Baseball’s Next Breakout Star?

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The Padres are getting all the rave right now and for good reason. Manny Machado now plays in San Diego. Fernando Tatis, Jr. is lighting the world on fire. Chris Paddack is looking like a bona fide ace.

No one, however, seems to be talking about the guys who haven’t been lighting it up. Eric Hosmer and Ian Kinsler (yes, he’s a Padre now!) are but afterthoughts. Francisco Mejia, a top prospect in baseball just six months ago, has gotten precisely zero headlines this year. It’s fair to say less than 50% of baseball fans have even heard of Franchy Cordero or Franmil Reyes.

The ladder of those, Franmil Reyes, is perhaps the most enticing story around right now, and no one seems to be talking about it.

Reyes is the only Padre to play in all 23 games this year and at first glance, it doesn’t seem like he’s playing all that well. He’s slashing .200/.275/.433, complete with an 84 wRC+ and only four home runs. A negative fWAR. There isn’t really a surprise that no one is talking about a guy who is putting up such production. What is there to talk about? Franmil Reyes is your classic below average player eating at-bats for a team not yet ready to contend, one which will be forgotten about in a couple of years.

Or is he?

No, he is not. He is absolutely not. He is one of the weirdest, but most eye-catching stories of the young season so far.

xwOBA is a stat via Baseball Savant which, using exit velocity, launch angle, and sprint speed, develops your expected “on-base average” via hit expectancy and extra-base expectancy. xwOBA is the best stat out there for determining what a player’s production, in a perfect world, should be.

There are only 14 players in baseball, with at least 25 plate appearances so far, with a higher xwOBA than Franmil Reyes. Some of those guys, such as J.D. Davis or Howie Kendrick (#1), are fantastic stories in themselves. However, there have been enough PAs to normalize xwOBA to where Trout, Yelich, and Bellinger are in the top six. It’s still not perfect with under 100 PAs, but we do have enough of a sample size for it to be significant.

More than anything, Franmil Reyes is the third unluckiest player in baseball, via xwOBA. Only Ehire Adrianza and Mikie Mahtook, both of whom have xwOBAs over 100 points lower than Reyes, have been unluckier than Reyes this year. Similarly, when isolating slugging, Franmil has been the third unluckiest player in baseball behind a pair of Tigers, Mahtook and Jordy Mercer.

So far this young season, Franmil Reyes has been in the top three percent of hitters in terms of exit velocity, with only eight hitters hitting the ball harder than his average 94.6 MPH exit velocity. Only ten players are barreling the ball at a better rate than Reyes so far this year.

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So what does all this mean? It means that Franmil Reyes is hitting the ball just as well as the best hitters in the game. He isn’t barreling it up quite as well as Bellinger, Trout, or Yelich, but he’s right in that second tier of guys. And, despite this, he has a negative fWAR and his production is 16 points below league average.

Point being, he has gotten incredibly unlucky so far. Three of his nine barrels so far this year have been flyouts. Three of the four balls deemed as “solid contact” by Statcast have been outs. He has zero lucky hits on any of the twenty balls he “topped” (rolled over) or hit under.

That’s not going to last. Last season, the batting average on balls classified as barrels, per Major League Baseball, was .822 with a slugging percentage of 2.386. Franmil’s batting average, by comparison, is .667 with a 2.111 slugging. That 250 point difference in both categories is something which one should expect to decrease, meaning Franmil is only going to get better than he is right now.

The only thing he is really doing wrong right now is not following Willie Keeler’s hitting philosophy; he isn’t hitting them “where they ain’t”. Franmil’s second barrel this season, off of Jeff Samardzija, has a .780 expected batting average. However, he hits it right to Steven Duggar.

Reyes’s wOBA with the shift employed is a dreadful .115. He only hits the ball the other way 26.1% of the time, so he has fallen victim to a lot of outs by way of a shifted infield or a shifted outfield. That’s not to say the whole year will be like this for him, (balls will start to drop eventually), but until that happens, the production isn’t going to make itself manifest despite the fantastic results so far.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to bank on a guy that can almost hit balls to the center field bleachers at Wrigley Field. You should too.

 

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