The thirteenth in an alphabetical and irregularly updated series of seasons-in-review for each of the players we predicted last winter. (All entries are linked in the right-hand sidebar, below the LL Exclusives.)
LL Community: .283/.356/.422 (n=20)
Bill James Handbook: .294/.363/.412
I want a do-over.
Nobody came close. At all. Even the most pessimistic LL projection missed Reed's OBP by 70 points. Not that I blame anyone, since it's not every day that a 24/25 year old with an encouraging track record completely bottoms out, but this was a sophomore slump for the ages that no one saw coming. If ever 212 at bats could kill a promising career, I think we just saw them.
After a rookie season in which Reed spent the better part of his time playing like a fourth outfielder, people were expecting bigger things. With a healthy wrist and a player profile that screamed "young Rusty Greer," Reed was being counted on to provide a little on-base ability from the bottom of the lineup, as he was one of the few players on the team who knew how to take a walk. He wouldn't be confused with an All Star, but as a cheap .340 OBP with passable defense in center, he'd be an asset.
As it happens, though, that ability never materialized. He sucked from the get-go, and aside from his usual dominance of the Angels, he kept sucking right up until he broke his thumb in the 11th inning of the worst game of the season. It didn't look that bad at the time, and there were rumblings that Reed would be able to return before the end of the season, but setbacks and slow healing kept him off the field, and with Ichiro agreeing to a long-term shift to center it became increasingly clear by the end of September that Reed's career in Seattle was all but over. Out of a starting job but still too young to typecast as a backup, Reed currently tops the list of Mariners most likely to be dealt somewhere else.
This is the problem with projections - they're founded on a certain amount of information, but that information isn't static, and if something changes then the projection is no longer valid. When LL (and the other systems) looked at Reed, they saw a young player with a line-drive swing who just had to get stronger and improve his pitch recognition by 5% or so to turn into a Major Leaguer. Being that that's how hitters usually develop, an improvement was predicted across the board.
What we didn't know, however, was that Reed would change his swing from level to an uppercut that even the most optimistic of fans would consider wildly inappropriate for a player of his ability. Whether by personal preference or through bad coaching, Reed sacrificed his ability to hit for average in a desperate attempt to improve his power output, and while his ISO did jump 64%, that didn't make up for the considerable drop in BA and OBP. He also became a more aggressive hitter, dropping his P/PA by more than 8%. I'm not quite sure why this happened, although it's possible that Reed didn't want to get himself behind in the count. It's also possible that pitchers just started feeding him strike after strike since they didn't feel threatened. I don't know. Finally, the uppercut left him even more vulnerable against southpaws than he was before, as he somehow managed to go hitless off lefties in 23 at bats before shutting things down.
Whatever the case, Reed's two greatest attributes disappeared, replaced by an increase in power that wasn't close to significant enough to balancing everything out. Once a line-drive happy minor leaguer with a BB/K ratio over one, Reed's 12.6% LD% ranked second-worst in baseball among players with 200+ at bats, and he walked less often than Juan Encarnacion and Pedro Feliz. At the time of his injury in early July, Reed's profile as a hitter was completely different than it was four months earlier. I don't know if we can even refer to him as the guy who hit .400 in AA, because while that's technically true, he's just not the same player anymore, so that fact in itself is meaningless.
Jeremy Reed is a mystery. Because he hasn't really hit in three years his value is at its lowest, but he's still one of those guys who, if you saw his name on the minor league FA wire, you'd think was worth scooping up. A contender couldn't take the risk of giving him an everyday job, but he'd be perfect for someone like (say) the Pirates, Cubs, or Nationals, who have both the need for a CF and the time to devote to a reclamation project. And if worse comes to worse and the Mariners can't find a taker willing to give up anything of value in return, they can stash him away in Tacoma for the year as Snelling insurance while trying to fix his hitting. If it doesn't work, whatever, it's not like his value got any lower, and if it does, then you have either a talented 2008 outfielder or a piece to trade come July or next December. Unless I'm completely misunderstanding Reed's option situation, the front office doesn't absolutely have to move him for whatever they can get. I think they will, but it's not a guarantee, nor should it be.
I don't think Reed's ever going to have much success with his uppercut swing, so if he wants to carve out a decent career for himself, he really needs to revert back to the level swing of yore that used to spray balls to all fields in AA Birmingham. It wouldn't be an easy process, but any hitting coach worth his salt should be able to see that Reed's at his best when he's trying to hit the ball on a line, so at least it shouldn't take much to get it started. And there's reason to be somewhat optimistic, too; even ignoring Reed's track record, he had some of the hardest-hit homers on the team last year, suggesting that he might have a little more pop than he did before. If he adopts a level swing that's faster than the one he had in 2004, then he's going to be a much more productive batter. That's total speculation on my part, but it's something. If he can just get himself concentrating on line drives instead of home runs, then everyone will be much better off.
Because of Reed's total swing overhaul it's all the more difficult to find appropriate player comparisons, but right now he looks like the odds-on favorite to become the new Tsuyoshi Shinjo, only with a little more power and a little less fluorescent orange arm bands. That's not good, and it's way less than we thought we were getting at the time of the Garcia trade. However, because Reed won't turn 26 until next June, there's still the potential for a new approach to get him back on track as a Mark Kotsay-type. The probability is lower than it was a year ago, and I wouldn't have any problem giving him that shot with another organization if it meant we get a decent pitcher in return, but it's still too soon to give up on Reed completely. The talent's in there somewhere. It just has to be found.