Once the smoke cleared after Franmil Reyes was designated for assignment by the Guardians and a deeper look at his numbers could be taken, it did make sense.
Cleveland is in the thick of a division race in the American League Central, and the Guardians finished Aug. 6 — the day he was DFA’d — just two games back in both the division and in the AL Wild Card battle.
Up to that point, Reyes was having the worst season of his career at the plate. His OPS was .603, far below his career-low in 2020 (.795). He hadn’t before been even a league-average hitter in terms of wRC+ (his lowest was 111 in ’19), but on Aug. 6, his wRC+ was at 69.
Cleveland couldn’t just wait for him to turn things around four months into the season, but for a team well out of the playoff picture like the Cubs, giving a two-month tryout to a player who only a year ago hit 30 home runs and had a career-high .846 OPS was a no-brainer.
Digging into what’s caused his troubles this season is no small task. Different variables play into the kind of issues that’ve led to a decline for a guy who only just turned 27 last month. When asked for reports on Reyes, though, manager David Ross did point out one aspect of Reyes’ game that he’s somewhat gotten away from.
“He’s got the ability to hit home runs,” Ross said, “but I think him getting back to using all fields, driving the ball gap-to-gap is where he’s at his best.”
That’s a good starting point.
According to FanGraphs, in his first four seasons in the big leagues, he pulled the ball over 40 percent of the time only once, when he did it at a 40.4 percent clip in 2021 (after dropping slightly from 38.3 percent in ’19 to 38.1 percent in ’20). Still, he had a .522 slugging percentage, which made him one of just 17 hitters to pull the ball less than 41 percent of the time and post at least a .520 slug in 200-plus plate appearances that year. Essentially, he’s been one of the few sluggers in the league who doesn’t need to pull the ball to hit for extra bases as often as he has before.
This season, though, that’s likely at least part of what’s affected his numbers. At the time he was DFA’d, Reyes was pulling the ball 43.5 percent of the time (and from May through July, that number was at 44.6 percent), while his slugging percentage on the season was just .350.
A 3-percent increase might not seem like a lot, but there’s some context that needs to get taken into account, too. Remember, the Guardians were in second place in the AL Central when they released him (and have since moved into first). When a player is struggling, that type of situation can provide added pressure. It can have force players to press and try to do too much to hold onto their jobs.
“I think when things go sideways with players, if you hang around the game long enough, you see it a lot,” said bench coach Andy Green, who was Reyes’ manager with the Padres in 2018 and ’19. “They’re waiting for the bottom to fall out. They’re waiting for the shoe to drop. They’re not playing anymore and they’re looking over their shoulder, and the focus changes to, like, ‘How is my security in the game?’ rather than attacking the game.”
Clearly, that played at least a part in his struggles. And moving further away from the player who could spray balls to all parts of the field didn’t help, either.
“To have somebody in there that has a history of producing offensively, looking at some of the video and some of the history of seeing him play, he can be a real all-fields-type hitter in a power body,” Ross said.
If that’s the case, well, the Cubs are starting to see it.
In 26 plate appearances over six games since heading to the North Side, here’s how Reyes has spread the ball around:
36.8 percent pull-side
26.3 percent to center field
36.8 percent to the opposite field
That’s come on 19 balls in play, 12 of which have gone to either center or right field.
His first hit with the Cubs back on Aug. 9? That was on a line drive straight out to right field.
His first two home runs in a Cubs uniform? Neither of them were pulled, either.
That all-fields hitter is who Reyes can be, and who the Cubs hope he will be.
As you’d expect, Reyes himself hadn’t given up hope for a turnaround when he arrived in Chicago. And cliche as it sounds, a change of scenery always has a chance of making that happen for any player.
“This year obviously has been tough a little bit, but my faith is very high and I know the type of player I am,” Reyes said. “I have a lot to give still.”
The ability to spray the ball around he’s found since changing teams has helped bring him some success. With the Cubs, he has a .346 average, a 1.038 OPS and a 184 wRC+.
However, that success has happened in as small a sample as they come. There’s still plenty of season to go. He has to prove that this hasn’t just been a few hot games.
And again, there were certainly other factors affecting his play that he’ll have to address, too. But he does have a track record of being able to hit like this, and if his current success lasts, the Cubs may just have a new heart-of-the-order slugger on their hands.
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