Can Jose Reyes Be a Useful Fantasy SS?
It's long-term injury comeback week, brought to you by numberFire! numberFire: for when having to start Starlin Castro for two months isn't painful enough, and you need numbers to twist the knife even further. (I'll be disappointed if we don't adopt this catchphrase.)
Yesterday, we focused on whether Aaron Hill could make a fantasy impact upon his return. (Spoiler alert: Yes.) Today, we look at another guy who has been ailing since mid-April: the bane of Jeffery Loria's existence, Jose Reyes.
We liked Reyes entering the season, but we weren't Gaga in love with the guy. Part of the reason was that most shortstops on our preseason draft board were around the same value: we had Reyes as our second-best SS, but only our No. 38 player overall at the start of the season. In fact, according to Fantasy Pros, we were the third-least optimistic about his overall potential among all major fantasy sites. We were also miles below his preseason No. 21 average draft position.
So have we come around, and where does Reyes fit within the grand scheme of shortstops? That depends - do you trust his line drives to find holes?
One of the most interesting stats for any hitter is their batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. Yes, some guys strike out or walk or hit homeruns more than others, but on balls that actually make it into the field, how effective are they are finding gaps in the defense?
For much of his career, Jose Reyes has been slightly above average at finding those holes. His career BABIP is .313, above the .296 MLB average over that same span. That's solid, but not exceptional. Well, with one notable exception that has skewed his value from now until the end of time.
One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong...
In his final season in New York, Reyes hit .353 on balls in play. That's a number that he had never reached before, and, considering the statistical law of outliers, he's unlikely to ever reach again. Reyes didn't do anything particularly special in 2011 - only 20 percent of his balls in play were hit for line drives, the league average - but the balls he was hitting found holes with greater regularity.
For a player with a 1.7 percent career homerun rate and a .440 career slugging percentage, batting average and runs (which constitute getting on base) are the main fantasy value he's going to have. And the fact is, other than 2011, Reyes has been a solid but unspectacular hitter. Take the outlier out of the equation, and Reyes has never hit above .300 or had an OBP above .354 as a starter.
What That Means
We know that Jose Reyes is going to put tons of balls in play. His 7.5 percent strikeout rate from the past two seasons guarantees that figure. But his 7.2 percent career walk rate isn't going to turn many heads, and unless he has a 2011-like BABIP season, putting tons of balls in play might not necessarily make him an infinitely valuable player either.
Our projections will be updated once Reyes moves back into a recurring role for Toronto, but as it stands, we have him only hitting .286 the rest of the way with a .748 OPS. That's not half bad, but when we project, say, Ian Desmond to hit .284 with an .845 OPS and provide HR and RBI value, why would you move him over to let Reyes back in the fold?
Reyes is a solid fantasy starter over the rest of the season. He's not, though, a guy that I would be rushing to trade for instantly. Desmond and a healthy Troy Tulowitzki I wouldn't budge an inch, even if you also have Reyes on your team. Instead, view Reyes as the next tier, along with Jimmy Rollins, on our remaining fantasy projections. Rollins, by the way, is our No. 44 most valuable batter the rest of this season. That's better than expected for J-Roll but worse than expected for Reyes.
As it stands, we only hold Reyes in slightly higher regard than Starlin Castro, Alcides Escobar, and Asdrubal Cabrera among shortstops. (Notice there's no Jean Segura; his season has been an outlier.) Underwhelmed by those comparisons? So am I. But that's the reality of what you'll be receiving the rest of the season.
So much for a second-round talent. Jose Reyes is useful, but he's not a gamechanger.