Tuesday, June 27, 2006

And Reyes Makes Three...

by Alan Eliot

Jose Bernabe Reyes, superstar.

Sort of.

You may remember him being referred to as "super-prospect" when he was finally called up, to great fanfare, in 2003. As we've seen previously on this site here and here, Mets management continually refers to him as part of the young nucleus of the NY Mets for years to come, along with Beltran and Wright. That's a lot of confidence to have in what seems to be an overrated and error-prone shortstop. However, it took young Jose until the middle of his 4th MLB season to finally show the league, and the fans, why so many were so high on him.

True, last year he showed glimmers of talent. After two seasons cut short by his own fragility, he had a breakout season of sorts in 2005. First off, he calmed critics by lasting a full season. He played in 161 games, and led the league in AB (696) and PA (733). Second, considering how much mention is made of his speed, he finally showed the league what he could leg out in a full season, leading the NL in both triples (17) and SB (60).

However, 2005 was also a year of huge red flags for Reyes. He ended up leading the league in a few categories that are not as coveted. While his fielding and arm are both highly touted, he still led all SS in errors (18). Youth. Learning. Fine. What was more damning, however, was his inability to adjust to the leadoff position. It famously took Reyes 118 AB to procure his first walk, and ended the season with a dismal 27 BB and .300 OBA. This statistic in particular makes his 190 hits, good for fifth in the NL, seem more of a minus than a plus- it points more to his inability to walk than to talent. Any average hitter given 700 AB would be one of the league leaders in hits. So what?

Partially due to his low OBA, he was in the top ten in the NL for worst OPS for an everyday position player, at .687 (9th). He also led the league in outs, with 536.

And partially due to some of the above statistics, Jose Reyes has continued to irk Mets fans such as resident columnist Doug Silversten, whose second favorite baseball topic next to "Moneyball/I heart Beane" is "Jose Reyes is overrated/sucks/needs to be traded before it's too late and everyone realizes how much he sucks". True story.

In fact, in response to a Newsday article from May 21 claiming the A's were interested in trading Zito for either David Wright or Reyes, Doug replied, "No way Beane wants Reyes."

Doug's position has softened recently- thankfully- and the telephone tirades have stopped.

Why? Reyes has been on an absolute tear. His recent 13-game hitting streak includes 7 straight games with first-inning hits, a Mets record. He also scored 19 runs, fueling the Mets' offense. According to the AP , he went 32 for 57 (.561) over that span, and raised his BA 56 points, from .246 to .302. In that same span, he had three 4-hit games (currently leads the league in 4-hit games with 5) and even hit for the cycle, the ninth in Mets history. He's also won NL Player of the Week Honors two weeks in a row.

Through 73 games: BA .302, OBA .361, H 98, 2B 19 , 3B 10, SB 34.

Not even halfway through the season, Reyes has already hit more HR (8) than in 2005 (7). More important, he's learning how to take a walk- his 29 BB is nothing extraordinary, but it does eclipse his entire 2005 total (27).

In the AP article, Reyes himself offers a glimpse into his recent change of luck by showing that he's maturing as a hitter: "I feel real good right now," he said. "I made a little change in my swing. A lot of pitchers were throwing me off-speed pitches outside. I tried to pull the ball before. Now I'm staying with it."

Jose Reyes, for the time being, has become a feared member of the NY Mets lineup. For years pitchers knew that Reyes was a nuisance on the bases, but also knew he would get himself out by chasing balls out of the strike zone, or by popping up. It appears that his increased selectivity has finally translated in vastly improved statistics. He currently leads the league in runs, SB and triples.

And for the Met fan who tends to get a little overexcited: ESPN Projected Statistics for Jose Reyes as of 6/27/06:

G: 160, AB 712, R 147, H 215, 2B 42, 3B 22, HR 18, RBI 79, SB 75

The question of Reyes coming down to earth is not if but when. Of course Reyes can't continue on this torrid pace for any reasonably extended period of time. That matters little, as for the first time in his four years at the major-league level, he has lived up to the incredible hype that has surrounded him. And while he may never become the superstar that many project him to be, both fans, and Reyes himself, have seen the what Reyes is capable of when he learns to take a pitch.

I can't argue with some fans like Doug- it's true- he does pop up way too much,and swing at bad balls, and generally annoys baseball purists by oftentimes forgetting his role as lead-off batter- to get on base. But remember: he is 23. He's still learning. And for the time being, it seems that he's finally capable of making that adjustment to the majors, with excellent results.

Reyes joins a large portion of the Mets who are leading the voting at their respective positions for the All-Star game- a pool that includes David Wright and Carlos Beltran. No doubt in light of recent events, Mets fans are already dreaming that this scenario plays out for many more summers to come.

Alan Eliot's column, "The Stories We Tell", appears alternate Tuesdays

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