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Miami Marlins Season Preview: Shortstop

Jose Reyes wants to tell you that his 2012 Miami Marlins debut season will be excellent.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Jose Reyes wants to tell you that his 2012 Miami Marlins debut season will be excellent. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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Welcome to the Miami Marlins Season Preview! After this, check out the other previews:

02/24: Catcher
02/27: First base
Second base
Third base

Despite a hitch in the previously expected schedule, the Miami Marlins Season Preview continues to trek along with the next edition. Last we spoke, we discussed the prospects of the Miami Marlins' third base situation, with Hanley Ramirez moving from his traditional shortstop role to the hot corner. Of course, the Marlins were not likely to make this move unless the team had a good reason to do so, and the club signed a very good reason this offseason in free agent Jose Reyes. Reyes was the team's number one priority in the offseason, as the club contacted the player's representatives one minute after the free agency period officially began. The Marlins were connected to Reyes throughout his time available in the market, and by the time they signed him, it pretty much felt like a foregone conclusion.

Depth Chart

1. Jose Reyes
2. Emilio Bonifacio

Minor League Depth: Nick Green

Once the Marlins signed Reyes, there was no doubt he would become the club's shortstop, with Ramirez being required to move to another position. Thankfully, Ramirez agreed to the switch, and the Fish now get to reap the benefits of having one of the premier shortstops in the game for the next few seasons before an inevitable decline makes his final years look poor. But today, we're not concerned about the long-term future of this deal (as we were here), but rather the immediate future: what can Reyes provide for the Fish in 2012?

Reyes is coming off the best offensive season of his career. In 2011, he hit .337/.384/.493 en route to a .386 wOBA which was 49 percent better than the league average after accounting for park effects. The offensive package was worth 35 runs better than average with base stealing, and he even tagged on two runs on non-steals baserunning as well, bringing him close to 40 runs better than average on offense last year. But it is a given that none of that is going to happen again, as it is highly unlikely he repeats those career-best numbers. This is especially true in light of his previous two seasons worth of work.
Reyes, 2009-2011 PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ fWAR*
2011 586 .337 .384 .493 .386 149 6.2
2010 603 .282 .321 .428 .329 104 2.9
2009 166 .279 .355 .395 .342 110 0.8
Three-Year 1355 .306 .352 .452 .355 124 9.9

All of that shows you that Reyes had an amazing career year that followed one of his weakest campaigns in 2010. Before that, he was on track to have another decent year until his 2009 season was derailed with injury. But as we mentioned in the previous article:

The 2009 and 2010 seasons were clear blemishes, what with the injury history and the fact that Reyes underperformed in his 2010 season. However, consider the following information:

- From 2009 to 2011, only two shortstops (Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez) with over 1000 PA had a better wOBA and wRC+, which is park- and league-adjusted measure of wOBA, than Reyes's 124.

- From 2009 to 2011, only six shortstops (the above mentioned plus Derek Jeter, Alexei Ramirez, Yunel Escobar, and Elvis Andrus) had a better fWAR total than Reyes.

From mashing his best and worst seasons together, you got a player who was the best fifth best shortstop in baseball and the third best hitting shortstop in the game. Jose Reyes was good even when he was bad, and the overall .306/.352/.452 package is perfectly acceptable for a capable defender at shortstop. Even though he has missed significant time with injury, he managed to average 3.3 wins per season.

Even with two of Reyes's worst seasons and his best season mixed together, he was still one of the five or so best shortstops in baseball. Combine that with the fact that his best season was the most recent, and you're looking at a player who is likely to be in the upper echelon of shortstops in the game.

How would he go about doing such a thing? Let's take a look at Reyes's peripherals again.

Reyes, 2009-2011 K% BB% XB/H ISO BABIP
2011 7.0 7.3 0.464 .156 .353
2010 10.4 5.1 0.516 .145 .301
2009 10.8 11.4 0.414 .116 .307
Three-Year 9.1 6.8 0.480 .146 .325

Yes, the BABIP stands out as the biggest difference between these numbers, but the one thing I want to focus on is the strikeout and walk rates. A 7.3 percent walk rate is about on par with Reyes's career marks, so that does not seem to be out of line. What was a bit strange was his career low 7.0 percent strikeout rate. It stands out because, prior to 2011, Reyes had never struck out in less than 10 percent of his PA. What was the cause? Let's find out by checking on the plate discipline stats via Pitch F/X.

Reyes, Season Swing% O-Swing% Contact% O-Contact%
2011 41.9 28.3 90.1 81.3
2010 44.1 29.8 86.9 75.9
2009 39.5 27.9 86.8 77.2
2007-2011 (Pitch F/X era) 42.2 28.8 87.6 77.8

Color me surprised. Because of his perennially low walk rates, Reyes is portrayed as a guy who has no patience at the plate. But it turns out that it is not the case, as Reyes actually takes more pitches than the average player over the course of his career (the average swing rate over the Pitch F/X era has been around 45 percent) and swings at about the same rate of out-of-zone pitches as the rest of the league.

It turns out the reason why he does not walk much has nothing to do with plate selectivity but rather his contact rate, as he makes contact on almost seven percent more pitches than the average player. In 2011, that contact rate went up even more, and the culprit for his massive decrease in strikeouts can be pinpointed as his contact rate on out-of-zone pitches. Last year, his percentage jumped almost four percent from his career rate, indicating a potential area for regression. These sort of numbers do regress less on a sample of a year's worth of new work, but my guess is that he will strike out a significant amount more than last season just on regression alone, though maybe an amount lower than his career rate.

So we suspect he will strike out more and get fewer hits overall as a result of regression to the mean. Should Reyes's power drop as well? I doubt it. He likely will not hit 16 home runs like he last did in 2008, but the rest of his extra-base hits look very similar to his old numbers. Furthermore, he will be moving to a park that should be prime for triples, meaning that balls in the gap may turn into three-baggers more than usual in the new Marlins stadium due to its unique alleys.

We suspect his power to remain similar to that of 2012, when he hit a pretty typical .156 ISO, and we presume that he should regress a good deal in BABIP and a bit in strikeouts. What do the projections systems say?

ZiPS 549 .302 .353 .471 .362
Steamer 583 .295 .351 .450 .350
PECOTA 647 .292 .347 .435 .281
Fans 623 .300 .350 .444 .352

Each of these projection systems generally think of Reyes the same. PECOTA seems the most pessimistic, while ZiPS appears to be the most optimistic. On average, these projections all end up right around where Reyes's three-year average wOBA of .355., which is a perfectly acceptable offensive expectation. As for defense, let's again reference our previous article:

We mentioned defensively that Reyes has average two to three runs worse than average on defense, and I am fairly comfortable going with that value for 2012 as well. Of course, being a shortstop has inherent value, as there are a select few players capable of playing the position in the major leagues. As a result, we add an adjustment for Reyes's position to give him credit for being a shortstop; the position adjustment for shortstops in most WAR metrics is around an added seven to eight runs per 600 PA. Therefore, the "defensive value" of a shortstop like Reyes adds up to around four to five runs above average in 600 PA.

Once again, we cannot be certain about what Reyes will provide at shortstop, other than that it is probably better than having Ramirez at the position. When we add all of that up and tack on a few more runs for Reyes's top-notch non-steals baserunning, we get this projection:

Projection: 600 PA, 4.5 WAR

In the third base preview, we had Ramirez at 4.8 WAR using the same methodology, but in the previous Reyes article, we listed him at 4.7 WAR using the new run environment. At this point, we'll stick with 4.5 WAR for next season just because it is a nice round number. This means that the Marlins' left side of the infield is expected to produce almost nine wins for the Marlins in 2012. The team is blessed with the luxury of having two of the best shortstops in the game on the same team, and having Ramirez at third base and Reyes at shortstop should provide more offense than most teams get from those positions. The question will be whether the rest of the team can produce at a similar rate for the Marlins to bring them to contention.