Pittsburgh Pirates: The Emergence of Bryan Reynolds

(Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds has had a fantastic 2021 season, but what has fueled him becoming one of the top players in all of baseball?

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds is having an MVP-caliber campaign with the bat. In 608 plate appearances, Reynolds is batting .295/.383/.511 with 24 home runs. All told, he has a .379 wOBA and 139 wRC+. Both of those, along with his OBP, slugging percentage, home run total, and isolated slugging are career bests. So what has fueled his strong campaign?

Now the first thing that has improved is his plate discipline. He’s walking at an 11.5% rate, which is the best mark he’s put up in his pro career. He also has a strikeout rate well below 20% at 18.6%. He’s only swung at pitches outside of the zone at a 28.5% rate compared to 31.2% in total in 2019-2020.

Reynolds has also posted a zone swing percentage of 78.2%, which is a 5.2% from 2019-2020. Not only is he laying off pitches outside the zone more, but when he does swing, he’s making more contact overall, going from 75.7% to 77.1%.

The switch hitter doesn’t have outstanding hard-hit numbers. He has an exit velo of just 89.4 MPH, which is league average in the 50th percentile. His 40.3% hard-hit rate is slightly below average at the 44th percentile. But what he lacks in hard-hit rate he makes up for in quality batted ball results.

Reynolds has a 24.8% line drive rate, the 10th highest mark in baseball. Overall this season line drives have fallen for a hit 68.4% of the time and have a 334 wRC+ mark. It’s by far the best-batted ball result. Even soft hit line drives have a 66.8% chance of falling for a hit and 286 wRC+. That’s a career-best line drive rate, but he’s hitting far fewer ground balls. Now with a GB% just under 40% (39.3%), Reynolds had a ground ball rate above 45% in 2019-2020 (45.7%). In comparison to line drives, grounders go for a hit just 23.5% of the time and have a 31 wRC+.

Many have previously pointed to a high batting average on balls in play as a contributing factor to his previous success, meaning he got lucky. But he has a batting average win balls in play of just .333 this year which for him, is very low. Throughout the minors and in his outstanding 2019 rookie campaign, he always sat above .360. But he still has an expected batting line of .287/.377/.511 with an xwOBA of .382. That’s very close to what he’s actually hitting.

Reynolds has also played Gold Glove caliber defense in center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates. This has been a major factor in Reynolds being worth a fWAR of 5.1. This makes him the 12th most valuable player in baseball and the 5th most valuable in the National League.

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Overall, Reynolds’s big season has been a combination of more walks, laying off more pitches outside the zone, and making up for a lack of hard-hit balls with line drives and fewer grounders. He’s showing solid defense in center field as well. Right now, he should be the Pittsburgh Pirates highest priority extension candidate as he’s one of their core pieces to build around.

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