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Jose Reyes And the Pain of Moderated Expectations

2012 wasn’t supposed to look anything like 2011 for the Miami Marlins as they added a whole mess, and I do mean mess, of new salaries to help inaugurate their new digs in downtown. But for all their trouble, the Marlins finished 69-93 having been outscored by their opponents by some 115 runs, which was actually slightly worse than 2011’s 72-90 finish with a -77 run differential.

2013 won’t look much like 2012 whether the Marlins manage to extricate themselves from the cellar of the NL East or not simply by virtue of the roster shuffling that has already started. Despite signing a rich deal last winter, Heath Bell was one of the very first players moved this offseason, and Ozzie Guillen wasn’t far behind him out the door. In fact, about the only things that really came as advertised were Giancarlo Stanton, the home run monstrosity and Jose Reyes.

After a pair of seasons cut short by injury, Reyes played a remarkable 160 games, which was the Marlins’ team high by more than a months worth of games and the first time Reyes had broken 140 games since 2008. Even with those extra games, Reyes season was decidedly average by his career standards. His batting average was slightly below his normal mark at .287 as opposed to his career .291 average, but his 11 home runs were better than the nine he averaged in previous seasons. He even grabbed an additional nine RBI, which helped fill out his profile at least marginally.

These are all good things, and they’re a big reason why Reyes was tied with Ian Desmond as the second best shortstop this season, but Reyes owners don’t grab him to be a five category filler. He scored 86 runs, a bit ahead of the 82 he scores on average, but the one category where he failed to hit his career mark was the very category owners needed him to excel in most: stolen bases. He didn’t miss the average by much, stealing 40 bases compared to an average of 41, and he was still tied for fifth in baseball, but the last time he got close to 160 games he stole 56 and the last time he actually played in 160 games he stole 78 bases.

While he was a fairly equal opportunity thief, Reyes showed a pair of rather pronounced splits this season in his batting: He was substantially better at home than he was on the road and he was much better in the second half. With respect to the first half/second half split, there’s not much there beyond variance. If there’s anything to be taken away, it’s encouragement from the fact that Reyes was able to finish the year strong instead of fading, but that’s not much one can take into the draft room in five months. But the park splits feel like they should be meaningful, right?

It’s tempting to look at his home/road disparity in batting average and home runs — .321 versus .256 and four versus seven respectively — and make some remarks about the new home park playing to his strengths, but it’s just too soon to make anything definitive notes about how Marlins Park is going to play in the future. There’s a lot of space, which would seem to bode consistently well for his doubles and triples, and may have also contribute to his nearly 100 point BABIP swing from .341 at home to his .260 on the road. The ample space isn’t going to help anyone’s power, but the exact extent to which it’s going to suppress Reyes’ power just isn’t clear right now. I doubt the park will change substantially next season, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented if it did. Both Target Field and NuYankee showed different characteristics in their second season of use than they did in their first.

Reyes isn’t old in any conventional definition of the term, but 2013 will be his age-30 season and with rare exceptions, speed isn’t a tool that ages well. Saying that Reyes will never challenge for 80 stolen bases again hardly seems like a slight against him, but it’s important for potential owners to know what they’re getting into with him. High steals and solid secondary categories may well be worth paying the premium for him on draft day given the overall shallowness of the position, but gone are the days when grabbing Reyes meant that speed was no longer a need that still needed to be specifically addressed. Expectations for Reyes will be rightly high going into next year, but more well-rounded production rather than one-category dominance will likely be his modus operandi from now until the end of his career.