Jose Reyes is having an MVP-caliber season. He’s hitting .346/.391/.529 with three homers and a Major League leading eleven triples. To me the most interesting stat in his slash line is his on-base percentage, which is by far the highest it’s ever been (in 2008, his OBP was .358). What’s even more interesting is just how he’s achieving that OBP, which is fueled largely by his National League leading batting average and not by a high walk rate. That doesn’t mean, however, that Reyes’ patience at the plate hasn’t helped him out.
Reyes has walked a total of 21 times so far this season, and according to ZiPS, is projected to finish the season with 47 free passes, lower than his totals in ’06 (53), ’07 (77) and ’08 (66), which were three of Jose’s most successful years. His walk rate currently sits at 7.1%, below the league average of 8.4%. Typically, leadoff hitters draw a decent amount of walks as a method of getting on base. The greatest leadoff hitter of all time, Rickey Henderson, averaged a walk rate of 16.4% for his career. Jose Tabata, the leadoff hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates, is currently walking at a 12.2% clip this season. And yet despite the relatively low number of walks, Reyes is exhibiting the best plate discipline of his career.
Jose has been a difficult hitter to strike out in 2011. He’s fanned only 25 times so far, with ZiPS projecting him to finish with a strikeout total of 61, which would be the lowest of Reyes’ career in any season in which he recorded at least 600 plate appearances. His punchout rate of 9.2% is well below the ML average of 20.5%, and his career mark of 11.8%. The low strikeout total can also be linked to Reyes’ plate discipline.
Actually, maybe plate discipline isn’t the right phrase, since Reyes is actually swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone than his usual-it’s just that he’s making more contact. Coming into yesterday’s game, Reyes swung at 29.4% of pitches out of the zone, above his career mark of 26.2%, according to FanGraphs. In addition, he’s swinging at a fewer percentage of pitches (57.7%) than his career average (62.1%) as well. But when Reyes does swing, he makes the opposing pitcher pay. If a pitch is in the strike zone, Reyes makes contact 95.4% of the time, a higher rate than his career average of 92.6% and the Major League average of 87.9%.
But if pitchers think they can make Reyes miss on a pitch out of the strike zone, they should think again. Jose has made contact with a whopping 78.2% of pitches out of the zone. Compare that to his career mark of 70.9% and the ML average of 68.0%, and one can see why Reyes is having such a successful season. To top it all off, the Mets shortstop has only swung and missed at 4.3% of pitches this season, while the majors are whiffing at an 8.4% clip.
So while walks haven’t been an integral part to Jose Reyes’ success this season, he has done a better job than in the past and making contact and either fouling off pitches or putting the ball in play. Given his high BABIP of .371, meaning that when Reyes puts the ball in play, he will wind up with a hit about 37% of the time (the average this year so far is about 29%), it’s possible his batting average will eventually come down, and his OBP along with it, unless he starts to draw more walks. However, if Reyes can keep making contact at the plate, he will remain a difficult out for opposing pitchers. For now though, Reyes is locked in at the plate (and has been all season) and seems to hit just about everything.