What's more, he's become a more robust ground ball pitcher over time. This has helped him induce weaker contact from opposing hitters, who have put up just a .427 slugging percentage this season. And it's not as if he's been the victim of too many bad bounces -- that hitters are reaching base 29 percent of the time they put the ball in play is on the low side for NL starters.
No, Reyes currently sports the worst record among NL starters and the 15th-highest ERA (minimum 15 IP) because of one reason: nearly half the runners who reach base against him are scoring. His Strand Rate is a league-low 54 percent.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, Strand Rate is yet another way that analysts -- like those handsome devils at PROTRADE.com -- can measure "luck" on a macro level. And let's just say that Reyes isn't receiving much of it. After all, thanks to the greater proliferation of play-by-play data, we now know that, across the board, pitchers tend to allow about one-third of all baserunners to score. This is obviously the result of many factors -- how well a pitcher performs with runners on base, how sure-handed his fielders are, and certainly how dependable a bullpen is when inheriting runners -- but the surprising fact is how stable this number can be over time.
Well, actually, that's not true: the other surprising fact is how greatly this number can vary in a given year for some unlucky pitchers, inflating their ERA past what their peripheral numbers would indicate it "should" be. For instance, let's compare Pitcher A and Pitcher B here (who are, for the record, real people, with their names protected in order to preserve their innocence), just like Rob Neyer used to do:
7.05 K/9, 2.62 BB/9, 2.69 K/BB, 1.01 HR/9, .289 BABIP, 5.84 ERA
7.56 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 2.69 K/BB, 1.56 HR/9, .298 BABIP, 4.10 ERA
The similarities between these two hurlers should be obvious. In fact, their strikeout-to-walk ratios are identical in a like number of innings, and they're both allowing batters to reach base at a comparable rate -- facts that should result, in most cases, in ERAs that fall in the same ballpark. Unfortunately for Pitcher A, that ballpark seems to be Coors Field while Pitcher B gets Dodger Stadium: the latter hurler has allowed 30 percent fewer runs this season, all told, without doing much more (and in point of fact, a little less) to limit opposing offenses.
The difference between them? Pitcher B -- Chicago White Sox starter John Danks -- has stranded nearly 80 percent of all baserunners, allowing just 20.4 percent of them to score this season. Pitcher A, on the other hand -- Reyes -- has seen 46 percent of them cross home plate.
How significant is Reyes' 54 percent figure? Let's just put it this way: since PROTRADE started collecting this data in 2002, the lowest single-season mark belongs to Derek Lowe in 2004, when he stranded just 58.5 percent of baserunners. But considering the relatively tight grouping of league-wide Strand Rates -- it's usually about 20 points that separates the highest number from the lowest -- it should be safe to say that Reyes' rate is about as low as you'll ever see, even in a small sample of innings.
Oh, and for the record, Lowe's season ERA for 2004? Try 5.42. And his ERA numbers since that season: would you believe 3.61, 3.63 and 3.84, with average Strand Rates in every one, despite similar walk and strikeout numbers?
So while there's no denying that Reyes looks like something other than a success so far in 2007, it would be a mistake to shower him with too much of the blame. After all, he's done everything in his power to keep runners off the bases -- that they're scoring at such an inordinately high rate is something that's a little beyond his control.