Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is Mark Reynolds Garbage? An "Intellectual" Debate

Hello there, nobody that reads BWP any more! I hope you're existing (you're not). Recently, it came to my attention that some people don't think that Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds is a $12.5 million albatross, a horrible player, and overall an impolite and mean guy (unsubstantiated). Thus, we've enlisted the help of BWP friend Brian, a handsome and dapper gentleman if ever there was one (much unlike Mark Reynolds) to defend this $12.5 million lump of hot garbage. Retorts will be from the venerable BWPer that you know as "Rob." Away we go!



Thanks for putting this together, Rob. I look forward to solving the age-old O’s fan question together: what in the world are we to make of current O’s third baseman Mark Reynolds? I’m taking the pro-Reynolds side, and this is my first installment.
Reynolds may not be an All Star-caliber third baseman, but guess what: over 90% of all third basemen aren’t, either! Despite his obvious flaws (one of which is that he plays third base in a town where the legacy of Brooks Robinson as the greatest defensive third baseman of all time hangs like a Michael Gonzalez breaking ball), he has already proven to me that he is one of the better AL third basemen, one of the best current Oriole hitters, and a huge upgrade from the rotation that held down the position for the Birds last year. The numbers bear this point out well (all figures are through 6/19/2011).
Reynolds ranks third among AL third basemen with a .352 wOBA (for my money the single most important offensive statistic). He also is fourth in OBP (.335), third in SLG (.451), and first in P/PA (4.26). You might counter that these position rankings only include those third basemen who regularly occupy the position; situational players and platoons are not included. I’ll grant you that, but why should we discount Reynolds’s consistency and ability to play in 68 out of 69 games this season for the Orioles?
Still not convinced? Let’s examine his performance compared to the production the team got from third base last year. O’s third basemen in 2010 compiled a .283 wOBA, 16 HR, 71 RBI, and a .668 OPS. Reynolds is on pace to destroy these numbers, projecting to 30.5 HR and 84.5 RBI and exceeding last year’s wOBA mark by .069 and last year’s OPS figure by .118. Unless Rob intends to claim that Ty Wigginton is a Gold Glove-level defensive third baseman, Reynolds is clearly a huge upgrade for the Orioles compared to the gaping hole in the lineup that third base represented last year.
Still not convinced? Wow, Rob said this would be easy. OK, let’s check out how Reynolds stacks up to his current Oriole teammates. So far this year Reynolds ranks second among regulars in wOBA, first in HR with 13, second in RBI with 36, and second in OBP with .335. So if we were to take him out of the lineup tomorrow, the Orioles would lose one of the only relative bright spots in the lineup so far this year.
To sum up: Reynolds is among the best offensive third basemen in the AL, he is among the Oriole team leaders in every offensive category, and he represents a monumental improvement over the third base platoon of last year. Is he perfect? Heck no. I have big qualms about the defense, and the strikeouts and batting average tick me off. But the production is there, and frankly it’s time that the Reynolds-haters come up with some sort of alternative. Every team can’t have Kevin Youkilis; I’m happy that we have Mark Reynolds.



Brian makes a lot of comparisons to Orioles’ seasons past, even invoking the hallowed name of Ty Wigginton, but that’s a false dilemma. If I gave you the choice between a rotten tuna sandwich and a poop sandwich, you’d pick the rotten tuna sandwich. It doesn’t mean the rotten tuna is delicious. And the Orioles paid $12.5 million for rotten tuna.
Yes, he is an upgrade over trash like Wigginton and whoever else has manned the hot corner in recent years. But garbage is garbage, and Reynolds is garbage.
Mark Reynolds is, by most calculations, a decent-to-good hitter. The problem is that Mark Reynolds plays defense, and Raul Ibanez is the only thing keeping him from being worse at fielding than anyone else in the major leagues. All of that nice, semi-above-average offense is almost completely wiped out by his abortion of a defensive performance.
The stats support what you see on the field: Reynolds is a typical, unspectacular “three true outcomes” player (home run/strikeout/walk) that plays abysmal defense. His WAR (wins above replacement) right now is .3, meaning for the first 68 games of the season, he has generated about three more runs than you’d expect a AAAA-level player to generate. He’s basically Josh Willingham.
He produces enough on offense (20 percent better than the average player), but he’s given away about 14 runs on defense. Basically, he’s a 1.7 WAR player on offense (winning 1.7 more games than a replacement) and a -1.4 WAR player on defense (losing 1.4 games more than a replacement). In the end, he’s a replacement player. Which is to say, replaceable. And for much cheaper than $5 million this year and $7.5 million next year.
Yes, amongst qualifying third basemen in the AL, Reynolds has top-five rankings, or whatever. Until you realize that you’ve cherry-picked a criterion that only eight guys in the universe (third basemen in the AL with at least 225 plate appearances in 2011) actually fall under. If you look at more guys who are playing baseball, you’ll find that about the only time Mark Reynolds is a top-five player is when you’re only looking at five guys.
His high wOBA would be super nice, if baseball were a competition to see who could produce the highest wOBA. Unfortunately, somewhere between 5 and 10,000 other factors go into being a baseball player, and Mark Reynolds is not good at 95 percent of them.
Like I said, he gives you the three true outcomes – he homers (24th in the league), walks (14th) and strikes out (fourth). But he doesn’t really do anything else, and when you combine that with defense that should make women and children avert their eyes, you get a guy who is worth three runs over 68 games.
Comparing him to other Orioles, old and new, is like comparing a banana peel to a pile of used hypodermic needles. One is preferable to the other, but they’re both garbage.



Wow, some tough talk from Rob. Mentions of poop, needles, and garbage obviously resonate with all O’s fans, but let’s dig a little deeper into Rob’s response to look at the substance of his argument.
First of all, I’m glad he brought in WAR because WAR is a great statistic that pretty handily summarizes a player’s overall contribution to the success of the team. While Reynolds currently has a WAR of 0.3, it should be noted that as recently as a week ago his WAR was negative. Therefore, his performance is clearly trending in the right direction, as you would expect from someone adjusting to the AL East. I’m also glad Rob brought up WAR because WAR shows that Reynolds is far from the biggest problem on this team. WAR statistics indicate that only three Orioles are playing at a very high level this year: Wieters (1.4), Hardy (1.4), and Jones (1.3). Reynolds – the $5 million man – has thus far produced a higher WAR than Vladimir Guerrero ($8 million, 0.2 WAR) and Derrek Lee ($7.25 million, -0.1 WAR), among others.
The other main point I need to make regards Reynolds’s defense. Rob claims that it is an abortion, and certainly the numbers aren’t pretty at this point. But I feel it is appropriate to moderately discount his defensive statistics for several reasons. First, without wanting to beat a dead horse, defensive statistics are troublesome, frequently misleading, and not as telling as offensive statistics. They need to be taken with a huge grain of salt.
Secondly, third base is not a tremendously important defensive position. The consensus in baseball is that the most important defense position is catcher, followed in some order by the rest of the up-the-middle defense (second base, shortstop, and center field) because these positions face more chances and record more outs. After those four, I would argue that first base is the next most important position. That puts Reynolds at the 4th least important defensive position on the field. Would we like his defense to be better? Sure. But it’s not like he’s playing shortstop or something.
Thirdly, as previously mentioned, Reynolds is just starting to warm up and become comfortable. He is not going to end up with 35 errors (his current pace) and a .901 fielding percentage. In the past two years with the Diamondbacks he has recorded fielding percentages of .951 and .945 while registering 18 and 19 errors. Over a larger 2011 sample size his defensive performance will probably converge to his mean.
Finally, his poor defense is not overwhelming the team as a whole. The Orioles have committed 47 errors so far this season. This total is only 5 worse than the MLB median. Also, the team’s overall fielding percentage is .982. Reynolds must not be dragging that down too far, because the MLB-leading fielding percentage is .988. .Reynolds’s teammates are picking him up sufficiently on the defensive end and he is more than picking up for them on the offensive end.
Before I close up here I need to call Rob out quickly and respectfully on one thing. He went on rhetoric-overload to disparage Reynolds without answering the basic question I posed: who else? Name someone who could realistically be playing third base for the O’s right now and justify to me how he is better than Reynolds. I totally support the time-honored Baltimore tradition of calling O’s players trash (actually, “bum” was the term of choice in my house), but calling Reynolds names is less persuasive than providing an alternative.


The argument will rage on into infinity. Expect more long-winded retorts from both of us as time rolls on, and please make sure to leave your invisible comments (as you, a reader, do not exist) and weigh in on this super-unimportant issue.

DOES MARK REYNOLDS SUCK? The true answer ... we may never find.

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