Projecting Cardinals Call-Up Alex Reyes

The St. Louis Cardinals recalled top prospect Alex Reyes yesterday and, a few hours later, the hard-throwing right-hander recorded his major-league debut, striking out one in a clean inning of relief work (box).

The book on Reyes is that his stuff is off the charts, but his control and command leave something to be desired. His numbers paint this picture vividly. His top-notch stuff enables him to miss a lot of bats, resulting in nearly unmatched strikeout rates the past couple of years. Meanwhile, his lackluster command has resulted in a concerning number of walks.

All else being equal, you’d prefer to have a pitcher that doesn’t have iffy command and an ugly walk rate. But all else isn’t equal with Reyes. His ability to generate strikeouts, especially at such a young age, is a huge point in his favor. I yanked some of those words from my recent Tyler Glasnow piece, but I’m recycling them here since they’re equally applicable to Reyes.

My KATOH projection system adores Reyes. It projects him for 7.6 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method and 12.6 WAR by the method that integrates Baseball America’s rankings. Reyes placed 18th and seventh overall, respectively, on KATOH’s recent top-100 lists. Among pitchers, though, he was third and first. KATOH’s lists tend to be relatively hitter-heavy — likely due to some combination of pitchers’ attrition rates and the fact that KATOH does not directly quantify “stuff.” But in terms of pitching prospects, scouting-infused KATOH thinks Reyes is the best one on the planet.

To help you visualize what his KATOH projection entails, here is a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Reyes’ first six seasons in the major leagues.


To put some faces to Reyes’ statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps for the hard-throwing righty. I calculated a Mahalanobis distance between Reyes’ Triple-A performance this year and every Triple-A season since 1991 in which a pitcher recorded at least 350 batters faced. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Alex Reyes’ Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Rich Harden 0.17 7.3 15.1
2 Lance Dickson 0.52 8.2 0.0
3 Terrell Wade 0.67 7.3 0.6
4 Sam Militello 1.36 9.6 0.0
5 Matt Cain 1.42 11.2 24.0
6 Hayden Penn 1.43 8.0 0.0
7 Denny Neagle 1.53 6.6 15.0
8 Dan Reichert 1.54 8.5 2.2
9 Aaron Laffey 1.68 6.7 2.1
10 Rick Ankiel 1.81 18.2 3.4

Unsurprisingly, several of Reyes’ comps also posted poor walk rates in Triple-A. Rich Harden, Lance Dickson, Terrell Wade, Matt Cain, Dan Reichert and Rick Ankiel were among the most extreme. Seeing Ankiel’s name in the above chart will understandably alarm some Cardinals fans, but the cases of Harden and Cain should serve as reminders that it’s very possible for a pitcher with iffy command to reach his top-of-the rotation upside.

A pitcher’s walk rate matters, but it isn’t nearly as predictive as his strikeout rate. Though Reyes struggles in the former category, he flourishes in the latter, which suggests a high probability of success in the big leagues. Throw in that he’s been largely successful as a 21-year-old in Triple-A this year, and Reyes is one of baseball’s most promising young arms.

As the chart above shows, KATOH thinks there’s a strong possibility that Reyes will rack up at least 16 WAR over the next six years, which essentially means he’d blossom into one of the game’s better starting pitchers. Whether he’ll be able to approximate that upside in the near term is a separate question. But the Cardinals clearly believe Reyes can help right now out of the bullpen. Given his stuff, his absurd minor league strikeout numbers and the results of his debut, it’s hard to question their assessment.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Tooele Davemember
7 years ago

I watched his 9th inning last night. There was a FB at 101 and a CB at 79. So it seems like “stuff” definitely won’t be a problem.