Despite low OBP, Reyes is dangerous leadoff hitter
Posted: Tuesday June 20, 2006 11:12AM; Updated: Tuesday June 20, 2006 12:06PM
Mets shortstop Jose Reyes (.272, .338 OBP) doesn't have eye-popping numbers, but he steals runs.
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Can a guy with a .338 on-base percentage be the best leadoff hitter in the National League? The question occurred to me recently as I watched the Mets' JoseReyes score from second base on a dribbler to third against Philadelphia. When a throw home squirted just beyond the reach of catcher Sal Fasano, Reyes, never breaking stride, zoomed home with what really was a stolen run.
Last year, when I polled executives to pick the best 25-and-under shortstop (BobbyCrosby of Oakland won), one GM said of Reyes, "He runs fast and he plays in New York. That's why there's hype about him. That's it." I'm beginning to believe that Reyes is a much more useful and dimensional player than that, and his ability to hit for extra bases, steal bases and create havoc on the base paths more than compensates for his less-than-spectacular OBP.
"I'm not going to lie to you: Ideally, we'd love to see him improve his on-base percentage," said Mets GM Omar Minaya about Reyes. "In a perfect world, yes, you want your leadoff guy to have a high on-base percentage. But with Reyes you can't just look at on-base percentage. Look at his total bases. This guy hits doubles and triples. That's what I look at when I look at Jose Reyes.
"And can you imagine if he improves his on-base percentage on top of what he is already? My goodness, you're talking about a great, great player."
Well, you would be talking about the next Rickey Henderson. I covered Henderson with the 1985 Yankees when he scored 146 runs in 143 games. It seemed almost every night Henderson would walk, steal second, move to third on an out and score on some type of ball put in play by Don Mattingly, often another out. In other words, the Yankees often didn't need a hit to get Henderson home. Henderson's OBP that year was .422.
Reyes is unlikely to ever come close to that kind of OBP. But his .338 mark this year is a nice leap from his .303 career mark entering this season. The guy just turned 23 this month, after all. He's only three months older than the first pick in this year's draft, Luke Hochevar. I've never believed that a young player with poor plate discipline can make a quantum leap in that area -- it's a skill, like speed; you can work at it but your range of improvement only extends so far. But at least Reyes has dropped hints that he won't be the next Shawon Dunston, a guy who didn't show much improvement in that area as an every-day player.
If you rated leadoff hitters simply by their ability to get on base, Reyes would rank seventh of the 12 NL leadoff qualifiers, with Alfonso Soriano, David Eckstein and Dave Roberts leading the way. But would you really rather have Eckstein or Roberts than Reyes? Could they, for instance, have scored from second base on that dribbler to third?