Jose Reyes plays the game of baseball like a Disney character: effortless in creating magic and always with a smile. Between 2006-2008, as a New York Met, there seemed to be nothing the shortstop couldn't do. He hit for average, he got on base, he even hit for some power, and of course, he blazed the base paths like an Olympian track star. He did all of these things while playing the difficult defensive position of shortstop, where, there too, he excelled at making plays.
Perhaps reputation, both of early career performance and injury - if an injury-prone player loses a step, it's easier to blame the injury than note any real drop off - has saved the now 31-year-old shortstop from too much critique. We know that Jose Reyes isn't quite the same player as yesteryear, but have we missed how bad his defense has become?
In terms of defensive runs saved, Jose Reyes has gone from one of the better shortstops in all of baseball to one of the very worst. If you've been paying attention the last few seasons, this isn't a surprise, but taking a step back, and looking at it in five-year blocks, the dramatic drop is take-a-second-look worthy.
First, let's talk a little bit about defensive runs saved. Shortened to DRS, this fielding metric attempts to rate individual players as above or below average on defense. Essentially, players are rated using film and computer comparisons (Baseball Info Solutions) for how many plays that they make relative to the average player at that position. The successful plays are then converted to "runs saved" and aggregated.
Defensive runs saved is one way of looking at defense. Of course, there are many other ways, most notably, ultimate zone rating (UZR). The two metrics are similar in concept with slight differences that you can read about here. The important point for this article is that UZR shows the exact same trend as DRS: Reyes defense gets significantly worse following the 2008 season.
So what happened? How did Reyes' defense suddenly turn terrible?
The first thing that comes to mind when looking at player performance is aging. We know that players are not like wine; they get worse as they get older, and particularly on defense, fielding skills tend to peak early. Can we attribute Reyes' drop-off in defense to age?
Using defensive WAR as the metric of choice this time, and looking at shortstops between the ages of 26-31, which overlap Reyes' down years with the glove, the results aren't much better for the Blue Jay. Between 2003-2014, only two (of 19 qualified) shortstops, with at least 650 games played, in the age range of 26-31, have a worse defensive WAR than Reyes during the same age years.
Reyes might be getting older, and defense may peak early in a player's career, but compared to his aging peers, Reyes is still not performing to an acceptable level with the glove.
If not age, perhaps injury? We all know that Reyes has been prone to hamstring injuries that can surely slow a shortstop's first step. Last season, he also battled through shoulder issues that perhaps contributed to a few throwing errors.
Reyes made eleven throwing errors in 2014, good for fifth worst in baseball. His inability to throw out runners at first with efficiency resulting in a negative error runs above average (ErrR), which is a component of UZR, and his worst negative value since 2008. Perhaps a sore shoulder - he committed back-to-back throwing errors in July when the injury was first noted - contributed to his poor throws.
A few throwing errors is one thing, but that is not the main issue with Reyes' defense. It is his range. The Dominican star just can't get to balls like he used to earlier in his career.
Looking at Reyes declining range totals, and a pattern is formed with his corresponding drop in overall defensive value. That ground ball that you thought Reyes could get to when he was a Met, he probably could; he just can't now. His reduced range resulting in him becoming one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game.
The Blue Jays have a decision to make. They can't afford to let Reyes' declining defense steal value from his still productive bat. He needs to be in the lineup, but at a position that is important for defense, he has become a problem. Perhaps a new position is in order. Defensive metrics aren't always the most accurate, but that is usually a product of sample size. Given five years of data, it is pretty clear that Jose Reyes is not the shortstop that he used to be.
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Jeffrey Bellone is an editor and featured writer at Beyond The Box Score. He can also be found writing for Mets Merized Online. He writes about New York sports at Over the Whitestone. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter @OverWhitestone.