Oneil Cruz might be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ most exciting player given his raw tools.
Mitch Keller might be the future in the rotation and Andrew McCutchen is probably the most beloved member of the team. Bryan Reynolds, however, is Pittsburgh’s best player by a mile and the one carrying the team to an unexpected 7-4 start.
It’s only the third time since 1994 that the Pirates have won at least seven of their first 11 games.
Reynolds, who has two additional team control years plus the entire 2023 season, was approached by the team with a $76 million extension offer over the offseason. He countered with a $130-plus million offer and a trade request. The sides negotiated during spring training but couldn’t find common ground.
We can safely say that Reynolds’ value is growing by the day, and if the Pirates don’t extend him, he will become too expensive in his arbitration seasons and they won’t have long-term certainty that he will be staying. But trading him would set them back, so the short- and long-term answer (and the logical one) would be to lock him up to a long extension.
With the way he has been playing in the early going, the league has certainly been paying attention should he become available. Reynolds is tied for fourth in MLB in fWAR (0.8) and owns an incredible .366/.378/.829 line with five home runs (!), 14 RBI and two steals.
He has had an enormous influence in the early success of the franchise this season, so much so that the next-best fWAR belongs to McCutchen at 0.4.
Two things have changed in Reynolds’ profile that have probably had something to do with his sublime performance so far. The first one is that he is hitting way more balls in the air: his fly ball percentage is a career-high 47.4%, up from 34% in his career. As you probably know, lifting the ball and hitting it with authority as Reynolds is doing is the recipe for success.
The second thing in his batted ball profile probably fueling his stellar play is his ability to barrel the ball. This has something to do with his fly ball rate, more specifically his launch angle. But it also has to do with his exit velocity.
A barrel is the ideal batted ball in terms of launch angle and exit velocity. They often yield phenomenal results. Reynolds, as of Tuesday, was leading the league with 12 barrels and 26.7% barrels per plate appearance. The man is squaring up the ball.
When you analyze Reynolds’ performance using raw value, things get even more exciting. Raw value (RV) is an advanced stat that analyzes every pitch a hitter sees in an at-bat, not just its final outcome. RV analyzes launch angle, exit velocity, sprint speed, plate discipline, horizontal spray angle and many other things. It’s a stat that combines everything a hitter is supposed to do and evaluates his performance.
You can find it as total raw value, the cumulative results of a player’s at-bats; or RV+, which is a rate measure that examines how a batter performs relative to the league average of 100.
It’s still very early and sample sizes are not particularly big, but Reynolds leads all MLB hitters in total raw value with 9.2. He also ranks third in RV+ with 270, behind Adam Duvall and Matt Chapman.
Reynolds’ 2023 outburst isn’t completely shocking. He finished 2022 with a 111 RV+, which is above average, and was excellent in 2021 with a 149 mark.
This season, he is smoking just about every pitch type, particularly against right-handed hurlers.
Here are his RV+ numbers against all offerings when facing right-handers:
- Four-seam fastball: 224
- Cut fastball: 585
- Slider: 286
- Curveball: 469
- Changeup: 306
- Two-seam fastball: 185
You know Reynolds is locked in because he is excelling in every phase of the science that is hitting. Discipline+ measures swing decisions depending on the pitch velocity, movement, location, count and other factors, contact+ examines a batter’s ability to, well, make contact relative to the league average (100) using the same elements and BIP+ helps us to understand how much damage a hitter does on contact.
Reynolds has always been a disciplined hitter. His discipline+ was 107 last year and is at 112 in 2023. That’s where his success starts: He knows how to lay off the stuff outside the zone and swing at strikes.
When it comes to making contact, he was a hair below average in 2022 with a 97 mark. This year, he is slightly above the league average.
The real, noticeable change has come in BIP+. He had a nice 139 BIP+ in 2021 – a good year for him in which he homered 24 times and finished with a .912 OPS. Last year, he fell to a rather mediocre 109, even though he hit 27 long balls.
This year, Reynolds’ BIP+ is an impressive 262 so far. That’s enough to rank him seventh among players with 40 plate appearances. If he can keep that number above 200, we will probably notch his first 30-homer season.
Time is ticking for the Pirates to extend their man.
It would be a real shame if in one or two years most of their prospects – Endy Rodriguez, Keller, Quinn Priester, Henry Davis, Termarr Johnson and others – pan out and their best player is either at the doorstep of free agency or already traded because they couldn’t agree on a long-term deal.
We have seen it before with this team, so many times that we are actually afraid to get excited about Reynolds and a 7-4 start.
Still, the wish is that both sides can hammer out a deal eventually, so Pirates fans can enjoy something they have longed for several years: hope.