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Alex Reyes and the beauty of well-executed pitch sequencing

Cincinnati Reds v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

If you read nothing more than the traditional box score found in the morning paper, you will learn that St. Louis Cardinals rookie Alex Reyes was handed his first career loss in last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And generally speaking, it is best for pitchers to avoid having their names show up in the “loss” column of the box score in the morning paper. That being said, while Reyes was indeed on the mound when the Pirates scored the go-ahead run, the 22-year-old deserved a much better fate as he pitched admirably out of the bullpen — striking out six, walking none, and allowing only two hits (with one being the game-winning home run by Jung Ho Kang) over three and two-thirds innings.

By now, the baseball world should be pretty familiar with the repertoire of top prospect Alex Reyes. His fourseam fastball possesses the ability to reach triple digits, especially when he is used out of the bullpen. His changeup, an underrated pitch in my opinion, is becoming a consistent weapon as he gains comfort at the Major League level. And when Reyes gets the release point just right, his curveball can be one of those true 12-6, Bugs Bunny-type benders.

Most 22-year-old pitchers are able to “get by” with one plus pitch, one average to above-average pitch, and one “show-me-you-can-throw-some-sort-of-third” pitch (think of 2013 Michael Wacha, before the addition of a cutter, with his changeup, fourseamer, and curveball). Well, as discussed in the paragraph above, this is not at all the case for Reyes. His fourseamer is already plus, his changeup, once it shakes its underrated status, is borderline plus (I rate it even higher, for what it’s worth), and his curveball may be average overall at present but has still flashed above-average to plus potential.

So, what does this all mean? With a fourseamer in the high-90’s, a changeup in the high-80’s/low-90’s, and a curveball in the high-70’s, Reyes is what one would call a “pitch sequencing dream.” He can come at a hitter with vastly different velocities, movements, and locations — all with essentially the same release point. Given the various combinations involving both pitch selection and location, opposing hitters can go a full at bat against Reyes without seeing the same type of pitch more than once. Sure, he may throw his fourseamer two or three times in the at bat, but he can bounce around on each corner and move it up and down to change the hitter’s eye level — subsequently altering the hitter’s perception of the pitch.

Before getting any further in the discussion, let’s take a look at an example of well-executed pitch sequencing by Reyes from last night’s outing:

Strikeout sequence to Josh Harrison

In a vacuum, the 1-2 changeup was a bad pitch. Reyes badly missed on his release point (hence, why the pitch was up), but fortunately, it was a bad enough miss to where no damage was able to be done by Harrison. Also, as I have stated numerous times, pitching does not occur in a vacuum. We all know that already.

Thus, while the 1-2 changeup may have been a bad miss by Reyes (Molina’s target was down and away), it became an effective set-up pitch because it re-introduced an eye level (up) and velocity (low-90’s) to Harrison’s two-strike thought process at the plate. Assuming no shake-off from Reyes, both Yadier Molina and the flame-throwing righty knew the exact pitch to put Harrison away — a fourseamer down and away. Molina set his target, Reyes nailed said target, and Harrison’s bat didn’t reach the hitting zone until the pitch had already passed through it. Beautiful.

Strikeout sequence to Gregory Polanco

On the first 2-2 pitch, after missing way down and in with a 91-MPH changeup, Reyes and Molina had one thing in mind — saw Polanco off with a fourseam fastball down, in, but still in the strike zone. Just as he did with his fourseamer to Harrison, Reyes nailed Molina’s target, but this time, Polanco, a pretty good MLB hitter, made just enough contact to stay alive in the at bat. Polanco’s hope didn’t last long, though, as Reyes, after throwing five straight pitches middle-in, was set up perfectly to put the Pirates outfielder away with a changeup near the outside corner. Did you notice where Molina set his target on the strikeout pitch? Yep, Reyes nailed it once again.

Bottom line

Reyes possesses a repertoire many professional pitchers dream about on a regular basis. If he is able to consistently sequence this repertoire like the two examples seen above, he will be a force for many years to come. And finally, for those that may be curious, I would leave Reyes in the bullpen for the rest of the 2016 regular season — just as John wrote yesterday.

As always, credit to the for the GIFs used in this post.