Sunday, August 10, 2008

Former Redbird Makes Cleveland Debut

Former Cardinal Anthony Reyes made his Cleveland debut on Friday and made a positive contribution to his new team right away. Reyes worked 6.1 innings against Toronto, scattering 7 hits, 1 BB, and an earned run. The 26 year old right-hander also struck out four on an efficient 88 pitches. Reyes looked very comfortable on the mound despite pitching in a foreign uniform against a different league. He attacked the strike zone in his first start and threw over 70% of his pitches for strikes.

I was impressed with the quick pace and calm demeanor that Reyes brought to the mound. I also liked the fact that he consistently pounded the strike zone and tended to stay ahead in the count despite not having any overpowering pitches. Reyes relies on changing speeds, horizontal movement, and precise location to get batters out.

This may not be a fair comparison, but the first pitcher that came to mind (at least in terms of style) while watching Reyes was Paul Byrd. Many of the pitches Reyes tossed up looked like they were going to get hammered, but Toronto never seemed to get a hold of anything on a regular basis. Byrd has a tendency to bob and weave his way through starts in a similar fashion, despite not having a blazing fastball or filthy changeup either (upon further investigation, Byrd uses a wider array of breaking pitches, covers a larger part of the plate, and has a lower overall velocity than Reyes). There may be more movement behind Reyes’ stuff than I can see that is causing players to hit foul or ground balls rather than hits. As tenuous as Reyes’ style may seem, it was very effective on Friday.

One possible issue I noticed is that Reyes pitched almost exclusively on the outer half of the plate (the one time I remember him going inside ended up as a hit; probably why I remember it). Instead, Reyes tends to alternate between his fastball and changeup from the middle of the plate to just outside the batters box in an attempt to bait the batter into swinging at his pitch.

Reyes’ changeup (and to a lesser degree, his heater) features a cutting motion that moves away from righties that helps him with this strategy. His curveball has the most extreme lateral movement, but I’m not sure he had the best control over his curve this time. Actually, I really wasn’t sure if he was throwing as many changeups as Gameday said he was (going just by Gameday, he threw a ton). His fastball may have been so slow much of the time that the pitch f/x sensors listed it as a changeup.

According to Fangraphs, Reyes tends to throw his fastball 66% of the time, followed by a changeup 16%, and a curve about 14.5%. The fastball has an average speed right around 90 MPH, while the change and curve tend to be similar in terms of speed at 76 MPH (basically what he threw Friday). The fact that his two secondary pitches are so similar in speed and have a nice 15 MPH difference from his fastball could make it difficult to pick up his pitches when he mixes them properly.

Another thing I was a little concerned about was that Reyes seemed to be hanging some of his pitches. Even after batters saw him a second or third time though, they didn’t seem to take advantage of what appeared to be hanging pitches, so I guess he was mixing his location and speed up enough to negate this.

Overall, I was very pleased with Reyes’ first outing and look forward to when he toes the rubber against Baltimore next week. What I’m still curious about is how a more patient and powerful offense responds to his pitching style (sorry Baltimore, not going to cut it there).

The biggest mark against Reyes that I’ve heard is that he had a falling out with the coaching staff in St. Louis. Apparently, pitching coach Dave Duncan insisted on changing Reyes’ pitching style into more of a groundball pitcher (maybe not a bad idea, but if a young, thus-far successful pitcher is truly against it, it’s probably not a good idea to force him). Fortunately, Carl Willis has a pretty good track record of helping pitchers get their confidence back through the proper adjustments, so I don’t see that being a problem in Cleveland.

Throw in Reyes' career 3.22 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 4.39 K/BB ratio in 422 minor league innings and you have a guy with a lot of potential, but not a lot of opportunity to show it lately. Then again, Cleveland already has a young pitching prospect who dominated the minors to the tune of a 2.25 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 3.10 K/BB ratio who has yet to find consistent success in the majors. Hopefully both of these guys find their footing again in Cleveland.

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