The Curious Case of Mark Reynolds

Photo from Nationals Instagram

The Curious Case of Mark Reynolds

Like a scene out of “The Natural” it was fittingly described to what we watched dramatically unfold last night. Mark Reynolds channeled his inner Roy Hobbs and hit two mighty majestic blasts after waiting a long time for his chance to play baseball again as he was staring at early retirement a little more than a month ago.  Mark Reynolds spent all of the off-season and then some not knowing the next MLB franchise he would be calling home after a stellar 2017 season in Denver where he hit 30 home runs and drove in 97 runs for the Colorado Rockies. With few options, Reynolds joined other unemployed free agents at the Player’s Union camp in Bradenton, Florida through March 9th which was when the camp was closed and then players were on their own to stay in shape and hope to catch on with a Major League team. Like the fictional Hobbs, the real-life Mark Reynolds has known frustration as he didn’t get his MLB debut until the ripe age of twenty-six.

Reynolds worked-out with his own group after the Bradenton camp disbanded, and it took him an additional 33 days to come to an agreement in principle with the Washington Nationals on April 12th on a minor league deal. He would then spend nearly 30 days in Nationals extended spring training and with the Syracuse Chiefs aka “The Sky Chiefs” which is the Nationals Triple-A affiliate. Fast forward a month until this past weekend, and Reynolds was starting at first base in place of a struggling Ryan Zimmerman who was placed on the 10-Day DL on May 12th with a right oblique strain.

“It was tough,” Reynolds said about his off-season. “I had a lot of minor league offers, and I felt like I was worth more than that. So I was content sitting home being a dad, coaching my kids, and playing a little golf…I took this offer [from the Nationals] because, number one, really good team. Number two . . . I thought if I didn’t at least try, I probably would never try again. I didn’t want to be 45 and look back and say, dang, I could have played a couple more years.”

On Saturday, Reynolds watched the game with his new teammates from the dugout after he was activated and then made his debut on Sunday. The Nationals were in need of a hero, as Brandon Kintzler uncharacteristically of late, blew a 3-run lead in the bottom of the 7th inning giving up 3 earned runs on 4 hits in 0.2 innings of work to allow the Diamondbacks to tie the game 4-4. It was starting to look like earning a curly-W as well as a hard fought 4-game sweep was going to be an uphill challenge, as the Diamondbacks brought in their bullpen ace Archie Bradley to face the heart of the lineup in the top of the 8th.

With Howie Kendrick on 2nd base and 1 out, in stepped Mark Reynolds. Reynolds had already hit one mammoth home run in this game off of a curveball and sat on a Bradley fastball that he could barrel up.  Being 2-for-3 in the game, he had already dispensed of his Opening Day jitters. The 34-year-old worked the Bradley in the  7th pitch of the at-bat in a 3-2 count, and the ace reliever delivered a 96.4 mph fastball to Reynolds that caught too much of the plate and Reynolds deposited the ball 415-feet into the centerfield seats to put the Nats on top 6-4 and back into the driver’s seat.

”I am not going to shy away from what I have been doing,” said Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley who took the loss. ”I just got to be doing it. It is easy to sit here and overthink stuff, you should have thrown this, you should have thrown that, but the guy just beat me.”

Mark Reynolds did beat him. He had a veteran’s strategy in the batter’s box of what Archie Bradley was going to throw him and was just hoping for a location miss and he got it and didn’t miss it.

“The first at-bat, I was a little nervous,” Reynolds said. “New team. Trying to make a good impression. Got the first hit out of the way, and then I kind of settled down and was able to relax and play the game I’ve been playing for a long time. [Archie Bradley] probably knows that in that first game I haven’t seen ‘velo’ really. Just was able to catch it out in front a little bit. I was most happy because we weren’t hopefully going to go into extra innings.”

Indeed, no extra innings and that lead was all the cushion the Nationals needed as it would prove to be  enough to finish off the Diamondbacks after an impressive 8th inning from Nationals reliever Ryan Madson and another save from closer Sean Doolittle.

“You obviously know the power is there and you know he’s a great player,” said new teammate Trea Turner. “To have him come in here, get a first start and do that for us is huge. It’s unbelievable. We needed it. You know how hard it is to play the game from game to game, at-bat to at-bat, so many things can change. To [hit two home runs] in one game [while not playing] in the last few days, it’s pretty unbelievable. Pretty special.”

For Reynolds new teammates, they raucously cheered him on in appreciation of the second home run with Max Scherzer making the rounds high-fiving whoever would oblige in the Nationals’ dugout. Many of the players know Reynolds from other stops because he is no stranger to the MLB and Max Scherzer was Reynolds teammate in that Arizona dugout back in 2008 and 2009. Matt Adams was a Cardinals teammate back in 2015. Matt Wieters was an Orioles teammate back in 2011 and 2012, and of course Ryan Zimmerman was a Mark Reynolds teammate back in college before Reynolds’ pro career started in 2004 when he was drafted in the 16th round of the MLB June Amateur draft from the University of Virginia as a third baseman by you guessed who, Mike Rizzo and the Arizona Diamondbacks. At the age of 26, Reynolds as a late-bloomer made his MLB debut for the Dbacks in 2007. Reynolds was off to a hot start in his rookie campaign, driving in 14 runs in his first 15 games. Reynolds finished that season with 17 homers, 62 RBI and a .279 batting average. While his offensive production increased in his tenure with the Diamondbacks, so did his strikeouts.

In 2008-2010, Reynolds struck out over 200 times in each season, leading the league in that category. Not only did he lead the league in strikeouts for those 3 seasons, Reynolds set and still holds the MLB strikeouts single-season record by a batter (223 in 2009). However, in those three season combined, he acquired 378 hits, 104 home runs and 285 RBI. In March of 2010, Reynolds inked a 3 year, $14.5 million extension with the Arizona Diamondbacks, which would also be his last season of playing in the desert.

Following the 2010 season, the Diamondbacks traded Reynolds to our beltway rivals, the Baltimore Orioles, for RHPs David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. In his first season with the Birds (2011), it was much of the same for Reynolds leading the league in strikeouts (196) but still put up respectable numbers with 37 home runs and 86 RBI. The 2012 season marked the beginning of Reynolds career where he would under-perform for seasons to come, as he hit 21 HRs, drove in 67 runs, and struck out 159 times.

During the 2012 off-season, Reynolds elected for free agency and was signed by the Cleveland Indians. In his debut and only season with the Tribe, Reynolds only played 99 games, striking out 154 times with 15 homers and 48 RBI and evaluated poorly enough that the Indians designated Reynolds for assignment on August 8th. This marked the start of Reynolds journeyman career as he played for 5 different teams within 4 years. The former UVA Cavalier was released on August 12th by Cleveland and went unsigned for 4 days before being picked up by the New York Yankees where he appeared in 36 games. In those 36 games it was more of the same for Reynolds, 6 HRs, 19 RBI with 31 Ks. After electing for free agency, his next suitor was the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014.

The 2014 season would prove to be an aggravating season for Mark Reynolds. He put up a career lows in batting average (.196) and BABIP (.218 – for all intents and purposes Reynolds career BABIP is .305), however his strikeouts did go down to 121 in 130 games. Reynolds finished the season with 22 homers and 45 RBI.

The next employer for Mark Reynolds services was the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2015 season. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Another poor year was in store for the struggling Reynolds, as he hit .230 with a career low 13 home runs and 48 RBI to go with 121 strikeouts. Reynolds options started becoming bleaker and bleaker. One could begin to wonder if the MLB would ever see the Mark Reynolds we saw in Arizona, then came along the Colorado Rockies who hired him for the 2016 season.

With the Colorado Rockies – it was the perfect place for a hitter with Reynolds’ power to get his career back on track. In the 2016 campaign, the 16-round-pick posted a career low in strikeouts (112), as well as his second lowest total in homeruns (14). He posted a career high batting of .282 and drove in 53 runs to go along with it. Reynolds did just enough to get another 1 year contract from the Rockies to attempt to save his career and he did just that.

In 2017, Reynolds rejuvenated his career, much like Ryan Zimmerman did. In his second season in Colorado, Reynolds went deep 30 times and drove in 97 runs, his highest totals in home runs since 2011, and his highest totals in RBI since 2009. Although Reynolds had a career year, let’s not forget that he did strikeout 175 times. Reynolds put up great numbers — stats good enough that you would think any senior circuit team would want. So, when the off-season rolled around after the 2017 season ended, Mark Reynolds elected free agency where he was not signed by any MLB team in what can be described as one of the weirdest MLB free agencies in the leagues history. Was his revamped career year being played in Colorado a factor? His home/road splits were:

Home: .294/.393/.584 21 HR, 58 RBI, 75 hits, SO.

Road: .242/.311/.392 9 HR, 39 RBI, 54 hits, 89 SO.

The answer is – possibly. Like most hitters who play as many as 81 games in a season in Denver, their home/road splits are kind of skewed as Coors Field is a hitter’s dream ballpark. However, the fact that nobody took a chance on signing him before the Nationals with those offensive numbers is surely strange.

Could it have been due to the uncharacteristically slow and strange off-season be why he wasn’t snatched up until late? Big names stars ran into this problem like Jake Arrieta and J.D. Martinez. Luckily, the Nationals may have found a diamond in the rough with Mark Reynolds. Below are Reynolds career stats:

We have not even touched on Reynolds defensive stats yet. As a 3B, Reynolds is poor defensively and solid at 1B. At his time in the hot corner over his career, Reynolds has committed 124 errors in 773 games. His numbers at first, remarkably are better than expected, only committing 42 errors in 690 games.

So, what can we expect out of Reynolds? It’s hard to tell. When he’s good — he’s great and when he’s not — he can frustrate a fanbase. Yesterday, you saw a career day from Reynolds, and he was worth a +0.3 WAR for that effort.

Everyone knows he has power, and a lot of it. Everyone knows he can drive in runs, and a lot of them. However, everyone also knows he is extremely prone to a low batting average, and a high strikeout rate.

In his debut with the Nationals, Reynolds showed a glimpse of what could be. The question is, is it maintainable at an acceptable level? Only time will tell. Reynolds could be a beast at the dish for the Nats when used in the right spot. If so, the Nationals now have two viable replacements if Zimmerman’s cold hands return with him from the disabled list. With Matt Adams who is having a monster year at the plate so far, and with Mark Reynolds who had a promising start to his 2018 season, manager Dave Martinez has options.

Mark Reynolds knows he has to produce to keep a job on this team. He also had some fun with the whole Bryce Harper “Sky Chiefs” comment two weeks ago.

“Remember a week ago maybe, Bryce said something about the Sky Chiefs,” Reynolds said on MLB Network Radio earlier today, “… and [I’m] playing with the Triple-A [Chiefs] team up there, and whatever, so I wanted to go in in a Sky Chiefs sweatshirt and take a picture with Bryce, but that might have been pushing it a little too far. I sat next to [Bryce Harper] on the plane for five hours last night flying home so we talked about it a little bit. He would have laughed about it, but I didn’t want to make anyone mad right out of the gate.”

For now, it’s all good. You can almost guarantee that first base is Ryan Zimmerman’s spot upon his return from his DL stint. However, for a team with World Series aspirations, the cards are in Zimmerman’s hands on how this will all play out. If Zimmerman’s return is anything like it was to begin this season, expect to see more of Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds at first base.

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