Reynolds adds to stellar rookie campaign

Outfielder gets two hits, up to .329 in pursuit of NL batting title

August 31st, 2019

DENVER -- is a man of few words. But he’s also a man of many hits. One hundred and thirty one of them, to be exact.

There are only two National League hitters with a higher batting average this season than Reynolds, who is batting .329 after going 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles and an RBI on Friday night in the Pirates’ 9-4 victory over the Rockies at Coors Field. They are the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon (.333) and reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich of the Brewers (.331).

That gives Reynolds a real chance to become the first NL rookie to win a batting average title.

Reynolds has also reached base at a .399 clip and is slugging .525 with 14 home runs in 112 games. By a more holistic offensive measure -- weighted runs created plus -- Reynolds’ 142 ranks ninth in the NL, behind a group that includes the likely NL Rookie of the Year this season, the Mets’ Pete Alonso.

But, boy, if Alonso weren’t in the picture, it would be tough not to place the Bucs’ 24-year-old outfielder squarely in the conversation. The Pirates are getting quite the return for the January 2018 trade that sent outfielder Andrew McCutchen to the Giants.

“He just deserves the credit,” manager Clint Hurdle said of Reynolds’ place in that conversation, even with Alonso at the forefront. “Obviously, we had a target on him when we made the trade.

“He’s maximized his opportunity here. He solidified his spot. It’s real in the box from both sides. He can play all three outfield positions. Who wouldn’t want a young player like that in your lineup?”

Reynolds’ skill set was on display when he lined a double with an exit velocity of 102.4 mph that one-hopped the left-field wall in the second inning. Then in the fourth, he went to right-center with another double, this one driving in a run and coming off the bat at 103.3 mph.

Reynolds tried to stretch it to a triple and was thrown out but registered a sprint speed of 29.1 feet per second, according to Statcast. A sprint speed of 30 feet per second is considered elite, and Reynolds’ season average is 28 feet per second, above the MLB average of 27.

For a Pirates club that is hot at the plate and overall, having scored 20 runs over the first two games of the series in Colorado and winner in six of its last eight games, Reynolds’ continued production bodes well as it looks ahead to 2020.

“Obviously, there’s pressure playing at this level,” Reynolds said. “But it’s something I’ve worked for my whole life, and I’m trying to just really enjoy every moment I can.”

Reynolds is flying under the radar with the Pirates dwelling in last place in the NL Central and Alonso making history in New York. But if you look at the last four NL Rookies of the Year, all hitters, you see just how comparable Reynolds has been, perhaps giving him a legitimate shot in any other season.

Last year, the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. was named NL Rookie of the Year after hitting .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs and producing a 143 wRC+. Remember, Reynolds’ wRC+ is 142.

In 2017, the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger won the NL Rookie of the Year Award by slashing .267/.352/.581 with 39 homers and a 138 wRC+.

In ’16, Bellinger’s teammate, Corey Seager, won the award. He hit .308/.365/.512 with 26 home runs and a 136 wRC+.

And in ’15, the Cubs’ Kris Bryant was NL Rookie of the Year after posting a .275/.369/.488 line with 26 homers and a 136 wRC+.

Reynolds is having a season comparable to each of those as we head into September. Considering what the Pirates are trying to build toward with a young core -- postseason contention as soon as next year -- their most consistent hitter in the lineup being a 24-year-old rookie fits right in with the plan.

“The slash lines are real,” Hurdle said. “He’s earned it. And he’s earned it against Major League pitching every day.”