Bryan Reynolds was a pleasant surprise in a Pittsburgh Pirates season that was anything but. While the frustratingly-frugal team he plays for plodded to a last-place finish in the NL Central, the 24-year-old outfielder put up a .314/.377/.503 slash line. Displaying better-than-expected pop, he stroked 37 doubles and went deep 16 times.
Clint Hurdle wasn’t expecting that kind of production from the switch-hitting rookie when the Pirates broke camp in Bradenton. The since-ousted manager admitted as much when I asked him about Reynolds in the waning days of the season.
“I don’t think I had on the radar that Bryan Reynolds would be hitting .314 on September 25th,” Hurdle said. “From what I’d heard from our scouts, and what I’d seen in the spring, I thought we had a good young player… and it would be interesting to see how he developed. [But] I didn’t have any expectations.”
Nor did a lot of people, although he didn’t exactly came out of nowhere. Reynolds was a second-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2016, and he came to Pittsburgh from San Francisco as part of the Andrew McCutchen trade. He ranked ninth on our Pirates Top Prospects list coming into this season, with the following commenting his bio standing out: “We keep waiting for Reynolds’ BABIP to regress (it hasn’t).”
Those same words could be written today. His impeccable bat-to-ball skills were no less impressive at the highest level, as Reynolds logged a .387 BABiP in 546 plate appearances against big-league pitching. The approach he brought with him from college played a big role in his success.
“I think I’m the same hitter as I was [at Vanderbilt],” Reynolds told me. “I might have made a few tweaks here and there, but no one has tried to overhaul me and have me hit the ball with all the launch angle stuff. I basically just try to stay in the middle of the field and do what the ball is telling me to do. I keep it simple and take my hands to the ball — get the barrel there somehow — and let the rest take care of itself.”
Which brings us back to expectations. Reynolds is quietly confident (according to Hurdle he’s as stoic as Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius), and largely immune to feeling pressure. It’s a quality he attributes to DNA rather than to his major at Vandy.
“I can’t really attribute that to my psychology studies,” said Reynolds. “It’s more of how I was raised. My parents never put too much emphasis on the outward, on the external… what people think of you. I have my own standards — I expect to have good at bats — but I’m not striving to meet anyone else’s expectations, whatever they may be.”
Those expectations were exceeded in Reynolds’s rookie season. But truth be told, he simply did what he’s always done. He hit in college, he hit in the minors, and with the same stoic demeanor he hit with the Pirates. Doubt his future performance at your own peril.
The offseason isn’t exclusively rest and relaxation for the majority of professional baseball players. Staying in shape for the upcoming campaign is part of the winter routine, and for many so is the further honing of their skills. Training facilities are anything but ghost towns from late October to the onset of spring training.
As Baltimore’s minor league pitching coordinator, Chris Holt has a vested interest in what scores of Orioles will be doing in the months to come. He addressed the subject with a small group of reporters on the last Saturday of the regular season.
“That’s one of the most difficult things we encounter,” said Holt. “Over the course of the offseason we’ll be in constant contact with players — each coach will have continual contact, at least once or twice a month — [because] we have all of the pitchers in this organization going home with individualized player development plans. Simply put, the development process really needs to continue during the offseason — after they’ve had some proper rest time.”
A number of Orioles prospects will be working out at facilities like Driveline, outside of Seattle, and P3, in St. Louis. Holt has had a number of pitchers ask if that would be OK, and his response has consistently been, “Yes, absolutely.”
Concerns that work done beyond the watchful eyes of Orioles’ employees could be counterproductive are minimal — especially for players traveling to Washington State.
“I’ve known Kyle Boddy since before Driveline was Driveline,” said Holt. “A lot of the things we’ve discussed over the years line up quite well. I feel that at this point, when guys go to places like Driveline it’s really more from a physical training standpoint. They do some pitch design work, which is great, but there’s really nothing I’m going to tell a player that’s a whole lot different.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Ron Gardenhire wasn’t exactly a happy camper when I visited Detroit in the penultimate weekend of the regular season. It’s hard to blame him. Affability has its limits when the squad you’re skippering is wet behind the ears and barely a step above abysmal. The Tigers finished with 114 losses, and a lion’s share of them weren’t particularly pretty. Their minus-333 run differential was by far the worst in either league.
One day after a 10-1 loss to the White Sox that included three Tigers errors, the beleaguered manager was asked about his team’s effort level.
“I don’t know that it was [lack of] effort, it was just so many mistakes,” answered Gardenhire. “We were throwing the ball… snowball fights aren’t good in baseball, and we had one last night. The ball was flying all over the place. We have to control the baseball, and we didn’t… We were really sloppy.”
Among the miscues sticking in Gardenhire’s craw that afternoon was 22-year-old infielder Willi Castro, who’d been called up barely a month earlier, not having displayed good footwork on a double play opportunity with the Tigers employing a shift.
“I know they don’t play as many shifts in the minor leagues, [but] why are we having to teach it up here?,” Gardenhire said. “I want that taught down there, so when they get up here they know how to do it.”
Gardenhire tempered that statement by saying it’s harder to employ shifts in the minors, as there isn’t as much data on hitters, and “Pitchers down there can’t throw to the spots.”
A uneasy exchange followed when I asked if the Tigers should nevertheless shift more often in the minors.
“Did you hear what I just said?,” retorted Gardenhire. “If you can’t throw to a spot, how do you shift?”
Fair enough. But the primary purpose of the minors is development, and hadn’t the veteran manager just bemoaned the need to teach at the big-league level?
“They do work on it down there,” Gardenhire countered. “They work on everything. But during the course of a game, I don’t know how many shifts they’re [employing]. But these players are learning to play in shifts.”
Per Baseball Savant, the Tigers shifted 1,833 times this past season, the 11th-highest total in MLB. As for the extent to which they did so with pitchers consistently hitting their spots, and with infielders adequately practiced in the art and science of shifting… that was almost assuredly suboptimal. I doubt that Gardenhire would disagree.
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the voice of the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts, was named the Minor League Broadcaster of the Year, by Ballpark Digest.
Craig Goldstein is the new editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus. Goldstein has been with BP since 2012, most recently as managing editor.
Sung Min Kim, who had been writing here at FanGraphs since February, accepted a R&D position with KBO’s Lotte Giants earlier this week. One month ago the Giants hired Sung Min-kyu, who had been serving as the Chicago Cubs’ Pacific Rim scouting supervisor, as their new GM.
NPB’s Climax Series is underway. In Saturday’s opening games, the Rakuten Golden Eagles defeated the Softbank Hawks 5-3, while the Hanshin Tigers topped the Yokohama DeNa BayStars 8-7. The winners of the round-robin First Stage will go on to face the Seibu Lions, who captured the Pacific League title, and the Yomiuri Giants, which finished atop the Central League.
Bob Tufts, who pitched for the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals from 1981-1983, died Friday at the age of 63. Tufts had been battling multiple myeloma. RIP Baseball ran an obituary for Tufts yesterday.
A number of managers have been let go since season’s end, and there have been several coaching changes as well. Here is a list of additions and (mostly) subtractions:
* Drew Saylor has been hired as the new minor league hitting coordinator for the Kansas City Royals.
* The Cincinnati Reds have hired Driveline founder Kyle Boddy as their director of pitching initiatives/pitching coordinator.
* Turner Ward won’t be returning as Cincinnati’s hitting coach.
* Andy Barkett won’t be returning as Boston’s assistant hitting coach.
* Chris Young won’t be returning as Philadelphia’s pitching coach.
* Mike Butcher won’t be returning as Arizona’s pitching coach.
* Scott Atchison won’t be returning as Cleveland’s bullpen coach.
* Jim Riggleman won’t be returning as Mets bench coach.
Left on the cutting room floor from Friday’s interview with Jake Odorizzi were his thoughts on effort level and velocity. The Minnesota Twins right-hander is throwing harder than in years past, but that doesn’t mean he feels an obligation to go max effort on every pitch.
“I can tone it down if I need to,” Odorizzi told me. “I can back off on my split if I want to throw it slower. I can make my slider break more by lowering the effort level on it. With anything pitching, it’s easier to take off than it is to add on. You’re not trying to max out your velocity — you’re toning down — so it’s more controlled. When you’re humping up, you have less idea where the ball is going to go.”
Sticking with quotes from the cutting room floor, one of last month’s columns included Larry Andersen’s telling of how Dennis Eckersley threw a screwball when he first got to pro ball. (Eckersley later told me that the pitch was actually a “nasty-ass sinker.”) Not included was what Andersen said of his former teammate’s mound demeanor, which was both demonstrative and infuriating to the opposition.
“One of the things I think about with Eck is the no-hitter,” Andersen told me. “He’s on the mound punching a guy out, then pointing to the guy on the on-deck circle. Next! He’s telling him to get in the box. You can look at video and see him doing that. I mean, he was as cocky a pitcher as I’ve ever seen. But he backed it up. Eck was just that confident. He would show emotion. He’d get his finger pointed like a gun and shoot the guy after he’d punched him out. Eck wasn’t afraid.”
In September 2015, this column included an unnamed manager answering the question, “Who would you want going forward?” His three options were Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Kiermaier, and Kevin Pillar. After chewing on it for several seconds, he went with Kiermaier.
Four years later, it’s safe to identify the manager. It was Buck Showalter.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller delved into MLB’s war on high-tech sign stealing.
Was cheap ownership responsible for the Cleveland Indians’ not advancing to the postseason this year? Luis Torres shared his opinion at Beyond The Box Score.
Over at The New York Times, Jack Nicas wrote about the beauty of America’s ugliest ballpark.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The St. Louis Cardinals had 23 steals of third base, the most in the majors.
Alex Claudio made 83 pitching appearances, the most in the majors.
In 1969, 105 different pitchers logged at least one complete-game shutout. This year, 16 different pitchers logged at least one complete-game shutout.
On October 4, 1925, Hall of Fame outfielder Ty Cobb pitched a scoreless inning in Detroit’s 11-6 win over the St. Louis Browns. Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler tossed two scoreless innings for the losing side.
On this date in 1945, a Chicago Tavern owner wasn’t allowed to bring his goat into Wrigley Field for Game 4 of the World Series. The Cubs lost, with Dizzy Trout getting a complete-game win for the Tigers.
On this date in 2007, a horde of midges swarmed on Joba Chamberlain in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALDS, The bug-covered hurler proceeded to throw a wild-pitch, allowing the Indians, who went on to beat the Yankees in extras, to tie the game.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.