The St. Louis Cardinals have built a roster full of players that are good at making contact, difficult to strike out. In part due to these traits, which can be found up and down the lineup, the Cardinals haven’t hit for a lot of power these last couple years—especially in 2014. Enter free agent Mark Reynolds, an all-or-nothing batting talent, who St. Louis signed to a one-year deal, according to a Jon Heyman of CBS. The contract is worth a guaranteed base salary of $2 million, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with incentives. Goold also tweeted that, "Of the candidates for the bench, Renolds was always the best fit." I found this observation intriguing because, by offensive profile, Reynolds is an anti-Cardinal, a bizarro Birdo: he hits the ball a long way if he hits it at all.
In his career, Reynolds has struck out 31.9% of the time he has dug into a major-league batter’s box. The righthanded slugger has never struck out in fewer than 28.2% of his plate appearances, which he did last year with the Brewers; the highest K rate of his career occurred in 2010, at 35.4%. The MLB K rate for batsmen climbed to its highest point during Reynolds’s career in 2014: 19.9%. Reynolds at his least strikeouty is still a K machine compared to MLB non-pitchers at their most strikeouty.
The primary reason for Reynolds’s oodles of strikeouts is his penchant for swinging and missing.
Swinging Strike Percentage (SwStr% on Fangraphs) measures the share of strikes against a batter that are swings-and-misses. Reynolds has posted a career SwStr% to date of 16.3%, with a career high of 17.8% (2009) and low of 13.5% (2012). During Reynolds’s career, major-league non-pitchers haven’t had a SwStr% above 9.3%, which was posted in 2014. In 433 plate appearances with Milwaukee last year, Renolds swung and missed at 15.3% of the strikes against him. That ranked ninth among MLB non-pitchers who notched 400 or more PAs. For an idea of the swinging-strike-rate’s spectrum last season, Matt Carpenter’s 3.3 SwStr% was the lowest in all of baseball among players with at least 400 PAs.
It’s easy to tie Reynolds’s swings-and-misses and Ks to his swing. He swings hard and generates power when he connects. His .228 career Isolated Power (ISO)—a stat that is similar to Slugging Percentage (SLG), but differs in that it does not consider singles, only extra-base hits—is well above the MLB average for non-pitchers, which has sat between .138 (2014) and .159 (2009) during his years playing in the majors. Last year, while playing his home games in the hitter-friendly confines of Miller Park, Reynolds posted a .198 ISO. How that will translate to Busch Stadium, which is pitcher-friendly and particularly hard on righthanded hitters, remains to be seen.
The holes in Reynolds’s powerful swing are further reflected in his contact rate. For his career, Reynolds has made contact 47.7% of the time; his career low is 61.8% (2009), with a high of 68.5% (in 2012 and 2014). MLB non-pitchers during Reynolds’s big-league tenure have had their Contact% fluctuate between 81.1% and 79.6%. It’s no wonder Reynolds has a career batting average of just .229.
The signing also indicates that the Cardinals view their internal righthanded outfield options as satisfactory. Peter Bourjos and, to a lesser extent, Randal Grichuk, are both fine bench outfielders. Bourjos is an otherworldly defender; Grichuk is good patrolling the outfield pastures. Neither is likely to be all that great with a bat in 2015. Steamer projects Bourjos to bat .236/.296/.364 (.294 wOBA, 87 wRC+) and Grichuk .241/.282/.401 (.300 wOBA, 91 wRC+). The signing of Reynolds, who has played 15 innings in the outfield in his career, indicates that the Cards are okay with the Bourjos-Grichuk duo spelling Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, and Jason Heyward.
Early in his career, Reynolds was ostensibly a third baseman. He was only ever allowed to butcher balls at the hot corner because of his ability to bludgeon them with the bat. As his offensive production has fallen off, so too has his playing time at third base. In each of the last three seasons, the majority of Reynolds’s time in the field has come at first base. Reynolds has notched 825 innings at third over the last three seasons combined and 1,809 1/3 going back four years. For comparison: Carpenter played 1,371 innings at the hot corner last year over 158 games. How often will Reynolds spell Carpenter at third base? Not very, because Carpenter isn’t often spelled and, if there’s an injury, the versatile Dean Anna will likely serve as Carpenter’s primary fill-in.
When Reynolds plays in the field, it will most likely be at first base as the righthanded-hitting complement for Matt Adams, a role that much band has been widthed about at this site over the course of the offseason.
The Cardinals identified a specific set of talents they wanted in a bench bat. The signing of Reynolds indicates St. Louis prized power-hitting above all else. It will be interesting to see how often manager Mike Matheny deploys this position-player specialist.
The signing is officially official:
OFFICIAL: St. Louis Cardinals have signed infielder Mark Reynolds to a one-year contract.— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) December 12, 2014