Franmil Reyes’ initial tenure with the Indians was not a good one, his bat was pedestrian for a bat first player, and perhaps that has clouded what an exciting offensive ceiling he has. When the Indians dealt Trevor Bauer, his middling production and skills as a pitching coach for Yasiel Puig, Logan Allen, Scott Moss, Victor Nova, and Franmil Reyes, Reyes was the center piece in the midst of an exceptional package. Reyes struggled to a 101 wRC+ in the second half, and had long stretches of aimlessness. This is not shocking insofar as being traded at 23 years old and moving across the country cannot be relaxing, especially in the midst of a pennant race.
Reyes reached the Major Leagues at just 22, and his rookie season was dinger after dinger. With 16 home runs, a 129 wRC+, and only slightly nightmarish defense in right field over 87 games, Reyes exceeded all expectations.
The thrill about Reyes is that even in 2019, when his offense was less efficient, the contact authority was still exceptional. For a feel for his offensive profile, here are players with a high correlation of batted ball profile:
Reyes’ Baseball Savant page is born for stalking, a thrilling canvas that screams damage. 19th barrel rate among qualified hitters at 9.3%! Fourth in average exit velocity at 93.3 MPH. Seventh in hard hit percentage at 51%.
In 2019, Reyes wOBA, a statistic which measures damage in a way that OBP does not, was an adequate .338. However, his xwOBA which uses contact and plate discipline as inputs was .360, an exceptional number. Further, his xwOBA based on contact alone was a nearly impossible .468.
While Reyes is elite against left-handed pitching, he is slightly above league average against right-handed pitching too. Constructing a lineup which incentivizes opposing teams to leverage left-handed relievers around him with the new three batter minimum rule will be key to maximizing Reyes in the later innings.
The greater question, one may raise is how Reyes’ 44th percentile sprint speed fits on the defensive spectrum. Reyes played right field often in San Diego, in part because Eric Hosmer was locked in at first base.
Anyone who has observed Reyes on the bases, in the outfield, or well at the laundromat probably does not picture an outfielder. Of course, the Indians were willing to run the slow Michael Brantley out in left field, Mike Aviles in center field, Michael Martinez in center field, and well Ryan Raburn anywhere.
The Indians have two dynamic advantages when it comes to the poor defender, which is the enormous wall in left field starting at just 325 feet creates less space to defend, and allows outfielders to cheat more. Still further, with Oscar Mercado in center field, or even Bradley Zimmer as a backup, the Indians have the ability to shrink Reyes responsibilities, and hid him in a sense at home.
On the road, in the American League Fenway Park, Minute Maid in Houston, and others are similarly easy to defend. If not favorable, the Indians have no full time designated hitter and Reyes has enough bat to own the position if he has to transition there.
Finally, inter alia, Major League Baseball is in a stage of enormous strikeout rates, decreasing the level of impact defenders have. The Indians are among the best in this regard with Carrasco, Bieber, Clevinger, Civale, as well as bullpen strikeout machines like Hand, Karinchak, and Clase, the Indians will limit contact like few others, diminishing the impact of outfield defenders.
With limited adverse defensive impact due to current trends, and earth-shattering power, the Indians have an impact outfielder again.