Yesterday afternoon, Miami Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes was unable to continue his career-high 26-game hitting streak, failing to record a hit against New York Mets starter R.A. Dickey. Still, one of the new faces of the Marlins organization rode this hot streak to a massive improvement in his batting line. Reyes hit an impressive .365/.405/.625 during the hitting streak, which encompassed five of his seven home runs this season. His power display during this run has brought his batting line for the year very close to his career line; even with today's 0-for-4 showing, his current .285/.349/.432 batting line (.342 wOBA) is extremely similar to his career .292/.342/.440 (.346 wOBA) mark.
How did Reyes do this? At the end of April, Reyes was batting .220/.293/.341! As late as the start of July, his line was at a decent but unspectacular .271/.346/.386. How did Reyes suddenly turn himself back into the Reyes of the past? Well, the truth is that the transformation had been happening gradually over the last three months and change, and only recently did the hot streak accelerate that process. The fact of the matter is that Reyes's 2012 season is a classic example of regression to the mean.
Reyes's regression to the mean started way back in May, though it certainly happened in bits and pieces to start. Take a look at his monthly splits.
One might look at this and say that he just started "heating up" and "getting better and better." To me, it signals that April was a fluke and that Reyes has returned more or less to his normal line since that fluke month. Indeed, take a look at the entire three-plus months as a whole and you will see a Reyes very similar to the career Reyes. Since the start of May, Reyes has hit .303/.365/.457, worth a .363 wOBA. What did ZiPS project at the start of the season from Reyes? They thought he would hit .302/.353/.471, a .362 wOBA. In other words, since the start of May, after the one fluky month, Reyes has been more or less exactly who we thought he was before the season began. Even if you clear his best and worst month from the slate, Reyes's .291/.356/.436 line is very similar to his career line.
If he has been more or less the same as expected, does that mean that he has had the same approach each month? Almost.
Ignore August for the time being, since this month has just started. Aside from the May blip of patience (which we have positively discussed before), Reyes has donned the same approachh that he has always had in his career. His swing rates are almost perfectly in line with his career numbers and indeed are even better at the moment. In terms of what Reyes does at the plate, not much has differed.
Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton have also said that hitting coach Eduardo Perez approached Reyes later in the year regarding where he was hitting the ball to. The idea apparently was that Reyes had failed to hit the ball to center field compared to his career year in 2011 and thus was struggling to pick up hits. When you look at the monthly breakdown, this seems rather silly, as Reyes has had a BABIP higher than .285 in each of those three-plus months after April. Nevertheless, is that true? Here is Reyes's spray chart from April and May, courtesy of TexasLeaguers' Pitch F/X tool.
Compare that to the chart from June forward.
There is a slightly bigger cluster of hits in center field in the second diagram than in the first, indicating that there may be some truth to the assertion that Reyes was not going up the middle as much in his first few months. But it is nothing drastic, and the overall charts only differ in how many hits were allowed to Reyes; the distribution seems mostly the same between the two charts.
For what it is worth, Reyes has hit fewer balls to center field overall this season as opposed to last year. Only 35 percent of Reyes's balls in play have traveled to center this year versus 37.5 percent last year. But the difference between the two seasons really has more to do with luck to center field rather than distribution; Reyes hit .416/.414/.587 (.418 wOBA) to center field while he is hitting .292/.288/.372 (.282 wOBA) this season into that region. His career mark is somewhere in between those two numbers, so if anything, Perez telling Reyes to focus on going to center field may help to normalize his performance in that area a little faster.
Reyes is still on a tear in August, and hopefully the broken hit streak will not slow him down during the month. The important thing for Marlins fans is to note that Jose Reyes has more or less returned to form, or rather that he had always been in form since May. Marlins fans did not jump all over his April performance as they did with a number of other players on the Marlins, and it appears as though they were right to avoid criticism. Since the start of May, Reyes has done nothing but be his usual self, and it has been a pleasure to watch.