The Baltimore Orioles spent the offseason completely re-tooling its roster from a team that went 66-96 in 2010. Fans (and some analysts) showed some optimism after the team went 34-23 down the stretch after installing Buck Showalter as manager. To a strong finish last year, add optimism surrounding some of the AL’s best young pitching outside Tampa and a 6-1 start this year.
Baltimore’s make over included adding Vlad Guerrero to DH, JJ Hardy in the middle of the infield and Mark Reynolds at the hot corner. Despite Reynolds gaudy power numbers, fans likely know him best for the pitches he didn’t connect on. From 2008-2010, he struck out an astonishing 638 times, and the three season totals constitute the three highest in baseball history. However, Reynolds also hit 104 HRs, stole 42 bags and posted 7.4 WAR. The 2010 version came with a .198 batting average, however, and the offseason debate raged whether Reynolds would bounce back strongly or decline precipitously.
Unfortunately for Baltimore, the early returns for rebound are underwhelming. Reynolds is posting an underwhelming 194/277/357 triple slash, good for a .284 wOBA. Digger deeper into the numbers, some interesting trends emerge. Reynolds 8.9% walk rate is down from both his 11.8% career mark, and the 13.8% rate his last year in Arizona. However, Reynolds is making significantly more contact than ever before. Reynolds swing rate is 49.5% against a career mark of 48% – and while the increase is small, it is likely attributable to the small increase in swinging at pitches inside the zone. Reynolds is making more contact with those additional swings (15.1% Swinging Strike %, against a career mark of 17.3%) and his contact rate in the strike zone is up six points to 76%. All of this adds up to a K rate that is down from a career mark of 38.3% to 30.6%. His ISO number down similarly, from 237 over his career to .163 now.
Reynolds will never challenge for a gold glove, and though he has shown the ability to steal a base, will never be confused with Vince Coleman. Reynolds is making a more than reasonable $5M this year, a salary that escalates to $7.5M in 2012, and then the Orioles hold a club option at $11.5M in 2013 (or a $500k buyout). Though the younger Reynolds windmilled his way to record breaking whiff numbers, he produced at a solid starting 3B level (2-3 WAR). Of course, 100 plate appearances is a small sample size, but early indications are that Reynolds would be better served worrying less about his strikeouts and worrying more about delivering the big power numbers to which his fans have grown accustomed.