Despite a high batting average on balls in play during a great rookie campaign, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds is unlikely to experience a large regression in 2020
Some of the biggest regression candidates in the MLB, the Pittsburgh Pirates included, find themselves in this boat due to having high batting average on balls in play last season. This is used to measure how often a ball that is put into play turns into a hit. ‘In play’ is defined as anything that is not a walk, strikeout, catcher interference, hit by pitch, or home run.
Now that probably makes you think that the person with the most hits usually has a high BAbip, but that isn’t the case. Aaron Judge has the highest BAbip in the last three seasons, yet he has the 87th most hits in the past three seasons. League average BAbip is usually right around .300. Last year, it was .298. A high BAbip usually means you got lucky as most of the time, as balls that are not home runs don’t turn into hits more than 30% of the time. However, BAbip should be compared more toward the player’s previous seasons and career averages more than the MLB average.
Let’s take a look at 2017 Avisail Garcia as an example of a player whose BAbip outweighed their expected results by a fair margin. That season, Garcia batted .330/.380/.506. He had 18 home runs, and 27 doubles in 561 plate appearances. He also posted a strong 138 wRC+ and OPS+, meaning he was 38% above the league average. He also had a strong .375 wOBA, putting him in the top 30 of all qualified batters in 2017. But through this all, he carried a .392 BAbip.
The following season, Garcia failed to even come close to replicating his 2017. Although he was injured for some of the year, his OPS dropped to just .719, while his OPS+ was 95 and his wRC+ was 93. Now, yes, his BAbip fell to .271, which was far below .300, this shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Between 2015 and 2016, Garcia posted a much more reasonable .315 BAbip, but his overall slash line included a weak .252/.308/.374 line, an 87 wRC+, and a fWAR of just 0.1.
Now, let’s look at main focus here, the 2019 season of Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds. Reynolds hit .314/.377/.503 in 546 plate appearances. This included 16 home runs, 37 doubles, and a 131 wRC+/OPS+. However, Reynolds posted a worrisome .387 batting average on balls in play. However, you should not worry about this.
Throughout the minors, Reynolds always carried a higher BAbip. His lowest was .362 in 2018, but he still posted a line of .302/.381/.438 with a 128 wRC+ in 383 plate appearances. It should be noted that you should weigh a player’s BAbip more with their career average than the league average. And Reynolds’ average BAbip throughout the minors was .378, which is not very far off from his rookie season.
Plus, unlike Garcia, Reynolds can hit to all fields. Last year, Reynolds did not really go to one side of the field more than another. Now, yes, he did pull the ball more often than not, but not at an extreme rate. His pull percentage was just 38.6%, which was below the league average. He also went up the middle 35.1% of the time, which was 1.1% above the MLB average. Although we went to the opposite field just 26.3% of the time, that was still better than the league average of 25%. Garcia only went to the opposite field 21.3% of the time in 2017, and pulled the ball 42.2% of the time, making it easier for opponents to predict where he would hit the ball to, and adjust accordingly. This led to Garcia getting far less hits that weren’t home runs.
Plus, in 2019, Reynolds made hard contact 43% of the time, which was 5% above the MLB average. He also owned a 89.6 MPH exit velocity, which sat behind Freddie Freeman (89.7 MPH) and just ahead of Vlad Guerrero Jr. (89.4 MPH). Soft contact was also rare for the rookie as he clocked in at 16%. In comparison, Garcia made hard contact only 35.3% of the time, so regression for him was much more likely, and luck played a bigger role in his season.
2019 Bryan Reynolds was nothing like 2017 Avisail Garcia. Despite his high batting average on balls in play, not much else points to regression for Reynolds. He can hit to all fields, and hits the ball hard most of the time. A higher BAbip is sustainable if the batter keeps up a hard hit rate, and solid opposite/center/pull rates as well. As long as Reynolds doesn’t struggle in becoming extremely predictable to where he will hit the ball, or start making much more soft contact, it is hard to envision him regressing much from his strong rookie campaign.