If the Indians Are Counting on Franmil Reyes as an Outfield Solution, it's a Risky Move
It’s not hard to see the concerns with the Cleveland Indians’ outfield. Despite having plenty of options available, the entire thing still looks like one giant platoon.
At the moment, there aren’t too many viable external solutions for this problem. Besides a reunion with an old friend, that is.
If one member of the team has any say in the matter, the answer to this issue is already in the clubhouse.
Franmil Reyes, acquired in last year’s blockbuster trade of Trevor Bauer, has expressed his desire to compete for an outfield spot in 2020. Before departing for the offseason, Reyes told the front office he’s spending the winter getting in better shape, hoping to provide the Tribe more innings in right field next summer.
While this is certainly admirable, the Indians would be wise to continue looking for ways to shore up the outfield. Ignoring outside options to instead depend on valuable defensive innings from Reyes is a risky route to take.
To be fair, when it comes to the current outfield’s lack of offensive power, the Dominican slugger helps in spades.
Reyes tallied 37 home runs in 2019, just three less than Jordan Luplow, Oscar Mercado and Tyler Naquin combined to hit last year. His hard hit percentage ranked in the 98 percentile, while only three other players in the majors had a higher average exit velocity last season.
So, sure, seeing Reyes as an internal solution for the outfield’s current lack of pop isn’t off-base.
Defensively, it’s a completely different story. Reyes is right to prioritize improvements in the field this winter, mostly because he has his work cut out for him.
Using FanGraphs’ Inside Edge fielding data, Reyes has held his own when making routine and likely plays, converting 98.5% of the latter and 75.0% of the former for his career. However, there’s a notable drop-off when it comes to plays with an even chance of being made (i.e. requiring a little extra effort). He’s converted just 25.0% of plays that 40-60% of average MLB outfielders would make.
Taking it a step further, Reyes’ Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) leaves a lot to be desired. For his career, his UZR comes in at -7.4 in 1212.0 innings played. Essentially, putting him in right field has resulted in his team giving up a little over seven runs.
Grading this out, Reyes’ career UZR ranks somewhere between poor and awful. For additional reference, when looking at Indians outfielders with at least 1212.0 career innings, the next lowest UZR comes from Greg Allen (-0.6).
As you can see, there’s a reason designated hitter was determined to be his best fit on Cleveland’s roster.
If weight is believed to be the issue for his fielding struggles, then more power to Reyes for addressing this over the winter. However, are the Indians confident he can significantly improve his UZR by shedding a few pounds? Is he doing enough to make them believe leaning on him for crucial innings is a more reliable option than seeking outside help?
For now, it appears the answer is yes. When commenting on Reyes’ desire to contribute in the outfield, Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti claimed this “would align with what we would hope.”
Should he complete the necessary steps to becoming a reliable outfielder this offseason, the Indians could platoon Reyes with Luplow in right field. This would ensure Cleveland could continue taking advantage of the latter’s success against left-handed pitching, while also getting the former the outfield innings he desires when opponents start a right-hander.
Again, though, this is a lofty bet. The Indians would be ignoring notable outfield concerns, pinning their hopes on a player who currently brings the lowest fielding value on the roster.
As you can see, the smartest move Cleveland can make is finding an external solution this offseason. While it’s encouraging to see Reyes try to improve his defense, assuming he can make a serious leap in one winter is incredibly risky.
Reyes will certainly provide the Indians a ton at the plate this summer. Assuming he’ll do the same in right field could become quite a misfire.