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Hackin’ Jose Reyes

With a healthy, productive season, Jose Reyes will become a very wealthy man next winter. The switch-hitter, eligible for free agency following 2011, could hit the market as a 28-year-old at a premium position with at least three 5.5+ WAR seasons to his name.

That’s not to say that Reyes’ game is without question marks, however. Hamstring issues that haunted him early in his big league career crept back up in 2009, costing him most of the season, and he missed time last year getting treatment for an overactive thyroid as well as nursing an oblique injury. Reyes didn’t play poorly in 2010, but a 2.8 WAR campaign was disappointing nonetheless. One of the biggest reasons that Reyes fell short of being the championship-caliber player we’ve come to expect was a downturn in his plate discipline.

From 2007-2009, Reyes swung at 24.8 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. The MLB average over that time frame was a bit above 25 percent, so Reyes ventured outside slightly less than the average hitter. In 2010, though, he lunged at 32.1 percent of off-the-plate offerings (29.3 percent MLB average). That was about 10 percent above the big league average. Not surprisingly, Reyes’ walk rate dipped from 9.5 percent from ’07 to ’09 to just 5.1 percent last season. His wOBA was .329, his lowest mark since his first fully healthy year in Queens back in 2005.

What changed for the worse in Reyes’ plate approach last year? Courtesy of Pitch F/X Maestro Dave Allen, here are the shortstop’s swing contours from last season, compared to 2007-2009. The solid line indicates Reyes’ 60% swing contour — inside the contour, his swing rate is greater than 60 percent and outside it is less. The dotted line is his 50% swing contour — he swings more than 50 percent inside the contour line, and outside, less.

First, Reyes from the right side. Keep in mind that the sample sizes with the right-handed graph are fairly small, so it’s best not to draw sweeping conclusions based on it.

As a righty batter, Reyes expanded his zone on pitches thrown up and away. Now, here’s Reyes from the left side. This is the meatier graph for analytical purposes:

Batting from the left side, Reyes swung at fewer low-and-inside offerings, but he hacked at more up-and-away pitches from this side of the plate as well.

There have been rumblings that the Mets want Reyes to show better plate discipline and boost his OBP before the team explores a multi-year extension for their shortstop. Given Reyes’ potential price tag and the club’s imperiled finances, that might be a moot point. But Reyes will draw a bigger paycheck from someone this winter if he can stop pulling the trigger on so many pitches located eye-high and outside.