Ask Alex: Will Mark Reynolds hit more than 40 home runs?

We all have questions about the 2010 season and Alex Remington luckily has some answers. The Stew's resident stats guru will address a few per week as Opening Day approaches.

The Situation: Mark Reynolds(notes) is one of the most fascinating players in baseball, and it's not just because he's shattered the single-season strikeout record two years in a row.

It's because despite being the most prolific whiffer ever, he was also one of the better hitters in the National League last year. His 44 home runs weren't just fourth in the majors in '09, they were the 12th-most ever by a third baseman.

Of his 662 plate appearances, 223 were strikeouts, 76 were walks, and 44 were homers. In other words, a full 51.8 percent of his plate appearances ended without the defense having to make a play. (Strikeouts, homers and walks are sometimes known as the "Three True Outcomes," because they don't engage the defense and are the three offensive outcomes least subject to chance. Extreme "Three True Outcomes" players are sometimes referred to as members of the Rob Deer Fan Club, because of the whiff/power propensity of its charter member.) Carlos Pena(notes) was the only other player in baseball in 2009 above 50 percent. For his career, Mark Reynolds has struck out in approximately one-third of his PAs.

Reynolds also stole 24 bases, after stealing a grand total of 23 bases in the previous five years of his professional career in the majors and minors. But while the stolen base numbers came out of nowhere, his power was on the horizon for a long time. He hit 31 homers in just 106 games at High-A and AA in 2006, and he's only become stronger as he's aged. But still, 44 homers is a ton.

The Question: Can Mark Reynolds top 40 homers again?

The Analysis: I know I say it a lot, but there's no way to overstate it: Mark Reynolds is weird, remarkable, and unique. He has more strikeouts through his first three seasons (556) than anyone else in history. Other than Reynolds, there are only four players who have ever struck out 400 times in their first three seasons: Dan Uggla(notes), Pat Burrell(notes), Pete Incaviglia, and Bobby Bonds. All players had substantial success and power numbers in their 20s, but significant concern about their after-30 performance.

When the list is expanded to every player with 400 Ks through their first 500 games, the picture becomes a bit more interesting. Of the 21 players in history with 400 Ks through their first 500 games, the top is occupied by Hall of Famers like Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt, and All-Stars like Ryan Howard(notes), Jason Bay(notes), and Scott Rolen(notes). Then come the flameouts, and the likes of Craig Wilson(notes), Nick Esasky, and Ron LeFlore.

In other words, early power is often accompanied by strikeouts, and vice versa. Reynolds' unprecedented tendency to whiff may not in itself be crippling — as long as he keeps hitting those long flies. And he has as much raw power as anyone in the game. He won the Golden Sledgehammer award from Hit Tracker Online as the player with the longest average home run distance in baseball this year, and on July 28 he hit the second-longest homer of the year, a 481-footer in the bottom of the ninth against Brad Lidge(notes).

(By the way, that's the swing that got the job done pictured above.)

On the other hand, Reynolds hit a lot more homers last year than he had in the past, while making less contact than ever. He hit line drives on 17.4 percent of balls in play, not far below his career mark of 18.7 percent, and his .341 BABIP was actually below his career mark of .348. The line drive number is right around league average, and while the BABIP is quite high it's not unprecedentedly so. It's his homer numbers themselves that give pause. In 2007 and 2008, Mark Reynolds hit home runs on approximately 17 percent of all of his fly balls, which is nearly twice the major league average. In 2009, that number spiked to 26 percent, highest in baseball. That's not a completely outlandish number: Ryan Howard's career mark is an incredible 31.8, and Jim Thome's(notes) at 27.6 percent for his career. If Mark Reynolds can keep that up, then he could hit 40 homers again. But that's what it will take.

The Forecast for 2010: I don't like trying to predict what Mark Reynolds can't do. After his subpar 2008, when he had an OPS under .800 and his strikeouts seemed to have overwhelmed the rest of his offensive game, I was getting ready to write him off like his teammate Chris Young.

But now I just want to see what this guy can do next. Still, we shouldn't minimize the difficulty of what he'll be trying to do. Only five third basemen have ever put together back-to-back 40 homer seasons: Eddie Mathews, Harmon Killebrew, Mike Schmidt, Vinny Castilla(notes) and Troy Glaus(notes).

I don't think he'll repeat as a 40-homer man next year, though Bill James predicts him for 40, ZiPS projects 33 and CHONE expects 30). I'd like to see his HR/flyball rate stabilize (not to mention his strikeouts), and I want to make sure that his BABIP doesn't just plummet and kick the bottom out of his batting average. I'll put him down for 35 homers next year, but anything can happen in that thin desert air.

Certainly, though, I'll be rooting for a whole lot more.

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