Bryan Reynolds Could Benefit From The Launch Angle Revolution

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Bryan Reynolds was a second round pick, and in his two years of professional baseball his numbers have been excellent.  However, Reynolds could be the next to benefit from hitting the ball in the air.

The Pirates acquired Bryan Reynolds in a trade for Andrew McCutchen, at the time Reynolds was the Giants fourth top prospect (moving up a spot after Christian Arroyo was traded for Evan Longoria.  In his minor league career, the former Vanderbilt Commodore has hit .312/.363/.469, walked 6.5 percent of the time and struck out 21.5 percent of the time.  In 2017, Reynolds hit .312/.364/.462 with a 6.8 percent walk rate and 19.6 percent strikeout rate.

The numbers are fine, Reynolds has hit throughout his minor league career.  However, he is going to be 23 later this month and he has zero plate appearances in any level higher than advanced A.  Also, from 2008-13, the California League averaged 5.3 runs per game, and this past season averaged 4.92 runs per game, some of the highest scoring environments in affiliated ball.  Reynolds is a solid hitter, but he has benefited from his age and in the league where he played.

The positive outlook for Reynolds going forward comes from what MLB Pipeline wrote about him in 2017:

"“A switch-hitter, Reynolds has a smooth stroke with good bat speed from both sides. Some scouts wonder if he’ll make consistent hard contact against quality pitching, but San Francisco was impressed with his ability to make adjustments during his debut. He has begun to drive the ball more consistently and should have at least average power, and he has shown a knack for drawing walks in the past.”"

For his tools, MLB Pipeline rates his hit tool as a 50 grade and his power as a 50 grade as well.  Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs also gave Reynolds hit tool a 50, with his raw power currently at a 50 with a projected 55, and his game power a current 45 with a 50 future.  Both MLB Pipeline and Longenhagen gave Reynolds a future value of 50 in 2017, though Kiley McDaniel has him at a 45 with average game power.

The power in game being average can be seen in the numbers.  Despite being 24th in slugging percentage, Reynolds was 48th in isolated power among the 106 hitters with 150 or more plate appearances.  Reynolds was 52nd in double percentage, 12th in triple percentage, and 59th in home run percentage.  Reynold’s slugging comes from a high average and his speed legging out triples (nine).  The numbers have Reynolds power as average, but he could be the next player to benefit from the “launch angle revolution,” similar to what has happened with new Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Colin Moran.

I took all players with a plate appearance in the California league (214), and used their groundball and flyball percentage to get how many groundballs (GB) and flyballs (FB) each batter hit.  To get how many batted ball events (BBE) each batter hit, I took their at bats-strikeouts+sac flies+sac hits, and used a pivot table to sum the data.  From there, (sum of GB/sum of BBE)*100 and (sum of FB/sum of BBE)*100 gets the percentages of groundballs and flyballs for the league.  Comparing the league and Bryan Reynold’s gives:

NameSum of BBESum of GBSum of FBFB PCTGB PCT
Bryan Reynolds39118512532.0%47.4%

As seen above, Reynolds groundballs at a rate that is larger than the league (the MLB league average for non pitchers was 43.8 percent as well), and he hits less fly balls than the league.  His heat map and spray chart show the groundballs hit at infielders and balls hit to the outfield being hit right at the outfielders.  If he can adjust his angle of attack to hit more balls in the air, there’s the potential of his power showing more in games.

Reynolds, while batting from the left side, starts in a more squatted stance with his hands held low.  As he gears up to swing, Reynolds shifts his weight back to launch forward and readjusts his hands and goes.  This is best seen in this home run, in which the bat gets through the zone quickly.  From the right side, Reynolds stands wide and he is more upright than he is on the left side of the dish.  He starts with his hands held up by his head and hitches them as a trigger to go, as he also shifts his weight backwards.  Smoothing out the swing into something without a hitch and adjusting the path to the ball may help Reynolds blossom into a prospect with more consistent power, where he can also use his speed more as well, and he can be an average offensive player.

Kiley McDaniel, on Reynolds, wrote that:

"“Can he chase fewer sliders off the plate and can he shed the tweener label to profile as an everyday player? He projects for average game power (from slightly above-average raw power) and has a fine ability to select pitches, but there’s some stiffness that limits his ability to make contact outside the zone, particularly on good offspeed stuff, while he has no trouble hitting fastballs and mistakes. Call it fringy to average offense overall and he’s lost a step since college to where he’s now an average runner/defender with a 40 arm that only plays in left field. That offense is more fourth-outfielder-level output, but maybe a subtle mental/mechanical adjustment and the current baseball gets him to solid-average offense?”"

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The removal of the hitch should allow Reynolds to make more consistent contact, but adjusting the swing path for more game power to get more from his slightly above-average raw power, the odds of more sliders being chased and less contact increases.  Depending on the gains from a power increase, it can be worthwhile, but Reynolds has always been a consistent contact hitter dating back to his days in college.  Asking Reynolds to change might be tough, but with the way his current offensive outlook is, joining the launch angle revolution like many others have, could be the change necessary for Reynolds to become an average to slightly above average offensive player.

*Numbers from Fangraphs