Jose Reyes Will Not Be Cheated

Jose Reyes refusing to go down looking - Stacy Revere

If Jose Reyes is going to strikeout, not something he's in the habit of doing, he's going to go down swinging.

When watching a baseball game, especially a Blue Jays game, on television you are likely to bombarded by a dizzying assortment of cliches and platitudes that offer very little insight whatsoever. I would think that these sayings are used primarily to help commentators prevent dead air in a slow moment, but the scarier possibility exists that those who spew them believe them to be both accurate and wise. In the case of the Blue Jays a lot of this empty banter relates to the topic of what we've come to call "veteran presents" around these parts. Not only will Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler ramble about veterans for hours on end, they will annoyingly focus almost all of their praise on whichever team the Blue Jays are playing that day. On days where Toronto is playing the Yankees or Red Sox it is almost too much to bear.

However, the theory goes that behind every cliche is a kernel of truth. When it's comes to baseball, kernels of truth can be both valuable and entertaining. As a result, I thought today I would look at a case where a cliche can come true. During a baseball game it is not uncommon to hear a color commentator declare that with two strikes a hitter "will not be cheated". For whatever reason I instantly associate this phrase with Matt Stairs, though I'm not sure there is a compelling reason why that would be the case other than the fact that Stairs was known to take very healthy cuts in any count. The idea behind the phrase is that when a batter has two strikes on them they absolutely do not want to strike out looking and will defend the plate by swinging. In essence the hitter will not be cheated out of the opportunity to defend the plate with his bat.

There is some intuitive value to this statement. Looking strikeouts are less common than swinging strikeouts and they are very frustrating for fans, and likely players as well. With two strikes hitters do not want to head to the bench having watched a pitch sail by. The 2012 World Series is a great recent example of the power of the strikeout looking. When the Tigers lost to the Giants on account of Miguel Cabrera letting a Sergio Romo fastball go unimpeded into the glove of Buster Posey it was one of the most deflating conclusions imaginable. The problem is that when the cliche is put in such definitive terms it implies that there is no way that a batter will strikeout looking, no matter what. Of course, we know batters striking out looking happens all the time, last season 23.7% of strikeouts league-wide came looking.

Given that I am a generous soul I tried to justify the existence of this cliche by finding a batter that truly would not be cheated with two strikes.To my surprise the man that fit the bill was Jose Reyes. The following Brooks Baseball zone profile shows Reyes's swing rate with two strikes last season:

When it came to pitches in the strike zone with two strikes Reyes swung for 112 pitches and only took one. That's pretty incredible. This data surprised me as I figured that as a hitter like J.P. Arencibia would be the one to let it rip in every two strike count. Conversely, I thought it likely that a hitter like Reyes with a little bit of patience would end up taking a strikeout looking from time to time. Looking at the percentage of strikes against Reyes that came looking in all situations this data looked even stranger:

2013 Stats

Strikeout Looking %

Strikes Looking%

Jose Reyes

12.8%

30.4%

MLB Average

23.7%

28.3%

Reyes took a higher percentage of strikes than average last season, but when it came to two strikes that pattern completely reversed. Not only that, but Reyes had 6 strikeouts looking last year and according to the Brooks Baseball strike zone only one of them was justified.

Of course there is something of a small sample size issue here. If we look at the same chart as the one above but with Reyes's career stats (2003-2013) then things look a little bit more reasonable:

2003-2013 Stats

Strikeout Looking %

Strikes Looking%

Jose Reyes

19.3%

30.1%

MLB Average

25.1%

27.5%

Even though these numbers are a little bit more normal we still see the unusual pattern of a guy who takes more strikes than average but strikes out looking significantly less. Looking at his zone profile back to 2007 (as far as Brooks Baseball goes) you still see a guy that does not watch strikes go by when he is a strike away from the K:

Although most batters swing for the vast majority of pitches in the zone with two strikes on them, Jose Reyes is doing it virtually without fail.

When Jose Reyes came to the Blue Jays he had the potential to be a folk hero around these parts. His presence as a true lead off man, his triples, his stolen bases, and even his occasional highlight reel defensive plays were supposed to electrify this fan base. Partly due to his injuries and partly due to the way the season as a whole went that didn't end up happening. It may yet happen give how long Reyes is under contract, but it hasn't happened yet.

If Reyes does have a fantastic season with the team next year onlookers will be throwing out every cliche in the book to describe it. Without fail they will call him "electric", "a sparkplug" and "a catalyst" again and again and again. However, the cliche they might be liable to forget may well be the most accurate moniker of all: the man who won't be cheated.

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