Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes starting to settle in

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CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 24: Franmil Reyes #32 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after hitting a three run home run off starting pitcher Glenn Sparkman #57 of the Kansas City Royals during the third inning at Progressive Field on August 24, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. Teams are wearing special color schemed uniforms with players choosing nicknames to display for Players' Weekend. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 24: Franmil Reyes #32 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after hitting a three run home run off starting pitcher Glenn Sparkman #57 of the Kansas City Royals during the third inning at Progressive Field on August 24, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. Teams are wearing special color schemed uniforms with players choosing nicknames to display for Players' Weekend. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images) /
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Franmil Reyes has begun to emerge as a force in the middle of the lineup for the Cleveland Indians. What has been the difference in his plate approach?

The Franmil Reyes era in Cleveland did not start out in ideal fashion. Over his first 39 plate appearances from August 1-11, he recorded just four hits and struck out 35.9% of the time.

FanGraphs tells us Reyes swung at 40% of pitches outside the strike zone in this span, which helped contribute not only to a 26.2% swinging strike rate, but also a 2.6% walk rate. He made contact on just 35.3% of such pitches. It was pretty clear that the book on him was to elevate fastballs above the zone, because he couldn’t lay off and he wasn’t patient enough to work counts or draw walks.

When a hitter is as deep inside his own head as Reyes appeared to be through his first few days as a Cleveland Indian, opposing pitchers almost don’t even need to throw a strike to get him out. Reyes owned just a 54.1% contact rate in his first 10 days with Cleveland.

Then he launched his first home run as a member of the Tribe on August 12, and things have started to look up for the towering designated hitter ever since. From August 12 through Sunday’s contest against the Royals, Reyes is slashing .244/.295/.634 with five home runs and a double across 44 plate appearances. He has also racked up eight runs scored and 11 runs batted in during this span.

Both time frames represent incredibly small sample sizes in the grand scheme of things, but the most recent results are encouraging enough to believe Reyes can keep it up with an improved plate approach.

Reyes is chasing 36.8% of pitches outside the zone since August 12–which is admittedly still not what you want, but is a step in the right direction from his earlier 40% mark. He’s making contact on 43.6% of these swings, which indicates that he is at least becoming more selective with which pitches he will chase.

His overall contact rate is up to 61.4%, while his swinging strike rate is down to 19.7%. He is regrettably striking out even more during this span than he was (36.4% strikeout rate) before, but he’s been rewarded for exercising more discipline with a 6.8% walk rate.

Again, neither of these samples are large enough to render a final verdict. And outside of the fact that he’s gotten better surface-level results of late, even his underlying numbers still aren’t conducive to consistent success.

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But to put things in perspective, Reyes is a young hitter who had spent the entirety of his early MLB days in the National League. He then came over to the AL, where he had obviously never seen a majority of the opposing pitchers.

Those pitchers quickly established a game plan of throwing him balls that were impossible to hit, but which he would swing at anyway. The responsibility was then on him to adjust to that approach. Over the last two weeks, he has shown an improvement in that aspect.

Strikeouts are likely going to be a part of the package with Reyes throughout his career, but he can minimize the negative impact of a high K-rate with better all-around plate discipline. Resisting the temptation to chase “pitchers’ pitches” inevitably forces them to decide whether to walk him or give him something to hit.

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It will be interesting to revisit some of these numbers at the end of the season to determine whether Reyes’s recent adjustments have been temporary, or if they are something he’s committed to. If it’s the latter–if he’s able to work counts into his favor and raise his walk rate–the pitchers in the American League will long for the days when he’d swing at just about anything.

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