When Bryan Reynolds made his Major League debut with the Pirates in 2019, he quickly burst onto the scene and emerged as a force in the Pirates’ lineup. That year, he finished with a .317 batting average, an .880 OPS (130 OPS+) and finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year race. That year, Reynolds was so consistent that he entered play just twice with his average below the .300 mark.
Fast forward a year to 2020, and Reynolds’ 60-game season went about as disastrously as he could have imagined. Reynolds hit just .189, second worst in the National League, and managed an OPS+ of just 71. His strikeout percentage climbed to over 27%, and Reynolds struggled with timing — especially when it came to the fastball. So, how did he respond?
Reynolds bounced back in a major way in 2021, posting a .912 OPS (146 OPS+) with 24 home runs and 90 runs batted in and started for the National League in the All-Star Game. He finished the season tied for the Major League-lead with eight triples and finished 11th in the MVP race.
There are a couple of factors that led to his reemergence last season. First, his average exit velocity jumped nearly two miles per hour from 87.5 to 89.4, which essentially matched his 2019 average (89.5). It’s no coincidence that his hard hit percentage also mirrored his 2019 mark, rising from 38% in 2020 to just under 41% in 2021.
Taking a look at Reynolds’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and his 2021 mark of .345 is high, but not as high as his 2020 mark of .387. For context, the league average is typically somewhere around the .300 mark so Reynolds likely was the beneficiary of some luck, though that is partially the result of hitting the ball harder. In 2020, Reynolds had a BABIP of just .231, turning his luck the opposite way.
Additionally for Reynolds, the other big reason for the turnaround in 2021 was that he hit more line drives, more fly balls and less ground balls than ever before. The switch-hitting Reynolds was consistent from both sides of the plate this year and on top of it all, dropped his strikeout percentage to just 18%.
Taking a look at his track record, other than 2020, Reynolds never had a season batting below .300 in his professional, collegiate and presumably high school career. One of the more impressive things about the season Reynolds had was that he was able to produce this offensive output with very minimal help in the lineup.
Asking a player to continue to produce seasons at the plate like this is a difficult ask, and there are only a handful in the game who are able to match what Reynolds did. With that being said, thanks to the adjustments that he made at the plate and the results that ensued, there are reasons to believe that this is fairly sustainable for Reynolds as he moves forward in his career. While he may take a minor step back if his BABIP regresses more towards league average
Thanks to increases in his hard hit percentage and improved launch angle, Reynolds has all the makings of being an anchor in the Bucs’ lineup for the foreseeable future. While he may take a step back of sorts if his BABIP regresses more towards league average, the substantial decrease in his strikeout percentage that he showed a year ago will help soften that potential blow.
For the Pirates, they certainly need it until some of their top position player prospects like Oneil Cruz, Nick Gonzales and Henry Davis have the chance to supplement Reynolds in the lineup once they reach the big leagues.