PITTSBURGH -- Is Bryan Reynolds becoming one of the premier pure hitters in Major League Baseball?
Well, he’s sure making a case.
“I definitely sense that,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “... This kid can hit.”
Though Adam Frazier’s MLB lead in hits has drawn the most eyes, Reynolds is on a bit of a power tear, which he extended with a two-run homer to left field in the Pirates’ rain-shortened 6-3 loss to the Dodgers on Thursday at PNC Park.
The projected 373-foot blast to left field by Reynolds marks his sixth in a span of 13 games. But he’s been doing more than just hitting homers. The left-handed hitter led the league in doubles for a good while, though Frazier has taken that lead now. Entering Thursday, he had a 13.5% walk rate, which was 17th best in the Majors. All these factors have led to a strong .382 weighted on-base average for Reynolds -- also good for 17th-best in the Major Leagues ahead of Thursday’s action.
“I just keep sticking to the approach I’ve got, trying to drive the ball middle and whatever happens there happens,” Reynolds said. “If it’s over, it’s over. If it’s a broken-bat single, it’s a broken-bat single.”
Whether a walk, a hit or a blast, Reynolds is showing marked improvements from a weird 2020 season, when he hit .189 -- the first time in his career he’d ever hit under .300 in a full season going back to his days at Vanderbilt.
Now he’s added clearing the wall regularly to his resume. Thursday’s shot to left field wasn’t crushed; it towered 133 feet and dropped over the shorter part of the left-field wall at an estimated 373 feet. That kind of shot fits with Shelton’s assessment of Reynolds’ home run potential.
“It's going to fluctuate between the balls that he hit that travel an extra three feet or four feet that are homers or they stay as doubles,” Shelton said, “but he's going to hit the ball hard and have extra-base hits."
But have those “extra three feet or four feet” been necessary this season? Not so much.
Six of the left-handed hitter’s 10 homers have been estimated at 418 feet or more, including a 436-foot blast in Milwaukee that led a Brewers commentator to remark, “That’s about as far as you’ll see in this ballpark."
However, even in an age of advanced metrics and high-speed cameras, Reynolds isn’t focused too much on bat speed or exit velocities. In fact, he’s in the 33rd percentile of average exit velocity in the Majors. For him, it’s a game of timing and feel. If he feels he’s set and in sync, he feels he’s got a good shot to catch one clean.
“It’s just about getting my body and my bat in a good position to fire from,” Reynolds said. “I know if I get ready on time, then I’ll be able to hit the fastball wherever it is."
And Reynolds is realistic with himself about the homer surge. Catcher Jacob Stallings said he spoke with Reynolds earlier this season, and the center fielder said he felt like all he was hitting these days are homers.
“I was like, 'What's wrong with that?'” Stallings said. “He's like, 'Well, I guess nothing.'"
The point was that Reynolds didn’t know if the consistent homer production really fit with what his game has been historically. It felt like it was off the typical pace of pop he’s produced in his career.
But nothing is stopping the ball from going over the fence right now, and the Pirates hope that even if the trend begins to wane, the production is a sign of a bruising bat.
“He’s in a nice stretch right now,” Shelton said, “and I think you’re seeing a guy who’s going to be a really good hitter for a long time in the big leagues."