .284 92.0 108
Kyle Schwarber .272 91.8 115
Mark Trumbo .290 91.7 104
Rafael Devers .321 91.6 114
Juan Soto .324 91.5 149
J.D. Martinez .348 91.5 147

So it’s not clear and obvious, but there’s some kind of trend that shows that the harder you hit the ball, the better your BABIP, the better your offensive output. Most of these 20 hitters are somewhere between a bit higher and astronomically further from the league average. This is one of those things that seems kind of intuitive, but it helps to see it, too. That got me to thinking about the quality and direction of the typical batted ball from these guys. Reyes, in a perfect world, is hitting the ball very hard, in the air, and towards right-center.

Check out his spray chart to understand where his biggest power comes from:

That's everything he’s hit 95 mph or more. For a right-handed hitter, that power alley in right-center is the money zone, especially for him. In addition, we want the ball high, to get it over the infield. The league average is 11.9-degree positive launch angle. So here’s a chart that shows the same thing as before, but including pull rates so we can figure out how often they can be shifted on, or if the defense needs to stay honest.

Hardest hitters w/ BABIP and ball direction

Name BABIP Exit Velo (MPH) wRC+ Pull% Launch Angle (degrees)
Name BABIP Exit Velo (MPH) wRC+ Pull% Launch Angle (degrees)
Aaron Judge .353 95.0 153 41.4% 14.0
Joey Gallo .272 93.6 113 49.4% 22.4
Nelson Cruz .323 93.5 152 40.4% 11.5
Giancarlo Stanton .308 93.4 140 42.7% 12.4
Miguel Sano .344 93.0 122 45.3% 15.3
David Ortiz .289 93.0 151 46.2% 16.2
Franmil Reyes .319 92.9 120 37.3% 8.9
Matt Olson .275 92.9 127 47.2% 18.5
Matt Chapman .300 92.5 126 40.9% 17.1
Miguel Cabrera .334 92.4 125 35.4% 11.9
Pedro Alvarez .274 92.2 111 45.3% 10.1
Christian Yelich .353 92.2 141 35.3% 4.9
Josh Donaldson .300 92.1 146 45.5% 12.7
Ryan Zimmerman .288 92.0 106 35.1% 8.5
Kendrys Morales .284 92.0 108 39.6% 10.2
Kyle Schwarber .272 91.8 115 43.5% 14.9
Mark Trumbo .290 91.7 104 38.4% 13.0
Rafael Devers .321 91.6 114 38.7% 10.6
Juan Soto .324 91.5 149 37.1% 9.4
J.D. Martinez .348 91.5 147 39.6% 13.6

There’s not a lot of obvious information to pull from this, though it’s nice to see Reyes not pulling the ball on a Joey Gallo level, it’s just that, perhaps because he’s gotten beaten a lot the last few years into hitting grounders, the launch angle is a bit low. This year he’s pushed it to 10.9 degrees, which is a good sign. Despite the advent of “FranWheels Reyes”, we’re not here to see him beat out infield singles.

The goal was to see if there was anything to suggest that Reyes might have less regression looming with that .400 BABIP than one might think. And, based on his hitting the ball very, very hard, and his tendency to go opposite field when he’s going well, that could be something to hope for. His career number is .319, and that’s dragged down by the .279 mark he posted last year, so he’s probably somewhere in that middle ground between there and here. It could happen that he trends higher After all, players like Tim Anderson have had a BABIP over .400 spanning two seasons at this point, and he’s not hitting like Ichiro out there. He’s hitting it all over the park, too, and not nearly as hard.

Reyes is likely to regress. Even if he’s going to be a high BABIP guy, .400 is a little much to ask. This is one of those things we talked about coming into the season — this is the type of year that if someone posted a .400 batting average or a .500 on-base rate we’d only be pretty surprised. Reyes is young and we don’t have a firm sense of him hitting in a non dead zone that is the NL West for more than a few dozen games. He’s going to have ebbs and flows, but he’s going to make his own luck, too, if only because even if it’s a hot grounder, 100 miles an hour is pretty damn fast. With his walk rate edging ever further north, there’s more and more reason to believe that what we’re seeing is no ruse.