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The depth of Alex Reyes’ repertoire

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St. Louis Cardinals v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

I haven’t written about Alex Reyes in a while. The last time I wrote about Reyes (October 13th), real life baseball was being played, and the Chicago Cubs were still roughly three weeks away from being named the 2016 World Series champions. When I look outside my window, it is difficult to even imagine baseball being played right now. In fact, if I recall correctly, a hockey game was just played at Busch Stadium, and there isn’t even turf for baseball to be played on, as it won’t be installed until early March.

With no new baseball being played and the Cardinals seemingly finished with their big offseason shopping, I figured now was as good of a time as any to revisit the depth of Reyes’ repertoire — something you don’t normally see from a pitcher hailed as a “flame-thrower.” Per Reyes’ BrooksBaseball card, the 22-year-old righty threw five different pitch types in his MLB debut season: fourseamer, twoseamer/sinker, changeup, curveball, and slider. Let’s take a closer look:

Remember, regarding horizontal movement in right-handed pitchers, a negative value means arm-side movement, whereas a positive value means glove-side movement.

Reyes’ 2016 PitchF/x Basics (via BrooksBaseball)

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (MPH) Dragless Horiz. Movement (in.) Whiffs/Swing
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (MPH) Dragless Horiz. Movement (in.) Whiffs/Swing
Fourseamer 49.74% 97.42 -6.3 25.57%
Twoseamer 14.03% 95.97 -10.71 7.55%
Changeup 23.72% 88.29 -10.13 39.42%
Curveball 7.78% 78.15 7.9 22.22%
Slider 4.59% 83.44 6.51 45.45%

Frankly, Reyes was simply remarkable when the Cardinals needed him most (1.4 fWAR over 46.0 IP). As a reliever (seven appearances), he was able to succeed with a condensed repertoire: “Here is my fourseamer. Good luck catching up to it,” followed by, “Oh, you’ve timed it up now? Here’s a knee-buckling curve.” Then, as a move to the starting rotation became imminent, he would soon be given the task of facing hitters multiple times per game. Reyes adapted quickly to his new role by “changing up” his approach — or further incorporating what I still adamantly believe to be his best pitch. If you still need convincing, I present to you the following:

Considering I have already written more than enough about the changeup, let’s turn our focus to a pitch Reyes began throwing in mid-September: the slider. First, let me be clear that the slider I am talking about is a completely different pitch from the slower, 12-to-6 curveball he’s been throwing since day one. While Reyes’ curveball has the potential to be jaw-dropping, it lacks overall consistency — an issue that has followed him for essentially his entire career. Fortunately, this inconsistency may actually be fixable through a relatively minor mechanical change (i.e. striding longer), according to ESPN’s Keith Law.

Well, on September 13th against the Cubs, after an ineffective start by Jaime Garcia — an event we became all too familiar with in 2016 — Reyes was brought in to put out a second-inning, bases-loaded fire. After striking out 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant on four pitches, Reyes went on to pitch four more scoreless innings, somehow scattering six walks in the process. But the important revelation in this appearance was the introduction of the slider — which he threw for the very first time against Ben Zobrist in the fifth:

Dot number two is an 85.6 MPH slider just off the inside corner, following a 94.6 MPH sinker up and away — a lethal combination from a pitch sequencing perspective. While I do not yet have a GIF of the pitch (I may try to add one later), it’s understandable that the end result of the slider was a swing and miss by Zobrist. Considering the slider wasn’t introduced until this appearance, Reyes threw only 36 of them in 2016, but the pitch became a regular weapon of choice in his final three starts. He threw nine on September 18th, 10 on September 24th, and 13 on September 29th — eclipsing his curveball usage in each start (two, seven, and one, respectively).

From a pitch tunneling perspective, the slider makes more sense for Reyes’ repertoire. The slider, both fastballs, and changeup will all appear out of the same slot (or tunnel) for opposing hitters, while a curveball deviates from the others’ paths fairly quickly out of the hand. That being said, Reyes would still benefit from a pitch in the high-70’s, so I don’t suggest completely scrapping the curve strictly because it doesn’t follow pitch tunneling. The fact that we can even talk about five potentially above-average pitches for one starting pitcher is incredible in itself. Carlos Martinez obviously possesses a complex repertoire, but until he shows his curveball is more than just a get-me-over pitch, even he has “only” four pitches to choose from.

Thus, over 12 MLB appearances, Reyes significantly modified his repertoire twice. Not because he had to, but because he knew these adjustments would take his performance to another level, especially considering his end goal of being a top-flight starter. Remember, we are talking about an end-of-season, 22-year-old rookie right now. Not a crafty veteran like Adam Wainwright in the first week of spring training.

Finally, I purposely chose to use the word “depth” in the title. To explain, please revisit (or recall) the PitchF/x table embedded above. Nothing Reyes throws is straight, not even his “straight” fourseamer. The magnitude of difference between the horizontal movements of his pitches is greater than even Martinez, the Cardinal pitcher I rave about most frequently. Bottom line, the Cardinals have something very special in Reyes, and I’m thankful their general manager looked well beyond the temptations to trade him this offseason.