The starting rotation of the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals, while potentially exciting, is undeniably loaded with question marks. Will former ace Adam Wainwright bounce back now that he is more than one full season removed from a major injury? Will Lance Lynn find a way to return to his 3+ fWAR ways despite the typical struggles faced by pitchers in their first season back from Tommy John? Will Mike Leake capitalize on his ability to command his pitches and benefit from a (hopefully) better infield defense behind him? Will 2013 NLCS MVP Michael Wacha even be given a shot in the rotation or do numbers have him destined for a bullpen role?
Fortunately, the only questions surrounding the remaining two rotation options — Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes — are not even performance related. We all are well aware that Martinez and Reyes possess the most dynamic repertoires on staff. Heck, it goes beyond that as their repertoires are among some of the very best in baseball. We know they project to lead the Cardinals staff, given health, for many years to come. Yet, regarding Martinez, we do not yet know if there is any real progress on a long-term extension (as the two sides prepare for an arbitration hearing). With Reyes, at 22 years of age and one of the most prized prospects in all of baseball, we don’t exactly know if the Cardinals want him pitching a full season in an MLB rotation already.
Regardless, if the Cardinals want to make a run to (and through) the postseason, one way or another, Martinez and Reyes will be at the top of the pitching staff. Whether that means Reyes opens the season as a starter or is inserted into the rotation later, that remains to be seen. But, come postseason time, when five- and seven-game series are largely determined by pitching matchups, expect Reyes to be leading the way along with Martinez. For sanity purposes, I won’t yet liken the duo to a Randy Johnson-Curt Schilling playoff rotation, but if both manage to reach their respective ceilings (yes, that is a very big if), the comparison wouldn’t be too far off.
So, what makes Reyes so good you ask? Okay, I am largely kidding because if you have seen him throw even a single pitch, you wouldn’t need to ask the question. It doesn’t matter which pitch of his repertoire you’ve seen him throw, either, as each one projects to be, at worst, above average. Well, as you may recall, I already wrote about the “depth” of Reyes repertoire. Today, let’s take a closer look at one specific aspect of his repertoire that makes him incredibly difficult to hit:
His ability to change speeds. At magnitudes rarely seen.
As the great Warren Spahn once said, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” Well, as you will see below, Reyes has no trouble upsetting a hitter’s timing. Not surprisingly, Reyes’ fastest fourseamer was thrown in his MLB debut — as a pumped-up reliever — so to expect him to consistently reach this level as a a starter is unreasonable. At the same time, even when Reyes’ role changed from bullpen ace to starting pitcher, he still flashed the ability to touch triple digits, so the speed difference illustrated below remains a weapon in his repertoire.
101.9 MPH fourseamer to Adam Duvall
It is hard to appreciate just how hard this pitch was thrown because Reyes looks so smooth and nonchalant throughout his delivery and follow-through. We have become accustomed to Martinez falling off the mound after reaching back for triple-digits, and here, Reyes does so without much of an effort. Frankly, considering the pitch immediately prior to this one was a 79.9 MPH curveball, it’s impressive Duvall was able to foul tip the 101.9 MPH fourseamer. Just when you think a 22 MPH difference between pitches is impressive, think about the possibility of Reyes pairing the above fourseamer with the curveball below:
75.8 MPH curveball to Carlos Correa
Thus, given Reyes’ fastest (101.9 MPH) and slowest (75.8 MPH) in 2016, there exists the possibility of a 26.1 MPH difference. Think about that for a second. Poof, sorry, you’re already too late when you take into consideration the amount of time a hitter has to process the difference between these two pitches. It is an unfathomable undertaking. In fact, thanks to the ever reliable Nick at PitcherList.com, you can see for yourself the significant difference between the two pitches, back-to-back:
Remembering back to my repertoire “depth” piece on Reyes, I stated that the “slider makes more sense” for Reyes. I am now choosing to walk that statement back a little bit because who in their right mind would remove a pitch capable of producing such drastic speed differentials? The only issue is arm health. Throwing two different breaking balls, while also throwing extremely hard, doesn’t seem like a recipe for long-term health. And I think it is safe to say that we all want Reyes to remain healthy for a long time.