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Behold the Majesty of Alex Reyes

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You're going to like the way his pitches look. I guarantee it.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

If you’re a Cardinals fan who’s been living under a rock recently, I’ve got good news. Alex Reyes is coming back soon! Also, why are you reading an online article instead of catching up on important world events that happened while you were living under a rock? Are you malnourished? Probably- rocks don’t usually come with good meal plans. If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ll recall that Reyes was straight up dominant in his first rehab start in Low-A ball this week. He needed 80 pitches to strike out 12, and he touched 100 on the gun. Basically everything you could ask for, he delivered. It’s crazy to think about, but Reyes has actually already been good in the major leagues for almost half a season’s worth of starts. He’s not exactly an unknown commodity, but it’s easy to forget exactly what his game looks like. Between a year of newer pitching debuts and the fact that many of us have more or less blocked all baseball events from 2016 out of our brain, my memory of Reyes is a little fuzzy, so here’s a refresher.

Reyes throws four pitches- two varieties of fastball, a changeup, and a curve. He throws the fastballs super hard, and the offspeed pitches less hard- that much we know for sure. To give you a mental image of what these pitches look like, I came up with a little exercise to find comparable pitches that already exist in the majors. I looked at a few attributes’ effects on pitch results. Then, I took every pitcher who threw at least 100 of that pitch in 2017 and compared the values to Reyes’ values for the same pitch. Finally, I slightly weighted them so that the attributes that seem to matter the most counted more. For example, spin rate isn’t very predictive of how good your two-seamer is, so it’s weighted a bit lower. Here’s a quick disclaimer: I work, in my day job, in a field where sound statistical analysis is important. What follows in this article is NOTHING LIKE sound statistical analysis. I may not be a baseball scientist, but I know an arbitrary regression when I see one. If I say, for example, that Alex Reyes has Luis Severino’s fastball (foreshadowing!), I am not trying to imply that he’ll get exactly the same results as Severino. There are all kinds of things in pitching that matter that I didn’t capture. That said, it’s a fun way to get reacquainted with Reyes’ stuff. As a bonus, I’ve included videos of each of the pitches in action. Let’s get started.

Four-Seam Fastball

We’re starting with the good stuff. More so than any other pitch, this has been Reyes’ calling card so far in the majors. It follows that the pitchers he’s most similar to are effective fastball pitchers. Take a look:

Four-Seam Fastball

Player Velocity Spin Rate Horiz Mvmt (in.) Vert Mvmt (in.) SwStr%
Player Velocity Spin Rate Horiz Mvmt (in.) Vert Mvmt (in.) SwStr%
Alex Reyes 97.4 2317 -4.6 9.8 11.5
Luis Severino 97.8 2301 -5.2 9.4 10.8
Tommy Kahnle 96.6 2287 -1.7 8.9 9.9
Kelvin Herrera 97.8 2278 -4.6 9 12.4

This is pretty solid company- an ace with a great fastball and two relievers who rely on their four-seam a lot. Herrera is a reminder that just a dominant fastball isn’t enough to be good, but Severino and Kahnle are reminders that it’s certainly a step in the right direction. When you picture a batter way behind a high fastball, this is exactly what it should look like in your mind’s eye. Here’s how the pitch looks coming from Severino:

And here’s how it looks coming from Reyes:

Get used to those late, uncomfortable swings. That is a hallmark of Reyes’ game, and a hallmark of all the power fastballs his best compares to. The breaking pitches we’ll look at in a bit play up when hitters have to sell out to hit the fastball.

Two-Seam Fastball

This is much less a part of Reyes’ arsenal than the four-seam. Depending on what classification system you use, he throws a two-seam between 10 and 30 percent of the time. From a quick perusal of some Reyes starts, I’d lean closer to 10%. Either way, what you get here is a slightly different look than the pure cheese. Reyes’ two-seamer isn’t a classic sinker, as it still has really high velocity and pretty high spin rate. He didn’t make the comparables list, but Carlos Martinez uses his two-seamer similarly. Both are minor variations on the pure fastball rather than totally different iterations. Here are Reyes’ two-seam comparables:

Two-Seam Fastball

Player Velocity Spin Rate Horiz Mvmt (in.) Vert Mvmt (in.) SwStr%
Player Velocity Spin Rate Horiz Mvmt (in.) Vert Mvmt (in.) SwStr%
Alex Reyes 96.5 2251 -7.3 7.7 3.6
Michael Lorenzen 96.7 2190 -8 7.1 7.5
Frankie Montas 97.4 2331 -8.3 7.2 5.5
Pedro Strop 96.5 2338 -8.4 6.5 6.2

I wouldn’t worry too much about the low swinging strike rate here. The sample size just isn’t big enough, and that’s before we get to the classification issues. Either way, though, this is a bit more of a mixed bag. Michael Lorenzen as a top comparable is great- he has been so effective with his two-seam that he has basically abandoned four-seam fastballs entirely, and was a breakout relief star largely on the strength of that pitch. Frankie Montas is pretty bad. His best pitch is probably his sinker, but that’s like saying that Hanley Ramirez’s best defensive position is first base. It might be true, but only because everything else is so bad. Pedro Strop is fine, I guess. Either way, it seems right that Reyes uses this pitch more as a supplement than as anything he counts on too heavily.

Here’s Lorenzen getting Matt Kemp to top the ball:

And here is Reyes getting out of a jam with a meek grounder:

This pitch is fine. I’ve got nothing against it. That said, I’m ready to move on. The exciting stuff that pairs with the electric fastball is below.

Curveball

When Reyes first came up, scouts couldn’t get enough of his curveball. He’s toyed around with it, sometimes throwing it in the lower 80s and harder (some classification systems think this is a slider), sometimes in the upper 70s and bendy. Both versions of the pitch look intriguing. Here’s Eric Longenhagen in Fangraphs’ prospect coverage this year: “It’s possible Reyes’s mix of pitches will look a bit different after rehab, but scouts thought he had a chance for a plus-plus fastball, curveball, and plus changeup at peak.” Anyway, due to the changing versions of the pitch, approximations of Reyes’ curveball are going to be just that- approximate. He can throw it either way, and locate it either in the dirt or for a strike, so it’s best to think of it as a range of breaking pitches rather than one specific style of curve. Here are the comparables:

Curveball

Player Velocity Spin Rate Horiz Mvmt (in.) Vert Mvmt (in.) SwStr%
Player Velocity Spin Rate Horiz Mvmt (in.) Vert Mvmt (in.) SwStr%
Alex Reyes 80 2505 3.9 -8 7.2
Jon Gray 79.9 2528 4.9 -4.1 12.8
Carlos Torres 80.5 2545 6.1 -7.5 10.1
Tyler Glasnow 80.5 2571 5.4 -7.8 13.6

As you’d expect from a pitch that has been all over the place, Reyes’ comparables are similarly scattered. Jon Gray was good last year, but he showed a great curveball only in flashes. Carlos Torres was awful last year but has a good curve. Tyler Glasnow was awful AND had a bad curve, but he’s harnessed it this year and his pitching-independent stats look quite good. What I’m saying here, I guess, is that this pitch might be the fulcrum of Reyes’ season. It was anywhere from spotty to well above-average in 2016, depending on whether he threw it as a lollipop or made it a little slurve-ier, and watching the shape of this pitch will be a good place to look in Reyes’ first couple starts. What’s that? You don’t really want my writing, just some videos of breaking balls? Fine then. Here’s Gray throwing a 12-6 version of the pitch to get a popout:

And here’s Reyes going for more horizontal break to catch Kris Bryant looking:

If Reyes can harness these two versions of the curve, it will bode well for the year.

Changeup

Changeups are notoriously hard to evaluate using speed and movement data. By their very nature, they rely on deception and blending with fastballs to do their dirty work. If you don’t have those down, a changeup is basically just a flat and slow fastball, and that’s no way to get ahead. Let’s get this out of the way first- Reyes had a very consistent release point in 2016:

He had a decent amount of left-right variation in his changeup release points, but that matched his fastballs and breaking balls, which leaves the whole thing looking pretty indistinguishable to a hitter. With that as a caveat, I went with a slightly different ranking system here. In addition to using the normal speed and spin stats on changeups, I looked at the velocity gap between changeups and fastballs to find Reyes comparables. An 86mph changeup is going to look a lot different to a hitter if it’s coming from someone sitting 96 than from someone sitting 92. That’s reflected in the table below:

Changeup

Player Velocity Velo Gap Spin Rate Horiz Mvmt (in.) Vert Mvmt (in.) SwStr%
Player Velocity Velo Gap Spin Rate Horiz Mvmt (in.) Vert Mvmt (in.) SwStr%
Alex Reyes 88.3 9 1673 -7 5.2 22
Pedro Baez 87.8 9.4 1751 -4.5 5.9 20.9
Raisel Iglesias 88.6 8.1 1777 -9 2.8 19.9
Gerrit Cole 88.2 7.3 1633 -8.6 4.4 11.9

Pretty mixed bag here, but Reyes definitely has an archetypical hard changeup. If I had to put a comp on it independent of the velocity change he gets, I’d default to Michael Wacha. The pitch is an almost exact doppelganger for Wacha’s change, but it works differently in action because Reyes gets several extra miles an hour of separation on his. Still, if you want to see an ideal Reyes changeup in your mind’s eye, think 2013 Michael Wacha. If you want to see how it pairs with a spicy fastball, you could do worse than to look at Cole, here using a high changeup to jam Kris Bryant:

Here’s a similar Reyes changeup, with some bonus defense:

He’ll also use it to back up onto the outer edge of the plate against righties. The combination of speed change and the strong gloveside movement can look pretty bizarre to a righty:

Last but not least, here are two gratuitous Wacha changeups for swinging strikes:

I’m not in the majority on this, but I think that Reyes’ change could end up being the best of his pitches. He disguises it well and seems to have great feel for it- he can call up the outside corner to right handers more or less at will. As for lefties, he’s capable of throwing it off the plate outside or doing what he did to Jaso in the clip above, which is simply filthy. If Reyes has a standout season, I think he’ll do it by leaving a trail of batters flailing at well-located changeups in his wake.

Conclusion

I want to be as clear as possible- I’m not trying to say in this analysis that Alex Reyes is a chimera of Luis Severino, Michael Lorenzen, Jon Gray, and Michael Wacha. With that out of the way- how exciting would it be if Alex Reyes were a chimera of Luis Severino, Michael Lorenzen, Jon Gray, and Michael Wacha??? When he debuts for the season later this month, hopefully this article will have you ready for the dizzying array of plus pitches he’s going to bring to bear. The upside is there for Alex Reyes to be an ace right away. Pitching’s not always like that, unfortunately, but there’s a nice backup for Cardinals fans. If nothing else, Reyes will provide us with gifs so thick they’ll blot out the sun. Hopefully he knows how to pitch in the shade.