By Mike Steffanos
Nice Tom Verducci piece on SI.com about Jose Reyes. Verducci compares Jose to a pretty darned good former major league infielder that you might have heard about this week:
... in his own way, Reyes gives tribute to Robinson every time he sets foot on a baseball field. It's not only that Reyes, a Dominican, never would have been allowed to play major league baseball in the years before Robinson. It's also that Reyes is the closest facsimile that we have today to Robinson: the most exciting player in baseball, a joy to watch.
No player can beat you in more ways than Reyes. Last season, for instance, he stole 64 bases and drove in 81 runs, becoming only the second player in 91 years to reach those thresholds (Joe Morgan in 1973 and '75) and only the sixth since 1900 (Benny Kauff and Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins and Frank Chance are the others). The scary part is that Reyes, 23, still is learning the game and improving at an incredibly fast clip.
With respect to the great Mr. Robinson, my favorite part of the whole article was this sentence:
Reyes seems to be disproving a widely held belief that plate discipline, like speed, is an inherent ability that can be improved only marginally. Last season he doubled his rate of walks per plate appearance (.076) from 2005 (.037) and this season, though obviously early, he has doubled it again (.151). [my emphasis]
The relative worth of Jose Reyes has been a battleground between stat guys and tool guys since his first step on a major-league field. As someone who has come around to a position somewhere between the two camps, I found some of the discussions amusing. To some extent, however, it was also annoying. There were just too many folk in the stat camp who saw Reyes as a sort of baseball Antichrist.
"He's just an Out Making Machine!" they would scream in their annoying little voices, with little annoying bits of spit flying out of their mouths as they stamped their annoying little feet on the ground for emphasis. Their annoyingly beady little eyes would refuse to acknowledge any evidence of the talent that practically radiated from Reyes, since they were blinded by the numbers and the harsh judgment that these numbers dictated.
When you'd try to get them to acknowledge that Jose could improve on his numbers and live up to the talent, you ran smack into the brick wall of their attitude towards plate discipline to which Verducci alluded. For some reason, there was a very doctrinaire subset of stat folk who seemed to take the accolades that Reyes received as an exciting young player with a lot of potential as a personal insult. He was labeled as "ridiculously overrated" by one writer last summer. The "O" word was a favorite of that entire crowd. While many proponents of statistical analysis were willing to keep an open mind towards Reyes, others were openly and continuously hostile.
Even this spring on Yahoo.com, their writer chose Reyes as the player most likely to disappoint Mets fans. Superlatives aside, the only way this kid disappoints me is when he isn't in the lineup.
For years, those of us who loved Reyes were bombarded with all of the negatives. I remember listening to Mike Francesa scream at Mets fans who didn't like the idea of trading Jose Reyes for Alfonso Soriano. Even Mets fans Joe Beningo and Sid Rosenberg were trying to jam that one down our throats. I wonder how many Mets fans would even consider that deal today.
For all the truth in the fact that Willie Randolph is not a particularly good manager when it comes to in-game strategy, he always had the right tact with Reyes. So many young players fail to improve their plate discipline because they are instructed to take more pitches. What happens is they just wind up getting into unfavorable counts and then swinging at the pitcher's pitch. Eventually they revert back to old habits. Randolph worked with Reyes on getting better pitches to hit rather than just trying to get a few more walks, and that was the correct approach. For Reyes, Randolph's tenure as manager came along at the perfect time in his development.
I love all of the things that stats can teach us, and have no desire to go back to the days when only the most elementary numbers were used. Sometimes, though, there just are too many pundits out there that depend too much on what their numbers tell them. Most of the guys making the harshest judgments on Reyes probably only saw him play a handful of games. No matter how sophisticated we get with the use of statistical analysis, we need to be careful to understand that it can't replace actually watching a guy play.
Loge13.com is a web site dedicated to chronicling the last days of Shea Stadium. Today, coincidentally, just happens to be the 47th birthday of the old girl. Loge13.com is celebrating with a whole week of posts celebrating the glory that is Shea.
As a Mets fan, I am all too aware of Shea's flaws, but I'm also sick to death of the endless whines by the New York media on how much they hate the place. The old stadium deserves some credit for all of the great moments. Congrats to Loge13.com for giving Shea its due.