Should Jose Reyes hit more ground balls?

As I was watching the Mets’ last game of the season—the one they had to win but didn’t, not even close—TV analysts Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling started swapping analyses of Jose Reyes’ season-ending month-long slump. Both Hernandez and Darling (two great analysts) agreed that Reyes had been hitting too many fly balls in the month of September.

September was a horrendous month for Reyes. He batted .205/.279/.333, and received a lot of the blame for the Mets’ demise (though the true New York culprit was their pitching and fielding). And he sure seemed to be hitting a lot of fly balls. On that ignoble September day, he hit four fly balls and only one grounder. Two of the fly balls didn’t even leave the infield.

Now, I’m not someone who has ever thought that Reyes should be a ground ball hitter. True, Reyes is fast, but he didn’t even rank in the league’s top ten in runs produced per ground ball (as you can read in this year’s THT Annual). In other words, he’s not an Ichiro, who produced .12 runs per ground ball last year, vs. Reyes’ .08. Sometimes, you get the sense that the Mets would like to see Reyes bat more like Luis Castillo, bunting and smacking the ball into the ground.

Castillo, by the way, only produced .06 runs per ground ball for the Mets last year. Do you really want Jose Reyes to bat like Luis Castillo?

But hey, as Bill Conlin might say, what do I know? So I decided to look up some more Reyes batted ball info from Baseball Info Solutions.

Here is a table of how often Reyes batted grounders, fly balls, etc. grouped by the number of hits he racked up per game. Looking at the first line, he had zero hits in 40 games. In those games, 19% of his flies were infield flies, 44% of his batted balls were grounders, 6% were line drives and 44% were fly balls (including the infield variety).

 Hits       G    IF/F     GB%     LD%     FB%
    0      40     19%     44%      6%     44%
    1      60     18%     43%     12%     42%
    2      44      9%     35%     28%     32%
    3      10      0%     44%     22%     27%
    4       4      0%     13%     69%     19%
    5       2      0%     20%     10%     70%
Total     160     13%     40%     18%     38%

So, what can we say here? Well, gee, he gets more hits when he hits more line drives—no surprise there. Also, he hits fewer infield flies when he’s having a good day. Also not a surprise. But, taking it a step further, Reyes’ flyball rate does seem to drift steadily down as his production increases. Are Ron and Keith onto something?

(Technical note: totals may not equal 100%, because some batted-ball types, most notably bunts, aren’t included.)

For contrast, let’s look at the same table for Mr. Ground Ball himself, Ichiro Suzuki.

            IF/F     GB%     LD%     FB%
       0      4%     60%      8%     30%
       1      4%     57%     17%     24%
       2      0%     54%     24%     22%
       3     40%     52%     26%     20%
       4      0%     53%     20%     20%
       5      0%     40%     40%     20%
Total         8%     56%     20%     23%

You can see the same results, only more extreme. Overall, 56% of Ichiro’s batted balls were grounders, vs. 40% for Reyes. And his hit total rose as his line drive percentage rose, too. The thing is, it looks as though Ichiro’s line drives came from both his groundball and flyball totals. See how they both steadily decline as his hit total, and line drive total rise?

If you look back at Reyes’ table, the pattern of line drives increasing at the expense of both ground balls and fly balls appears to be similar. So let’s take a different look. How about Reyes’ monthly stats? Let’s add a column, H/BB, which stands for hits per batted ball. As you can see, Reyes was red-hot in April, not so much in September.

            H/BB    IF/F     GB%     LD%     FB%
Apr          40%     14%     42%     25%     30%
May          32%      8%     35%     19%     41%
Jun          38%     17%     42%     17%     38%
Jul          29%      6%     44%     19%     33%
Aug          30%     12%     37%     14%     43%
Sep          24%     22%     39%     13%     44%
Total        32%     13%     40%     18%     38%

Check it out: Reyes’ flyball rate did indeed reach its highest point of the year in September, and his infield fly/fly ball rate was a terrible 22%. But his groundball rate was about his seasonal average (39% vs. 40% for the year). What happened? Judging by this table, his line drives apparently turned into fly balls. Jose Reyes was indeed hitting too many fly balls in September, but he didn’t need to hit more ground balls. He needed to hit more line drives (and fewer infield flies).

You know, I have no idea how to coach a batter. But I have a pretty strong feeling that if you told Jose Reyes to be more of a ground ball hitter, you’d take away from his true hitting strengths. The guy is a line drive hitter who lost his stroke and probably started pressing. Let’s not make things worse by encouraging him to hit more ground balls.

I’m pretty sure Reyes is going to find his stroke again. As Jessica blogs in this entry, he’s already shown an impressive ability to learn and improve. There’s no need to panic, folks.

Mets’ fans remember that David Wright got off to a slow start last year, though he wound up having a terrific year. How did his batted ball stats look?

            H/BB    IF/F     GB%     LD%     FB%
Apr          33%      0%     45%     24%     31%
May          38%      9%     38%     21%     42%
Jun          40%      3%     38%     14%     49%
Jul          42%      0%     36%     22%     44%
Aug          48%      7%     40%     26%     37%
Sep          39%      4%     43%     32%     27%
Total        40%      4%     40%     24%     38%

One thing we can probably all agree on: David Wright shouldn’t be a ground ball hitter. In April, when only 33% of his batted balls fell for hits, 45% were ground balls. He was doing a lot of good things: hitting line drives and he wasn’t hitting infield flies. He was just hitting too many ground balls. And, as noted in the this year’s THT Annual, he produced only .02 runs per ground ball.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

No, David Wright is a line drive/fly ball hitter who had trouble with his stroke early in the year. When Reyes was off, infield flies were his telltale sign. When Wright was off, ground balls were his.

You know, this analysis just reminds of what a powerful stat infield flies are. Of all the batted ball information we get from Baseball Info Solutions, this may be the most insightful of all. There are two reasons I say this. First, infield flies are powerful negative events. They are outs 99% of the time, which means they’re almost as painful as strikeouts.

Second, batters show a consistent tendency to hit (or not hit) infield flies. The major league “leader” in IF/F last year was Eric Byrnes, who hit an infield fly in an astoundingly bad 27% of all his fly balls (the major league average is 10%). But this wasn’t out of line. Last year, 25% of his flies were infield flies, in line with his 2004 totals.

In fact, here are Byrnes’ IF/F figures by month last year, starting in April and finishing in September:


That is consistency. With stats like that, it’s remarkable that Byrnes had such a good year.

Here is a link to the players who tended to hit the most infield flies last year. And here is a link to the players who hit the fewest.

Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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