Bryan Reynolds Has Refined His Approach

A recap of Bryan Reynolds' All-Star half.

In January of 2018, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded their franchise icon Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants. It was yet another desperation play by former General Manager Bobby Evans, who that same offseason also added Evan Longoria, thinking his team could once again find the team’s patented ‘even year magic’. It took only six months from that point for Evans to sell at the Trade Deadline and move McCutchen to the Yankees. The Pirates, on the other hand, received reliever Kyle Crick and outfielder Bryan Reynolds.

Despite being picked in the second round of the 2016 draft, Reynolds was hardly a can’t miss prospect, offering little power and speed on the bases. Yet the switch-hitting outfielder was able to hit for average, not hitting for less than a .300 average in every stop he had in the minors. Called up early in the 2019 season, Reynolds raked the rest of the way to a .314/.377/.503 line while chipping in 37 doubles (21st best for qualified hitters) and 16 home runs — a large figure for someone who had not hit more than 10 long balls in a year while in the minors. And while the over the fence power might have been overstated, especially given his 6.7% Barrel/BBE, there was at least the 28.7% line drive rate and minuscule 3.2% pop up rate to at least ensure a decent floor for the following season of a high average with double-digit home runs given the state of the ball at the time.

However, the outfielder struggled in his sophomore campaign, producing a disappointing .189/.275/.357 slash line. Not only had the power been sapped — only six doubles and seven home runs — but so had the average. Furthermore, Reynolds’ strikeout rate was roughly 27%, significantly higher than the near 20% mark he had generally produced throughout his professional career in seasons prior. All in all, it was about as poor a season you could have expected from a player who had impressed so highly in his rookie year.

In 2021, Reynolds has made the jump back to elite production (.305/.392/.523) resulting in his first-ever All-Star appearance. While the average is not quite at its 2019 level, the power has once again resurfaced and has surpassed that of a couple of years ago, already hitting 21 doubles (11th most) and 15 long balls, one short of his total from 2019. The question is, what’s changed?

To pinpoint the reason for such a large disparity from year to year, one would think a swing change would have been implemented. As a switch hitter, Reynolds is inherently unique since he has two different swings, one not necessarily similar to the other. It’s the ability to drive the ball into the gaps and over the fence that has Reynolds in the upper echelon of outfielders this season.

To do that as a switch hitter makes this a fairly unique exercise. For most like him, one side is generally more productive than the other; very rarely do you see a hitter perform similarly from both sides.

Career Marks As LHB
Career Marks As RHB

For most switch hitters, one side is generally more productive than the other; very rarely do you see a hitter perform similarly from both sides. But Reynolds breaks that mold. As his production waned in 2020, it did from both sides of the plate, mirroring in mediocrity. In 2019 and 2021, his superb marks are apparent as a left-handed and right-handed batter, including posting nearly identical expected slugging percentage and expected weighted on-base average figures. Though as a switch hitter, there are variants in how that was achieved.

Batted Balls Pt. 1, LHB
Batted Balls Pt. 1, RHB

As a lefty, Reynolds evenly divides his batted balls, including hitting fewer than 40% of his batted balls on the ground in 2021 while still keeping a rather low pop-up rate despite its increase at just over 4%. In the right-handed batter’s box this season, he hits nearly half the percentage of flyballs as from the other side, while hitting significantly more groundballs — over 50% — and a slightly elevated number of line drives. With a far greater number of balls in the air from the left side of the plate, one would think that is the far more conducive approach for success. It normally is but considering the near-identical results from both sides of the plate this season, there is a reason why both measure up similarly despite different profiles.

Batted Balls Pt. 2, LHB
Batted Balls Pt. 2, RHB

While Reynolds sports a lower average launch angle as a righty than a lefty, he has clearly hit the ball harder as a right-handed hitter, which explains how the groundball heavy approach can produce similar results to a more flyball and line-drive-oriented approach from the left side. For reference, Reynolds’ superb 25.8% dynamic hard hit (DHH) rate would sandwich him between Bobby Dalbec and Gary Sanchez this season. Additionally, his 12.7% DHH from the left side — a solid mark — matches that of fellow 2021 All-Star Trey Mancini.

Also within those drastically different results comes another unique derivation. As a right-handed hitter, Reynolds has actually hit a prominent number of his batted balls straightaway (43.5%, .574 xwOBAcon) while hitting a career-low mark to the pull side (33.3%, .474 xwOBAcon). On the contrary, Pittsburgh’s All-Star outfielder is hitting a near career-high 38.3% of his batted balls to the pull side as a lefty, again sporting an egalitarian approach in his batted ball direction. Again bucking the trend, hitters who want easy, crude ways to increase their power often try to do so by pulling the ball more. While that has almost been the case this season as a lefty, this could not be further from the truth as a right-handed batter. Last season, Reynolds pulled over 50% of his batted balls (.425 xwOBAcon, lowest career mark) and struggled mightily.

Using the bigger part of the field has undoubtedly helped Reynolds become a better hitter and the process of choosing what pitches to swing at aids that process. The biggest change in that approach has been swinging far more often on the first pitch of at-bats, even though he has been swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone as both a right-hander and left-hander — also a nice development.

Part of Reynolds’ success against the first pitch is his newfound ability against fastballs, particularly the four-seamer. Against the heater this season, the switch-hitting outfielder has a superb 12 run value, where his 2.8 RV/100 is right around the 3.2 RV/100 mark he posted back in 2019. On the first pitch of at-bats from the left side, just about one in every four pitches seen are four-seamers. As a righty, he’s seeing just over 37% four-seamers. Altogether, putting good swings on those heaters has allowed Reynolds to generate easy offense.

But the more important part of this story is his plate discipline. As a left-handed hitter, Reynolds has swung at a career-high 37.3% of first pitches. From the right side, that figure moves up slightly to 39.2%.

Of course, Reynolds’ aggressive mindset doesn’t just apply to just the first pitch. Take a look at his swing/take profile:

Attacking pitches has been at the forefront of Reynolds’ strategy at the plate, as evidenced by his increased swing rate. But we can break this down even further. So far in 2021, the Vanderbilt product is swinging at a career-high 83% of pitches in the heart of the zone, a figure that is even higher than the 81% back in 2019. As a left-handed hitter, Reynolds has been superb at attacking pitches in the heart of the plate, swinging a shade 82% of the time, while also laying off a number of pitches in the shadow region, swinging at those pitches just over half the time. It’s a patient yet strategic approach. From the right-handed batter’s box, however, Reynolds is swinging more in the shadow, chase, and waste zones, and hacking less in the heart. While representative of the high 50% swing rate as a right-handed hitter, it also again reflects the contrasting styles that are part of the art of switch-hitting.

See, as a righty this season, he’s posted a .440 xwOBA on all swings against pitches in the shadow. While that’s also resulted in a grand .000 xwOBA on swings in the chase and waste regions, it’s the approach that basically worked for him a couple of seasons ago. Furthermore, as a lefty, Reynolds has a career-worst .239 xwOBA on pitches in the shadow, providing greater importance to swinging fewer times at those types of pitches.

Reynolds’ path to reach stardom has come from adding power to his game, from both sides of the plate. While the expected outcomes do speak to similar results, the way he’s done is significantly different depending on which batter’s box he’s standing in. From the right-handed side, that’s being aggressive with his relatively flat swing, regardless of where the pitch might be located. On the other side is a more diplomatic approach, whether it’s from his swing decisions or his resulting batted balls — regardless of its direction or trajectory. In refining his approaches, Reynolds has been able to ascend the ranks of the top outfielders in the National League and become the second All-Star representative for the Pirates, in spite of their dismal 32-54 record.


Photos by Frank Jansky & Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire | Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter/IG)

Jai Correa

Jai Correa is an alumnus of UMass Amherst. He is incredibly passionate about the Red Sox, Indian cricket and economics.

2 responses to “Bryan Reynolds Has Refined His Approach”

  1. Vince says:

    Great analysis. But I’m surprised he’s not participating in the home run derby.

  2. Thom says:

    Love me some Reynolds! Nice article Jai!!

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