Updated: Nov 22, 2017
After spending the entire 2017 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Alex Reyes has been hard at work preparing for an integral role with the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals. For Cardinals fans, 2017 was nothing more than a forgettable season. While some individual players (i.e. Tommy Pham, Paul DeJong) certainly posted breakout seasons, the team failed to reach the playoffs, for the second straight season. And during this time, some may have forgotten about the exciting repertoire of the 23-year-old Reyes. As you’d expect, I am here to change that.
2016 PITCHF/X BASICS (VIA BROOKSBASEBALL.NET)
No current Cardinal pitcher — and yes, this includes Carlos Martinez — possesses a deeper repertoire than Reyes. Sure, control remains a serious issue (12.2% walk rate in 2016), but given the overall complexity of his repertoire, Reyes retains a high floor for sustained success. Plus, for those worried about his walk rate, one positive indicator for the future is the fact that Reyes’ 2016 zone percentage (48.3%) was actually higher than the league average rate of 47.0% (using Pitch Info).
So, what’s the point in throwing five different pitches, anyway? Well, four of Reyes’ five pitches are of legitimate swing and miss quality, with the slider leading the way at whiffs on 45.45% of swings. And from a sequencing standpoint, the five-pitch Reyes can be extremely creative versus hitters — especially during the second or third time through the order — as he is able to readily mix and match a diverse assortment of velocities and movements (both horizontal and vertical). As you’ll see in some of the GIFs below, it is nearly impossible to overstate the value of changing a hitters’ eye level when discussing a pitcher throwing as hard as Reyes does.
This should not come as much of a shock, but sinker-changeup is the most appealing Reyes sequence for me. While the horizontal movements match up almost perfectly, the difference in velocity — on average, 7.68 MPH — can lead to successful pitch tunneling.
Another exciting sequence is fourseamer-curveball as the average velocity difference between the two pitches is an eye-opening 19.27 MPH. When a pitcher is able to yield a velocity differential near 20 MPH, without telegraphing either pitch, the result is an unfair task for opposing hitters.
The threat of triple digits is very real with the fourseamer. This is the pitch that put Reyes on the radar of nearly every scout. That being said, one year removed from Tommy John surgery, I wouldn’t be surprised if Reyes dials his velocity back a little bit. Yet, he will likely open 2018 out of the bullpen, so the counteracting forces may cancel each other out, at least initially. Regardless, with the threat of four other pitches, Reyes at 94-95 MPH is as successful as many pitchers at 96-98 MPH. The height and length of his release, along with the propensity to locate the pitch up in the zone, play the velocity up a bit as well.
In my opinion, the sinker will be a very important pitch for Alex Reyes, starting pitcher. It’ll rarely ever grade well from a results standpoint because it doesn’t lead to a lot of swings and misses (7.55% in 2016), but it will allow for early-in-the-count contact which will subsequently lead to longer outings. Sequenced properly with the changeup, I also foresee Reyes getting a lot of three pitch strikeouts going forward, similar to the one below against Fowler (yes, Fowler got screwed on strike three).
Strikeout of Dexter Fowler (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
If you follow me on Twitter (@stlCupofJoe), you already know that the changeup is my favorite Reyes’ offering, by far. From a velocity standpoint, the pitch pairs perfectly with his fastballs — differing by 7.68 MPH from his sinker and by 9.13 MPH from his fourseamer. If the pitch doesn’t lead to a swing and miss (39.42% of swings), it is frequently put on the ground (58.82% ground balls per BIP). For perspective, Carlos Martinez’s changeup — the definition of a “worm killer” — yielded a ground ball rate of 62.16% in 2017, so this is a really impressive showing by Reyes’ change.
Groundout by Joey Votto (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
Joey Votto is one of baseball’s very best hitters. It isn’t easy to catch him off balance. Yet, this is exactly what Reyes was able to do, leading to relatively harmless ground out to second base. It took Reyes six pitches to retire Votto, and what’s most interesting is he went to the changeup four times. There aren’t many Cardinal pitchers I feel confident pitching to Votto, but Reyes possesses the repertoire to get him out, consistently.
This is actually a relatively new pitch in Reyes’ repertoire. Just ask Ben Zobrist who swung over the top of the first documented slider of Reyes’ young career on September 13, 2016. Yes, 449 pitches into his first MLB season, Reyes — already possessing the ability to throw four plus pitches — decided to unleash a fifth one — an 86.3 MPH slider. When sequenced with his fastballs, the pitch can be absolutely filthy.
Strikeout of Eugenio Suarez (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
If you are looking for a prime example for an upcoming “What is pitch tunneling?” presentation, look no further. As you can see by the trails, these two pitches were released nearly identically (both vertically and horizontally), followed a very similar path for roughly half of their respective flight’s home, only to land in two very different locations. The 96.5 MPH fourseamer rode just above the strike zone, and the 84.7 MPH slider landed at the very bottom of the zone. If the opposing hitter is unable to pick up the slider spin early on, he stands no chance because even the best swing would lead to nothing more than on-the-ground contact versus this pitch.
Only one pitcher — in all of baseball — threw a curveball with more vertical drop than Reyes in 2016. Per the PitchInfo Leaderboard on FanGraphs, Reyes’ curveball averaged -11.5 inches of vertical movement, second to only Garrett Richards of the Angels (-11.6 inches). Combine the velocity difference referenced above, and you have an extremely effective option for getting hitters out.
Strikeout of Ryon Healy (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
Honestly, my words aren’t needed to describe this three-pitch strikeout sequence. Look no further than Healy’s knees on strike one and his head as he trudges back to the dugout after strike three (a 99.4 MPH fourseamer, by the way).
Reyes will almost certainly open the 2018 season out of the bullpen. He will benefit from the role as he will only be one year removed from Tommy John surgery, but the Cardinals will benefit as well, with Trevor Rosenthal being a likely non-tender due to Tommy John of his own. If the Cardinals plan a return to the postseason in 2018, Reyes will be a crucial figure — out of the bullpen and in the starting rotation — in achieving that goal. Barring any sort of setback, I’d look for his return to the starting rotation near the All Star break.