Last season, Bryan Reynolds was the Pirates best player, amassing a 6.1 fWAR in 159 games. He hit .302 with a .912 OPS, 35 doubles, a league-leading eight triples, 24 home runs and 90 runs driven in. The strong performance resulted in his first All-Star appearance and an 11th-place finish in the National League MVP race.
It was a major bounce back season for Reynolds who struggled in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, a year in which he hit just .189 with a .632 OPS. That year of course followed Reynolds’ strong rookie campaign in 2019.
Through 35 games so far this year, Reynolds has looked closer to his 2020 version rather than how he looked in 2021. It’s early and there’s not much reason to hit the panic button just yet, but why has Reynolds struggled in the early portion of the season?
For one, Reynolds is striking out in nearly a quarter of his plate appearances, as opposed to his 18.4% strikeout rate a season ago. One explanation as to why this is the case is Reynolds is chasing more than he did last year, a sign that he might not be seeing the ball as well as he did last season.
The bigger issue for Reynolds right now is that when he does make contact, he is not hitting the ball hard. Last year, Reynolds had an average exit velocity of 89.4 mph and this year, Reynolds is averaging an exit velocity of just 86.1 mph, which is even lower than his 2020 mark. He’s making hard contact 10% less than he did last year, and 13% less than his down year two seasons ago.
His line drive percentage has dipped seven percentage points form 25.6% to 18.6%, while his ground ball rate has jumped from 38.9% to 46.5%.
The good news for Reynolds so far this season is that he is still drawing walks at an impressive 11.8% clip, which is on par with what it was in 2021. He also still possess well above-average sprint speed.
Right when it looked like he was on the verge of a breakout after hitting .344 with a 1.072 OPS over a nine games from Apr. 30- May 10, Reynolds is currently mired in an 0 for 20 slump, with his last hit coming last Tuesday.
While it may not be time to panic yet, the Pirates certainly need Reynolds to start looking more like the player he was in 2021 rather than who he was in 2020. Over their last two games, the Pirates have only recorded three hits combined — all singles, and have only scored more than five runs twice in 14 games in May.