Joe’s Peppy Tone: Kelly Leaks

Joe Posnanski
Apr 11, 2017 · 6 min read

In our “Small Sample Size” section today, we talk a bit about the Cincinnati Reds.

How can you NOT love what the Reds are doing so far this season? Sure, it’s just one week of baseball, but it seems the Reds — and specifically manager Bryan Price — have come into this season determined to break conventions and just try to win ballgames. You gotta love it for a team that many of us predicted would be the worst in baseball.

I’ve long wondered why more small-market, semi-hopeless teams don’t do this, throw out the traditions and customs and accepted protocols and just try stuff. You can’t compare real baseball to fantasy baseball, but I often used to think in Kansas City, when the Royals were terrible, that if you enter a Fantasy League and are told up front that you have one-third the money of other owners in the league, the one thing you absolutely SHOULD NOT do is buy the same fantasy baseball book everyone else is using. That’s a guaranteed loser.

Still, the temptation to be conventional, to follow the accepted guidelines of baseball, is very strong. I’m not saying that Bryan Price and the Reds are reinventing baseball, but it was wonderful to watch Bryan Price shuffle around his bullpen against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, use perhaps his best reliever Michael Lorenzen in the THIRD INNING (with the bases loaded and nobody out, no less). Lorenzen was perfect for three innings, then promising young starter Cody Reed (who is working out some delivery kinks in the bullpen) was was perfect for three more, then closer Wandy Peralta was perfect too — 21 straight outs by three relievers.

The Reds are now 5–2, and their team ERA of 2.76 is the best in the league.

Perhaps more than any of it, I loved, loved, loved this quote from Price:

Yes! Exactly! It was somewhat surprising that the Reds stuck with Price this year — on the surface, he took over a 90-win team and in his first three years that team lost 86, 98 and 94 games. It isn’t that simple, of course, but it is simple that most teams would have let him go. The Reds stuck with him, they believe in him, and it would great to see Price be unconventional, take chances and make the Reds interesting all year long.

The Royals early struggle give us our Twitter poll of the day:

Statcast™ Thought of the Day

Kelly Leak: “Does anybody mind if I warm up too?”

Tanner Boyle: “We didn’t think you needed anybody but yourself to play catch with it.”

— The Bad News Bears.

Man oh man do I love my Statcast™ teammates here at MLB Advanced Media — Tom, Mike, Darren, Jason, Matt, et al., these guys are scouring the incredible new data that Statcast™ cameras and radar provide and coming up with all kinds of new ideas for how to watch and how to analyze baseball. Some work better than others, of course.

The concept of the “Kelly Leaks” is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite things now.

I don’t think I need to explain the Kelly Leak concept, but for the few of you who have not seen the original Bad News Bears — well, go see it right now. No, really, I’ll wait, it’s that important. OK, you saw it? Good, so now you know that Kelly Leak was the bad boy outfielder who Walter Matthau gives the famous “I want you handling the ball as much as possible out there today,” order. For a little while, Kelly Leak races in front of the other outfielders to catch the ball … until he doesn’t, which is a whole other story.

Mike Petriello already pointed out that Philadelphia’s Odubel Herrera is the Kelly Leak of outfielders in the Majors these days. Statcast™ can show pretty clearly when an outfielder makes a catch that would been significantly easier (at least by distance covered) for a different outfielder.

BUT, the very best Kelly Leak play of them all happened on September 4 of last year when C.J. Cron hit a ball to right field that Mariners rookie Ben Gamel had a 96% chance of catching. That’s 96%.

Watch centerfielder Leonys Martin run over. For the ground he had to cover and the time the ball was in the air, he had only a 44% chance of catching the ball — it took a Statcast™ four-star catch for him to make it.

The JPT will be on the lookout at all times for Kelly Leak plays in 2017. The closest one we’ve had so far happened Sunday when Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell flew out to Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte (86% catch probability) even though right fielder Nick Markakis had a shorter distance to go (96% catch probability).

Bu, realistically, that one doesn’t count. Markakis seemed to know right away it was Inciarte’s ball. And anyway Markakis, multiple Gold Gloves notwithstanding, doesn’t move all that well out there.

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One Hot Player

There has never been a player in baseball quite like Mark Reynolds. He was a 16th round pick as a shortstop out of the University of Virginia — he wasn’t really all that great a player a Virginia. He was injured. He didn’t hit with any regularity. When the University did the press release announcing that he was picked in the 16th round, the best thing they could think to say of him was that he was “named a Second Team All-ACC selection.”

After a couple of blah years in the minors, he changed his hitting approach some and blasted 36 home runs combined in high A, double A and the Arizona Fall League. The hope was that his power would emerge, and then it did, and the Diamondbacks brought him up the next year.

They brought him up knowing that while Reynolds could hit a lot of home runs, he would also strike out. And strike out. And strike out. And strike out.

The Diamondbacks — and Reynolds himself — were willing to live with those strikeouts for the power. And so in 2008, Reynolds played every day, and he broke what many had considered an unbreakable record, Bobby Bonds’ single-season mark of 189 strikeouts. That record was a thing of beauty, it had survived for almost 30 years. Reynolds absolutely smashed it in 2008. He pulled an O.J. Simpson, if you will pardon the gruesome reference. O.J. Simpson broke Jim Brown’s single season rushing record in 1973 … and then, for posterity, he did the unthinkable by going over 2,000 yards.

Reynolds broke Bonds’ record and then he too did the unthinkable: He struck out 200 times in a single season (actually he struck out 204).

Two-hundred strikeouts in a season was kind of mind-boggling, especially for the old timers who remembered when Joe Dimaggio did this and Yogi Berra did that and Rod Carew and so on.

The next year, Reynolds hit 44 home runs and slugged .543.

He struck out 223 times, the record that still survives.

It has been an up-and-down career for Reynolds since setting that awesome record, as you might imagine for a strikeout-home run wizard. He has hit 255 career home runs, which is great. He has struck out a mind-boggling 1,638 times in about 5,300 plate appearances, roughly one time in three. Reynolds has struck out 250 more times than Henry Aaron — in 8,500 fewer plate appearances.

But Mark Reynolds is still swinging — and he’s off to a fantastic start with Colorado at age 33. He was supposed to be on the bench, but with Ian Desmond out, he’s been playing every day. He leads the league with four home runs (in eight games), he’s slugging .862, he’s killing it.

“The first at-bat of the season, when I hit a home run, it really kind of just got that confidence rolling in the right direction,” Reynolds says. “It’s huge. Every year you come into the season like, ‘Hey man, can I still do this?’ And the first-at-bat you hit a homer, your confidence goes through the roof, and you feel like you can do it every time.”

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