Pittsburgh Pirates: Two Seasons, Two Versions Of Bryan Reynolds
The Pittsburgh Pirates have seen the highs and lows of outfielder Bryan Reynolds over his first two MLB seasons
outfielder Bryan Reynolds broke out in a big way as a rookie for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019. This led many to believe that he would be locked in at the top of the Pirate lineup and in left field for the 2020 season and beyond. In his stellar 2019 campaign, Reynolds finished fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting behind Fernando Tatis Jr, Mike Soroka, and Pete Alonso, who won the award.
The Pittsburgh Pirates originally acquired Reynolds, along with Kyle Crick, in the heartbreaking Andrew McCutchen trade with the San Fransisco Giants in 2018. At the time it was difficult for many Pirate fans to look at the upside of this trade as their first franchise player in years was on his way out of town. Following the 2019 season that Reynolds had, however, it appeared as though former general manager Neal Huntington may have had a trick up his sleeve before being let go by the organization.
Reynolds burst his way onto the scene posting a .314/.377/.503 slash line with 16 home runs and 68 RBI in 2019. It appeared as though he would be a very solid replacement in the outfield after losing McCutchen and, later, Starling Marte, who was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks this past offseason for prospects Brennan Malone and Liover Peguero.
After such an encouraging 2019 season, everything went downhill for Reynolds in 2020. Reynolds struggled to a .189 batting average with 7 home runs and 19 RBI in 2020. The Pirate left fielder struck out 57 times through his 208 plate appearances. This put him third on the club in strikeouts behind only Gregory Polanco and Josh Bell who also struggled mightily in 2020.
Reynolds began the year batting second typically behind Adam Frazier as manager Derek Shelton was most likely confident in his consistency after his rookie season. After a sluggish start, the second-year outfielder was dropped to fifth in the order. However, this was not really considered a demotion at the time. Frankly, the 2020 season was a season of experimentation for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their first-year manager as Reynolds batted third, fourth, fifth, sixth and even seventh in 2020.
Either way, dropping from second to seventh in the order is never a good sign. One thing is for certain, the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to need more than a number seven hitter’s performance out of Reynolds if the team wishes to be remotely competitive in 2021.
Reynolds also saw his quality of contact dip in 2020. After posting a better than league average 89.5 MPH exit velocity and 41.6% hard hit rate in 2019, these numbers dropped to 87.5 MPH and 38.3% in 2020. While his hard hit rate remained above league average, a 3% drop off is never good. As for his exit velocity, well, that 87.5 MPH mark was below league average.
On a positive note, Reynolds got some work in center field in 2020 and showed that he can play both left and center for the Pirates if needed. In terms of outfielders the Pirates currently have Reynolds, Polanco, Jared Oliva, and Anthony Alford on the 40-man roster. José Osuna has also played both left and right field at times, and Cole Tucker displayed his flexibility in 2020 as he got work in the outfield last year as well.
There isn’t necessarily any pressure on Reynolds in terms of losing playing time but with the Pittsburgh Pirates not being competitive currently. The organization may look to promote prospects such as outfielder Travis Swaggerty earlier than they may have projected.
Due to the strong start of his career, some may have predicted small regression in some in areas but not many saw a .189 batting average coming from Reynolds in 2020. After finishing last in Major League Baseball with a 19-41 record, the Pirates aren’t projected to turn things around completely until possibly 2023 but the team is going to need a 2019-like performance from Reynolds if they wish to compete in 2021.