Take a Going Deep Breath: He’s Still, He’s Still a Franimal

Fantasy baseball owners are fickle. We’re only a week into the season and already communities (looking at you, Reddit) are waving the white flag on guys like Jose Ramirez. If you can’t trust the consensus No. 3 pick to right the ship (and it’s only been 57 plate appearances), you should drop your whole team, pack it in, and try again next year. I’m sure there are owners in your league who could use the waiver wire pickups. You’ve gotta be exceptionally trigger happy to drop a proven superstar like Ramirez. You might, however, end up dropping Franmil Reyes.

Reyes is off to a poor start. He’s playing in a crowded outfield that sees him trade time with Hunter Renfroe, limiting his ability to find his groove and pick up where he left off last season. He’s not a proven bat and burst onto the scene seemingly from nowhere. There’s logic behind including him in your knee-jerk, first-week roster purge.

His stat line looks bad—really bad. There’s no way to sugarcoat a .063 batting average. That’s well below the Mendoza line, and it’s not like he’s walking much, either. His .105 on-base percentage is horrible. But that’s what happens when you’re staring down a .105 BABIP. Sure, if you roll over every time you’re at bat, your BABIP reflects the outcome. But Reyes isn’t rolling over, even if on the surface he looks just as bad as Brian Dozier, who’s also vying for the title of “worst possible start.”

But none of that matters because Reyes can win you your league. If you hold on to your 14th-round pick, there’s a good chance he’ll vastly outperform his ADP and give you the chance to lord over your friends for the 26 weeks of darkness that precede baseball season. Anyone can draft J.D. Martinez, but the Reyes’ of your league bring home championships.

Before we dive into his stats, let me say this: the sample size is small and anything can happen in baseball. I’m not clairvoyant, but I do believe that value picks win leagues. When the numbers say to hold, you hold. Solid metrics after a slow start are reassuring, not a reason to go Derek Jeter on your lineup.

Season O-Swing % Z-Swing % Swing % O-Contact % Z-Contact % Contact % Zone % F-Strike % SwStr %
2018 31.7% 69.1% 46.4% 54.3% 81.0% 69.9% 39.3% 63.2% 14.0%
2019 34.3% 80.5% 50.9% 80.0% 75.8% 77.6% 36.0% 50.0% 11.4%

When you peel back his surface numbers, Reyes looks exactly like his second-half self, with some welcome changes. He’s striking out less but walking more—and I expect those numbers to trend in positive directions thanks to consistent plate discipline. Reyes is swinging slightly more but also making more contact, even if some of those pitches are outside the zone. He’s posting similar contact numbers on strikes and isn’t chasing pitches any more than last year. While we’re only seeing league-average plate discipline, what’s important is that we aren’t seeing any deviation from Reyes’ normal rate. He’s also making more hard contact and less soft contact. Plus, his fly-ball rate is way up. That’s an excellent sign for a player who posted a sub-7-degree launch angle in 2019.

So what’s the issue?

Reyes is getting unlucky. Very, very unlucky. He’s in the 95th percentile for average exit velocity, 86th percentile for xwOBA, 95th percentile for xSLG, 94th percentile in hard-hit rate, and 91st percentile in xBA. By all accounts, you should be gloating how you snagged him in the 14th. Even if we stop right here, it’s fair to say the results are on their way.

Average Exit Velocity xwOBA xSLG xBA Launch Angle Fly Ball Ratio Hard Hit Barrel Rate
93.3 % .433 .667 .344 15.3 % 47.4 % 52.9 % 11.8 %

But Reyes looks even better the further we investigate.

He’s increased his launch angle to 15.3, which supports his 53% fly-ball rate. His hard contact rate is likewise supported by an increased barrel rate. Reyes is doing two things that, thankfully, aren’t sustainable. He’s hitting the ball hard but right at players. He’s also just missing pitches, driving them to the track and just missing out on homers. Take this long flyout, for example:

Reyes tagged it to the tune of a 106.7 mph exit velocity, but it fell just short and ended up a loud out. That’s been happening to him a lot. He looks balanced at the plate and just needs a few breaks to really get going. Those hard-hit balls will start to find gaps, and the deep drives will clear the fence.

Plus, Reyes plays on a Padres team that’s loaded with young talent that’s primed to break out in a big way. He’s hitting clean up behind Manny Machado, giving him ample opportunity to drive in runs, and he’s protected by Fernando Tatis Jr., the highly-touted prospect many expect to have a Rookie of the Year-level season.

That said, Reyes is splitting time with Renfroe, who’s crushing the ball. How long that hot start lasts is up for debate, but it’s an issue for Reyes. Last year the Brewers wouldn’t give Domingo Santana the time of day. We all saw how much the limited playing time affected Santana, and how he’s now having his revenge in Seattle.

But history tells us that Renfroe won’t stay hot forever. He’s a career .250 hitter who’s had enough time to prove he doesn’t share Reyes’ upside. Renfroe is also posting a 50% HR/FB ratio and a 70% hard contact rate. He’s barreled 19.0% of his batted balls and is hitting balls far harder than his career average.

Maybe Renfroe figured something out. Maybe he hasn’t. Regression is coming, and it’s only a matter of how much. Conversely, Reyes’ underlying numbers are sustainable. He’s posting a similar average exit velocity as Renfroe despite barreling fewer baseballs, and his 47.5% hard-hit rate is far more sustainable than Renfroe’s near 70% mark.

When Renfroe comes back to earth, Reyes will eventually see his hits fall. And even if Renfroe doesn’t regress, that doesn’t mean Reyes can’t force his way into Franchy Cordero‘s outfield spot. If you have to drop Reyes to make room for a must-add guy or are dealing with injuries, make sure you’re watching the wire very closely. Owners love to ride the hot hand as much as they love to panic-drop good players. When his luck turns around, expect another owner to snatch up Reyes if you couldn’t stomach the slow start.

Update: Franmil went yard last night.

Photo by Justin Fine/Icon Sportswire

Evan Rockow

Evan is a lifelong Yankees fan who's ashamed he lives in Boston. He keeps the faith by constantly repeating "27" and over-drafting Yankees players. At least Boston lets him avoid MLB.tv blackouts. You can find him at the local Wegmans buying garbage plate supplies.

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Comments


Evan Rockow

As of today, Renfroe has barreled 19 percent of his batted balls. However you’re right, that’s technically not 23.5 percent of the balls he’s seen. We’ll make the correction.

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