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What was wrong with Bryan Reynolds?

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Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates struggled this season. We know that. We also know that the reason they struggled was for some combination of the following reasons: Deficiencies at certain positions, a rough transition period between front offices, or underperforming players, of which there were many. Bryan Reynolds fits squarely into the latter category.

Reynolds stormed onto the scene in 2019 with a tremendous first year. In fact, with the hope that Kyle Crick might bounce back, and with the way Reynolds was producing, the Andrew McCutchen trade looked like a steal — the exact opposite of the highway robbery the Tampa Bay Rays committed against the Pirates in 2018.

In fact, I found reason to believe Reynolds success was going to continue into 2020. Of course, that was before a pandemic forced the shutdown and ultimate resumption of the MLB season under peculiar circumstances. Before the season kicked off, I wrote an independent article about how Reynolds’ output was “not an aberration.” To give myself some credit, I conceded he may be the victim of a Sophomore slump, as it’s called, in some form or fashion. I just didn’t think it would be this bad. So what happened?

This season, Reynolds slashed .189/.275/.357 — a stark contrast from his .314/.377/.503 a year ago. Reynolds was worth 3.2 wins, according to FanGraphs, over 134 games. This season that total was 0.0, thanks in large part to his improved defensive ability. Had it not been for that, he would’ve finished with an fWAR under zero.

His .387 BABIP a season ago suggested he was the beneficiary of some luck, which was perhaps bad news for supporters. Conversely — though still concerning — Reynolds’ BABIP for this season was .231, suggesting he might’ve been burned by some bad luck.

Additionally, he pulled the ball a bit more frequently this year, jumping nearly seven percentage points, which means he wasn’t effectively hitting the ball to all fields like he had been. Also noteworthy: His hard hit percentage dropped five points, as well.

What’s interesting about all this is that much of his swing data remained largely the same, including swinging percentage on pitches outside the zone, contact percentage on pitches inside the zone, and overall swing percentage. That’s a promising sign, in some ways. That suggests his eye has stayed the same from a year ago.

The only discernible obviously problematic metrics available at FanGraphs is Reynolds’ hard hit percentage and inability to use the field the way he did last season. What this leads me to believe is that Reynolds’ true ability will likely lie somewhere between year one and year two. I doubt many people expected him to replicate his production from a year ago, but it’s likely that not many expected him to drop off this significantly, either. If I had to predict what Reynolds will look like next season, it’ll likely be something like this: .290/.345/.480, a 110 wRC+, and 2.7 fWAR.

Here’s to brighter days.