Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds is a Silver Slugger finalist, but can he beat out the stiff competition to take home the hardware?
Pittsburgh Pirates’ center fielder Bryan Reynolds was named a finalist for the 2021 Silver Slugger. Reynolds had a phenomenal season and was one of the best offensive outfielders in the game. While he is a finalist for the award, can he take home the hardware? He’ll definitely be facing some stiff competition as we approach award season.
I think we can rule out two players Reynolds will beat out. That’s Adam Duvall and Jesse Winker. Duvall put on a show of light-tower-power, blasting 38 home runs while having a .263 isolated slugging percentage. But he still had a sub-.800 OPS and a wRC+ of just 103. He didn’t walk, nor did he have a good batting average, making him pretty much a boom-or-bust hitter.
Winker on the other hand did have a great season with the bat. He finished 2021 with a .403 wOBA, 148 wRC+, and .949 OPS. But he was injured for a good chunk of 2021. He collected just 485 plate appearances and played in 110 games. Overall, a good season for Winker, but a lack of playing time almost completely takes him out of the running.
I think it’s also fair to say that both Bryce Harper and Juan Soto will be taking home two of the three awards. Harper led all qualifying National League outfielders in wRC+ (170), wOBA (.431), OPS (1.044), slugging percentage (.615), isolated slugging (.305), and second to just Duvall in home runs (35), Soto in OBP (.429), and tied with Reynolds for the second-best BA (.309). Safe to say he’s going to bring home some hardware. Pretty much the best overall offensive outfielder in the game this year.
As insane as Harper’s season was, Soto’s was even crazier. The kid walked 145 times this year. That’s the 18th most by any outfielder in a single season ever. Most of the seasons with more walks ahead of him are composed of guys like Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and Mickey Mantle. But Soto did it while he was just 22-years-old. Nobody was as young as Soto nor had as high of a walk total to Soto. Teddy Ballgame comes the closest with 156 walks in his age-23 season (though he was 24 by the end of it).
Soto ended the campaign with an insane .465 on-base percentage. He had an OBP of .515 from July 1st through the end of the season, which was 83 games. When you’re reaching base more than 50% of the time for about half of the season, you’re getting into Barry Bonds territory of insane ability to reach base. It also helps that he slugged 29 home runs, had a 163 wRC+, .420 wOBA, .999 OPS, and batting average above .300, and ISO above .200.
So that leaves St. Louis Cardinals rival outfielder Tyler O’Neill. Just going by the bottom line rate stats, O’Neill and Reynolds are pretty much the same batter. Reynolds had a 142 wRC+, .385 wOBA, and .912 OPS. O’Neill on the other hand had a 144 wRC+, .384 wOBA, and .912 OPS. The two are pretty much neck-n-neck in that department, but both got to those numbers in different ways, ways that might be the deciding factor to who wins the award.
Reynolds was more of a contact/on-base kind of batter with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit .302/.390/.522 with a fantastic 11.6% walk rate and 18.4% strikeout rate. O’Neill was a power bat, hitting .286/.352/.560 with 34 home runs, and a .274 ISO. Though this came with a poor 7.1% walk rate and 31.3% strikeout rate.
However, that’s not to say that Reynolds was a straight-contact hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He still hit 24 home runs while having a .221 isolated slugging percentage. That’s still decently above-average power output. For comparison, the league average slugging was .411 while the league average ISO was .167.
It’s going to come down to what the voters value more: the ability to hit for contact and reach base, or the ability to hit for power and home runs. It’s easy to point out Juan Soto’s god-like ability to reach base while being a fantastic power hitter, or Bryce Harper leading his position in almost every relevant stat and see that they’re easily front runners to take home the hardware. It’s hard, almost impossible, to make an educated guess as to who will win the award when you have two batters who are so similar, identical even, in terms of bottom-line rate stats because, at that point, you’re getting into what the voters value more. Power, or on-base ability.
In the end, Reynolds has a very good chance of winning the Silver Slugger and bringing it back to the Pittsburgh Pirate. But, it’s going to be a very, very close race between him and St. Louis outfielder Tyler O’Neill. I hope that enough voters value his ability to hit for consistent contact and reach base at a strong rate over O’neill’s power ability and see that he struck out a lot while not walking consistently. Like I said earlier, it’s going to come down to a personal preference on the voter’s end.