Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Bittersweet Homecoming

Photo courtesy of the NY Post
In the wake of massive offensive woes, the Mets needed to make some changes. They started by calling up Matt Reynolds and Ty Kelly, which has worked out well in the case of Reynolds, but Kelly's first stint in the major leagues landed him right back in Las Vegas. Next, the acquisitions of James Loney, and a player the Mets should have re-signed in the offseason, Kelly Johnson. Both players have been very nice pieces in New York, but without David Wright, Lucas Duda, and Juan Lagares, combined with the nagging injuries hindering Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker, and the complete disappearance of Michael Conforto since the beginning of May, the Mets needed more help. On June 25th, they made two important moves that greatly affect the present and future of the franchise. I will talk about the decision to replace Conforto with Brandon Nimmo later on, but this next stream of consciousness will be dedicated to the returning Jose Reyes.

The Jose Reyes who signed with the Mets at the end of June 2016 is a lot different than the Jose Reyes who first joined the Mets organization in 1999, or the Jose Reyes who took his batting title and departed Flushing after the 2011 season.This man is coming off the worst full season of his career. He is in his age 33 season, which means he is past his prime, as evidenced by his decreased speed and diminishing power. Most importantly for Reyes as a man, outside of baseball, he got a late start to his season after serving a suspension as a result of being charged for domestic violence during the offseason. With that news that Reyes will be called up to the big club today, it's time I give my opinion on the move. 

As much as I and everyone else wants to think of this move from a solely business standpoint, that's impossible to do. The elephant in the room is of course, the domestic violence case. Even in this day and age, emotional and physical abuse by men directed at women is far too common and a sign that misogyny is still prevalent in our society. Despite the fact that it was, as far as we know, a one time act, and his wife's forgiveness, Reyes will not be excused for his actions.

However, Reyes was then given a pretty fair punishment by the MLB and served his suspension. I feel the same way about Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice in the NFL, that one off the field incident should not end someone's playing career. If the player receives a sufficient punishment that impacts them, their wallet, and their career in a non-insignificant way, they should be allowed to resume their career afterwards. That doesn't mean we have to like the person under the uniform, because athletes have never existed for us to like the person, but rather for us to enjoy the player.

So let's talk about that player, because that's what Reyes was brought to New York to be. The narrative of a hopeless and broken player who hopes to regain his skill by returning home is extremely overblown. Last season wasn't good, at all, but it wasn't quite disastrous. Overall he slashed .274/.310/.378, with the worst of it coming after arriving in Colorado, where he was clearly unhappy. Even playing at Coors Field, he was only able to muster a very uninspired .259/.291/.368. Let's call that a down year. Obviously, at down year at the age of 32 is cause for concern, but it comes just after a productive 2014 season where he hit to a .726 OPS while swiping 30 bags and only being caught twice. At the time, it was his worst full, professional season since 2005, but he was still a legitimate leadoff hitter.

I'm confident that he can return to at least that level, and possibly surpass it through the end of the year with the Mets. He's not even guaranteed to play everyday, which would not only reduce the probability of injury, but maximize his skill set. I even noticed an interesting trend when looking at his splits that may allow the Mets to place him in the absolute perfect role.

If you look closely, you'l notice that since 2008 (with the small sample size of his injury-riddled 2009 notwithstanding), he has been a significantly better hitter from the left side of the plate. Because this particular trend has a large sample, it's fair to assume that it will continue this year. The reason why this piqued my interest is because with Reyes, the Mets have quite a few guys who can play across the infield, with Reynolds, Johnson, Wilmer Flores, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Neil Walker. Reyes's success against righties would complement Flores very well at a third base platoon, since Wilmer tends to struggle against right handed pitching. Coincidentally, switch hitters Cabrera and Walker are each doing much better from the right side of the plate this year. While neither's history suggests that this will certainly continue, it is possible, and Reyes can help counteract the potential dip in performance when a right handed pitcher is on the mound.

Outside of his splits, what Reyes does best is make plays with his legs, which he can still do even at this age. While his raw stolen base numbers have been in decline, along with his foot speed, his stolen base percentage remains high, meaning that he picks his spots well, and is usually successful whenever he decides to take off. The Mets don't have a guy who can do that. Reyes immediately becomes the team's fastest player (he's still probably faster than Juan Lagares) and adds another dimension to the team's offense.

Moving him away from shortstop was a great call by the Mets, since his defensive value there has been virtually nonexistent for years. He almost certainly won't be a plus defender at third base, but he could be average, which is perfectly acceptable. At any other position, he should be fine, since shortstop is the hardest defensive position in baseball outside of the battery.

This was a great move by Sandy Alderson, especially because of a reason I've yet to cover: the cost. Reyes will be getting the prorated league minimum, meaning that if I am entirely wrong and he rolls into Citi Field and subsequently shows that he can't play baseball anymore, the Mets can cut ties with him at almost no cost. That albatross of a deal he signed with the Marlins has been wiped away, and what's left is a reclamation project. If it works out, fantastic. If not, it will not be hard at all to move on. No matter how he performs, the Mets just added a former star who is only one season removed from solid productivity to an offense that is missing exactly what he is best at, for just the prorated league minimum.

Regardless of your opinion of Reyes as a person, he has a chance to help the Mets in their pursuit of their second consecutive pennant, and hopefully a championship this time around. A low risk flier on a former star is never a bad idea, even when there may be questions off the field. I'll continue to have mixed feelings about Reyes as a whole, but this is about baseball, and with that in mind, I say: welcome back Jose...now go get on base.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.


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