Analyzing the Two Distinct Halves of Franmil Reyes’ 2019 Season
Name the MLB player who is 6’5 275. It’s not Bartolo. It’s not CC. He’s actually an outfielder for the Indians … give up? It’s the 25-year-old Dominican-born Franmil Reyes.
Reyes came up through the Padres’ system and exploded onto the Major League scene in 2018 as one of the game’s most intriguing young power hitters. Bashing 27 homeruns through 99 games to begin 2019, Reyes was dealt to the Cleveland Indians in a 3-way trade which involved Yasiel Puig, Trevor Bauer, and Taylor Trammell.
The transition to the American League was not a smooth one for the young Reyes. It was like watching 2 completely different players. A disappointing finish to the finish 2019 season has baseball bettors and fantasy owners asking the same question – which Franmil Reyes will show up in 2020?
The Minor League Progression and Stats of Franmil Reyes
Signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican at age 16 by the Padres in 2011, Reyes was not a highly-touted prospect. Reyes projected as a hitter with below average contact, no speed, and no defense. His saving grace was All-Star-level raw power.
The Padres took a chance on the big fella, hoping he would develop into an Adam Dunn-type – a player who hits 40 bombs a year but struggles to keep their average above .240.
A mere teenager, Reyes was initially unimpressive in the minor leagues. He played 2 seasons in rookie ball with the Arizona League Padres, totaling just 7 homeruns while hitting .287 in 112 games. Reyes then took another 2 seasons to progress through full-season A ball in Fort Wayne, managing 19 homeruns and 121 RBIs in 251 total games.
The Padres promoted Reyes to High-A Lake Elsinore in 2016 at the age of 20, where he spent the entire season. In 130 games, Reyes compiled a .278 batting average while knocking 16 balls over the fence and driving in 83. This was good enough for Reyes to get the call to AA San Antonio the following year. Things were beginning to get serious.
Reyes spent the entire 2017 season in San Antonio where he worked to hone his power swing. Although hitting just .258, Reyes mashed 25 homeruns and 27 doubles while driving in 102.
At 22 years old, Franmil Reyes began the 2018 baseball season in AAA El Paso. Pitchers couldn’t get him out. Reyes took off on a torrid pace – hitting .324 with 16 homeruns in just 58 games. His peripheral numbers were solid, too. Reyes had maintained his strikeout rate from the previous season while nearly doubling his walk rate. His ISO of .290 shattered his previous minor league career high of .205. It was clear Franmil was ready for Major League baseball.
The Early MLB Days of Franmil Reyes
With injuries to 2 of their starting outfielders, the Padres called Reyes up to the bigs in May of 2018. The big righty was still only 22 years old. Reyes moved up and down between AAA and the MLB that year, but posted very solid rookie numbers – a .280 batting average, 16 homeruns, and 9 doubles in 210 at-bats. Although Reyes was striking out quite a bit, his K and BB rates were in line with his minor league career averages.
The 23-year-old Reyes made the most of his early opportunities in the bigs in 2019. He was quietly putting up a monster season for the Padres through 99 games. The big righty took 27 balls yard and had driven in 46 runs while maintaining a .255 batting average. He was slugging .536.
Reyes has absolutely no speed, which is evident in the fact he hit zero triples with San Diego while recording exactly zero stolen bases.
Reyes was becoming a Khris Davis-type – a big-time power hitter doing major damage in the middle of the lineup but never able to hit much above .250. This is the type of player Cleveland was hoping to acquire when they made their move for Reyes on July 30, 2019. Reyes was not able to match his Padres-level of production upon arrival in the Midwest … not even close.
Disappointing End of 2019 in Cleveland for Franmil Reyes
There are a number of reasons Reyes could have struggled in Cleveland: he had to adjust to a new city, he had to form relationships with new teammates and coaches, it was colder in Cleveland than he was used to, he had to face a brand new pitcher each time out. Also, Reyes went from playing meaningless games in San Diego to being thrust into a close AL Central division race. This likely played a factor in the decline in production for the then-24-year-old.
Indians’ manager Terry Francona’s comments about Reyes this offseason indicate that the youngster took a little while to get comfortable in Cleveland. Reyes was quiet and shy upon arrival, but his personality is now starting to shine through as he has made friends in the clubhouse and is beginning to prove he has the skills to stick around in the Major Leagues.
It was a rough 51-game homestretch for Reyes and the rest of the team as the Indians failed to keep pace with the Twins and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Reyes managed just 10 home runs in the final 51 games of 2019, well shy of his homerun pace in San Diego. Reyes drove in 35 runs in Cleveland, which is actually a better RBI/PA rate than he posted in SD – most likely stemming from better surrounding hitters in the Cleveland lineup. The addition of a DH in the lineup also increases offensive production.
Reyes was hitting plenty of doubles in Cleveland – hitting 10 two-baggers in the final 51 games – more than he hit in the first 99 games with the Padres. The power wasn’t quite there for Reyes down the homestretch and sadly neither was the batting average – as he hit just .237 and slugged .468 after being acquired from Cleveland. The Indians were obviously hoping for more when they went after the young outfielder during a division race.
Beyond the Basics – Breaking Down Franmil Reyes’ Numbers In San Diego and Cleveland
Let’s dig a little deeper beyond the basic stats. Reyes has always been a strikeout candidate, but he makes up for it with insane raw power. In early 2019 in San Diego, Reyes had a K% of 26.3%, which is quite high but forgivable considering he hit 27 home runs in 99 games and managed an average north of .250.
Reyes is reasonably patient at the dish – posting a BB% with the Padres of 8.2% in 2019 – not great but respectable for a home run hitter. As we’ll explore later, a major reason for Reyes’ decent BB% is the absurd amount of pitches he sees outside the zone.
Even more reason for optimism, Reyes posted these numbers in San Diego with a .268 BABIP – indicating that he was getting slightly unlikely on balls in play. The lower BABIP can be partially attributed to Reyes’ aptitude for lifting fly balls which easily get swallowed up by the thick maritime air in San Diego.
As a power hitter, ISO is an important metric for Reyes – and his was .280 with the Padres – which ranked 2nd on the team and 11th in the MLB pre-trade deadline last season.
Despite an average of just .255, a relatively high strikeout rate, and a complete lack of speed – Reyes managed an Off of 5.7 through 99 games with the Friars – ranking 3rd on the team and 70th in the majors.
Quick and nimble are two words that will never be used to describe Franmil Reyes, and his outfield defense suffers as a result. Playing well below the level of a replacement defensive outfielder, Reyes posted a very low Def score with the Padres. Even though Reyes hurts his team on the defensive side, his WAR was an even 1.0 through 99 games with San Diego – which speaks wonders of the man’s raw power-hitting ability. That’s all he’s got.
The strikeouts increased – and not just by a little – when Reyes was shipped to Cleveland. His K% jumped over 6% as he struck out 32.5% of the time down the homestretch with the Indians. Reyes drew slightly more walks – walking in 9.3% of his plate appearances.
While his San Diego BABIP indicates his average should have been even a little bit higher, Reyes’ Cleveland BABIP is right where it should be – .301.
The slight increase in doubles did not make up for the major drop in homerun rate, and Reyes’ ISO with Cleveland was a paltry .231.
Unable to hit for a high average – .237 – and not providing much power – Reyes Off was horrible over his 51 game stretch with the Indians to end 2019: -2.6. An Off of -2.6 indicates the Indians would have been better served to put a replacement-level player in the lineup in favor of the now-25-year-old.
Because the Indians have the luxury of using Reyes at DH, his Def was not as bad in Cleveland and his overall WAR ended up right at 0 – meaning Reyes was an average, replacement-level player for the Indians. While this is not terrible, this is far worse production than Cleveland expected to get when they traded for him.
Examining Franmil Reyes Batted Ball Stats from 2019
Reyes took the same swing with him to Cleveland that he used in San Diego, not making many adjustments. His line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates are nearly identical between the two cities. The one major difference that sticks out is that Reyes had a 4% higher infield pop-out rate in Cleveland than he did in San Diego. Outfield fly balls and infield pop-ups both count as fly balls. This means Reyes’ HR/FB% was going to be lower in Cleveland – and it was by nearly 8%.
His HR/FB% in San Diego was 33.8%, which many experts would argue is unsustainable over the course of a career or even a full season. His 25.6% rate in Cleveland is more likely to be where he sits long-term.
Reyes’ best quality as a hitter is his ability to drive the ball to all fields and especially to hit homeruns to all fields. In San Diego, Reyes pulled 37.9% of batted balls, used the middle of the field 37.5% of the time, and went the opposite way 24.6% of the time. These are very even splits and indicative of a hitter with excellent plate coverage, precision timing, and a great swing path.
Upon arrival in Cleveland, Reyes used the opposite field 4.2% less often. Reyes was forced to use center and left field more in Cleveland than he was in San Diego. A quick look at his pitch location heat maps below will help explain why he went the opposite way with less frequency in Cleveland.
In San Diego, Reyes hit the ball quite hard – posting a 47.8% Hard% – which ranked 2nd on the Padres and 13th in the MLB. 37.1% of his batted balls in San Diego were deemed medium contact while 15.1% were deemed soft.
Compare this to his Cleveland numbers: 11.5% of his batted balls in Cleveland were considered soft. So far so good, he is making less soft contact. This is what you want to see, especially from a power hitter.
What you don’t want to see is a decrease in hard contact percentage, which is what happened once Reyes transitioned to the American League. In Cleveland, Reyes Hard% dropped about 1% from his San Diego rates. While a 1% is not huge, it is not the direction you want to see a young power hitter’s Hard% trending. With a decrease in Soft% and Hard%, it only makes sense that Reyes’ Medium% went up, which it did by 4.5% compared to San Diego.
Reyes was hitting more medium velocity balls in Cleveland, which is why he hit more doubles down the stretch instead of dingers. Some of those balls which would have gone out in San Diego just weren’t carrying in Cleveland, simply because he was not hitting it as hard.
I want to show 2 side-by-side pitch location heat maps – courtesy of Fangraphs. On the left shows every pitch thrown to Reyes in San Diego. On the right is every pitch thrown to Reyes in Cleveland.
The majority of pitches are in the same location – down and away. Notice the patch of orange up in the strike zone that developed once Reyes moved to Cleveland. You see that? There is only yellow high in the strike zone in SD but clearly some darker orange in CLE.
In San Diego, pitchers had one goal against Franmil Reyes – keep the ball down and away. This is why Reyes’ opposite-field rate was higher in San Diego. Most pitchers were attacking him on the outer part of the plate, and he was a good enough hitter to go with the pitch
American League pitchers started to attack Reyes up in the zone. Reyes was not used to this. Not only was he tasked with learning a new starting pitcher every single game once he switched leagues, but these pitchers were attacking him with different pitch sequences then he had seen in the National League – or even the Minor Leagues.
Reyes was not used to getting challenged up in the zone. He was not challenged heavily in his early days in the Dominican, nor were many Minor League pitchers confident enough to try to sneak high cheese past the big righty. This was new to Reyes. He needed to make an adjustment, and he struggled heavily out of the gate in Cleveland.
So, is that the only difference in pitch location? Slightly more balls high in the zone? Well sort of … but it is when pitchers decided to throw these high pitches that matters.
Take a look at this next set of heat maps. These are pitch locations when Reyes is behind in the count. On the left shows how pitchers attacked Reyes in the National League once they got ahead of him. On the right shows how American League pitchers tried to put Reyes away. The contrast is enormous.
Pitchers in the National League were giving Reyes way too good of pitches to hit when they had him on the ropes. These pitchers were not leaving the zone nearly often enough against the chase-happy Reyes.
In the American League, Reyes received nothing good to hit when he was behind. Pitchers learned that throwing strikes was not necessary. Reyes was more than willing to chase.
Now is a perfect time to add pitch type data into the mix to get a better idea of how pitchers in each league were truly attacking Reyes.
Differences in Pitch Type to Franmil Reyes Between Leagues
Staying true to stereotypes, Reyes saw more fastballs in the National League than the American. 51.5% of the pitches Reyes saw as a Padre were straight fastballs. The next most frequent pitchers were sliders (25.4%), curves (9.2%), and changeups (8.1%).
Reyes was fed mainly a diet of fastballs and sliders. Combining this data with the pitch location heat maps makes it very clear how National League pitchers were trying to get Reyes out.
There were two main pitches they would use – fastballs on the outer-third and sliders on the outer-third or off the plate. Reyes quickly realized that sliders breaking down and away were the only strikeout pitch he needed to respect. Pitchers did not attempt to mix in other pitches nearly often enough for Reyes to feel the need to sit on them.
In the American League, pitchers only threw Reyes fastballs 47.1% of the time. AL arms also threw sliders about 3% less often. As an Indian, Reyes saw more curveballs and changeups.
The youngster went from having to respect 2 pitches to having to respect 4. Not only did the pitch selection change against Reyes with the Indians but the pitch location as well. It is clear to see why he was struggling upon his arrival in Cleveland.
Reyes looked very comfortable at the dish in San Diego. 75% of the pitches he saw were either a fastball or slider – which allowed him to sit on pitches, especially in hitter-friendly counts. Once Reyes got to Cleveland, pitchers were mixing up pitch type and location much more frequently and Reyes was caught guessing on many swings, especially when behind in the count.
O-Swing% for Reyes is practically identical in San Diego and Cleveland, but his O-Contact% dropped significantly with the Indians.
Although Reyes was still leaving the zone to chase with the same frequency, he was hitting those pitches 6% less frequently, which explains the increase in K%.
Not only was Reyes having a harder time laying off of chase pitches, but he was not as effective inside the zone. His Z-Swing% dropped over 4% while his Z-Contact% dropped nearly 2% in Cleveland.
Not only were pitchers fooling Reyes on sliders and breaking balls out of the zone, but they were freezing him on pitches inside the zone as well – more proof that Reyes was uncomfortable at the dish in Cleveland and was reduced to guessing. Any fan or player of the game knows hitters reduced to blindly guessing at the dish are not going to stick around for long.
Reyes has always been one to chase bad pitches. His combined 2019 Contact% ranks last in the MLB among qualified hitters. Pitchers have been able to throw him very few pitches in the strike zone. In San Diego, Reyes’ Zone% was 40.4% – meaning only 40.4% of all pitches he saw were in the strike zone. In Cleveland, that already-low rate fell even lower to 38.9%.
Pitchers knew that Reyes would continue to hit bombs unless they changed their approach. Opponents were pleasantly surprised to find that Reyes could not help leaving the zone.
TL;DR on Franmil Reyes for 2020
Reyes has enormous pop in his bat but has some major holes in his approach at the plate. He absolutely mashes anything inside the strike zone, but pitchers are too smart these days to give him good pitches to hit. Reyes has shown a complete lack of plate discipline – chronicled by a league-low Contact% and a concerning K%.
He is worth a late-round pick in fantasy leagues as he possesses great raw power and will hit 30+ homers in a full season if he can learn better plate discipline.
See you on top!