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Jose Reyes’ Sluggish Start

New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes has long been a fantasy stalwart due to his sizzling speed and surprising pop. After a lost 2009 season in which the switch-hitter injured his right hamstring and played his last ball game in late May, fantasy players were hoping to get a discount on an electric talent in 2010. To this point, though, Reyes is hitting more like Rey Ordonez.

Since making his season debut on April 10 (he opened the year on the DL with a thyroid imbalance), Reyes has hit a feeble .215/.267/.289 in 146 plate appearances. His wOBA is .260, and he has yet to go deep in 2010. Jose has eight steals, but that doesn’t matter much when you’re showing the offensive skills of Willie Mays Hayes. What’s going on here?

The first thing that stands out is Reyes’ lack of patience at the plate. This season, the 26-year-old has hacked at 35.5 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, about 10 percent higher than his career mark and well above the 27.2 percent MLB average in 2010. That free-swinging approach has produced a 5.5 percent walk rate, Reyes’ lowest figure since 2005.

Perhaps recognizing Jose’s expanded zone, opposing pitchers aren’t tossing him many strikes: just 39.5 percent of Reyes’ pitches seen have been within the strike zone. That’s far lower than his career 52.7 percent average and the 47.9 percent MLB average.

Swinging at so many bad pitches, Reyes has made little forceful contact. His Isolated Power is .074, slightly more than half of his career .145 mark. Reyes is getting jammed a lot, as his infield/fly ball rate is 19.1 percent. His career rate is 11.7 percent, and the MLB average is around 7-8 percent. Reyes is making less contact, too, putting the bat on the ball 82.7 percent (85.9 percent career average, 80-81% MLB average). His K rate is a career-high 15.6 percent.

During his big league career, Reyes has hit line drives at a 20.2 percent rate. In 2010, just 13.9 percent of his batted balls have been classified as liners. As mentioned in the discussion of Chone Figginsrough start to 2010, the classification of line drives can be tricky. But liners have a .731 batting average and a .990 slugging percentage in the NL this season. Relative to his career batted ball averages, Reyes has swapped 6-7% of his line drives for infield fly balls, which are near-automatic outs. That’s a trade that no hitter wants to make.

Though there are plenty of negative trends here, Reyes has been somewhat unlucky on balls put in play. His BABIP is .252, while his expected BABIP (based on home runs, strikeouts, stolen bases, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and ground balls) is .290. In particular, the speedy Reyes has a .196 batting average on ground balls, compared to a .269 career average. He also won’t keep hitting .116 and slugging .140 on fly balls (his career marks are .195 and .477, respectively).

Jose Reyes is a mess at the plate. But fantasy owners can do little else but wait — he’s far too talented to trade away for sixty or seventy cents on the dollar. For non-owners, this wouldn’t be a bad time to make an offer. Perhaps you can pick Reyes up at a discount from someone whose patience has run thin. The Mets’ shortstop still has the potential to be an all-around force, but he’ll have to stop swinging with reckless abandon to regain that elite status.