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Is Alex Reyes Ready for the Rotation?

Wild Card Round - St Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres - Game One Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Cardinals pitching staff this offseason. Adam Wainwright is a free agent and may not return while Carlos Martinez’s struggles, as well as his contract, may lead to the Cardinals looking for a trade. Additionally, Kwang Hyun Kim’s 1.62 ERA was solid last year, but his 3.88 FIP and 4.52 xFIP make him look like an average starting pitcher. Therefore, the Cardinals may be willing to bump him into the bullpen. Additionally, Miles Mikolas missed all of the 2020 season with an injury and Dakota Hudson will likely miss all of the 2021 season after needing Tommy John surgery. Mikolas’ spot in the rotation is still safe, but after him and Flaherty, there are a few open spots, and plenty of names that could enter the rotation.

One such name is Alex Reyes. The right-handed flamethrower, who averaged 97.5 mph on his fastball in 2020, was a dominant force in the Cardinals bullpen. The issue with Reyes is his injury history as he missed the entire 2017 season and then threw just 27 innings in 2018 and 40 1/3 innings in 2019. Clearly, the issue with Reyes is his arm health because he clearly is still capable of being a dominant pitcher even after all of his injuries. Additionally, Reyes was a starter throughout his entire minor league career and he even started five of his first twelve major league games. He would need to strengthen his arm this offseason to be able to handle a bigger workload and the Cardinals might decide that it is still too soon to risk putting him in the rotation. However, it was encouraging to see Reyes make it through an entire season, even if it was an abbreviated one. If he can prove that his injuries are behind him, then could become a key figure in the Cardinals rotation.

Besides health concerns, there are control concerns as well. Reyes posted a 16.3% walk rate this season and that is simply too high for a starter. If he cannot learn to control his pitches better, then his pitch count will be too high for him to go deep enough into games. However, there are reasons to believe that this will improve. First, it was Reyes first full season back in the major leagues after dealing with a series of injuries that kept him off the mound for a good chunk of three years. It was to be expected that he might struggle with control a little bit. If he can get through a full offseason training regimen and a full spring training, then his control might improve next season. When Reyes reached the big leagues for the first time in 2016, he tallied a 12.2% walk rate in 46 innings. Even though this is still somewhat high, it is much better than this season and definitely good enough to be a viable starting pitcher. If he can return to 12.2% walk rate, then his ability to generate swings and misses should be allow him to be an effective starter.

Additionally, even though Reyes walked a high rate of hitters, he was not a wild pitcher. According to Baseball Savant, Reyes threw 46.1% of his pitches on the edge of the zone (39% is league average) while throwing 44.2% of his pitches in the zone (49.9% is league average). So, Reyes threw 90.3% of his pitches in the zone or on the edge of the zone, while the league average pitcher threw 88.9% of his pitches in the same location. Therefore, Reyes may have not thrown many strikes last year, but when he missed, he missed close to the zone. This is an encouraging sign for a pitcher who seemingly struggled with control last year. This is something that he will likely work on in the winter and in Spring Training, and if he can just be a little bit more precise, then he could walk significantly fewer batters.

One of the main problems with his control is his inability to throw his curveball for a strike. Reyes threw his curveball in the zone just 29% of the time with most pitches missing the plate by a wide margin. This is significant because this is Reyes’ third pitch, and it is a pitch that he will need to be able to control if he enters the rotation. Despite his lack of control, however, it is a very good pitch. On the pitch, Reyes generated a 57.9% whiff rate and a spin rate of 2902 rpms. If he could simply throw this pitch closer to the plate, then he could generate a lot more swings which would create a lot more whiffs and significantly fewer balls.

Reyes could be an intriguing candidate for the Cardinals starting rotation next season, especially since it appears unlikely that they will spend money on any starter not named Adam Wainwright in the offseason. With Reyes combination of a high velocity fastball and two nasty breaking balls (slider, curveball), he could be very effective in such a role. However, he needs to strengthen his arm and refine his control before he can truly be effective. If he can do this, and the Cardinals give him the chance to start, then the Cardinals could have a dominant starting pitcher behind Jack Flaherty.