Mark Reynolds and the Nats Continuing Bench Search
It was rumored the other day that the Nats are one of the team in on Mark Reynolds. This is interesting because Reynolds has connections to both Mike Rizzo from his Arizona days and Ryan Zimmerman from his UVA days. The Nats interest in Reynolds also shows us that they aren't finished in the restructuring of the bench or more to the point they want the final bench spot to be a right handed hitter that can play first whether it is Mark Reynolds, Jeff Baker, or Tyler Moore and that the least desirable option in their opinion is Tyler Moore. The Mark Reynolds/Mike Rizzo connection is an interesting one. If you go back and look at the mid to late 2000's Diamondbacks that are composed of the players Mike Rizzo helped to draft you notice a trend. Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton, Chris Snyder, Chris Young, and Stephen Drew all have similar skill sets. Each and every one of them is a low batting average hitter that strikes out a few too many times for the casual baseball fan, but all of them have above average power for their positions and have high enough walk rates to have a non-embarrassing on base percentage. In other words Mike Rizzo may walk like a scout, talk like a scout, and wear a Hawaiian shirt like a scout, but when it comes to viewing offensive players strikeouts and batting average mean next to nothing for him.
This is a good thing. The most important offensive skills baseball players provide is getting on base and hitting for power. Mark Reynolds can do both of those things even if he is striking out and not hitting for a high batting average. His career slash line of .233/.329/.464 is almost designed to drive the casual fan nuts. It is easy to imagine the comments section of The Washington Post and MASN instantly filling up with claims like, "Great. Just what a poor offensive team like the Nationals needed. Another .233 hitter. They should have kept Lombo who can at least put the ball in play and bat .300." Those types of comments miss what is important about baseball.
Batting average misses a lot of important offensive skill sets. It doesn't count a walk as even being a thing, and it gives no clue with how hard a ball is hit. If I were to offer you five bills I have in my pocket would the domination of those five not matter at all or would you prefer them to have Andrew Jackson or US Grant on them as opposed to George Washington? The answer is simple as is the answer of doubles, triples, and homers being better than singles. Batting average treats a hit as a hit, and baseball scoring simply doesn't work that way.
Mark Reynolds has a decent on base percentage and can hit for tremendous power. Essentially he is the perfect bench bat. If he is sent up to bat with men on base he is either going to strikeout, walk, or hit a homerun. What he isn't going to do is to hit an inning ending double play. The advantage to pinch hitting a strikeout prone power hitter late in a game is that the threat of the double play is far less likely than it would be with a weak contact hitter like Steve Lombardozzi.
Mark Reynolds makes a lot of sense for the Nationals. He gives them a bat that has more experience and has performed better in the majors than Tyler Moore, and he gives them a legitimate platoon partner for Adam LaRoche with a career batting line of .238/.359/.475 against left handed pitching, but Reynolds isn't just a pinch hitting platoon player. His batting line of .232/.317/.460 against right handed pitching is still good and would give the Nationals a quality bench bat against both left handed and right handed pitchers as well as a player they could platoon with Adam LaRoche.
The Nats bench was a disaster in 2013, and it has been good to watch them address those issues during the 2014 off-season. Mike Rizzo has had a quality career as a GM so far, but there are still lessons to be learned and 2013 taught him an important one. No single player on a bench is every going to be as important as any starting player, but the overall quality of a bench is important, and having players with proven track records as bench players is better than trying to catch lightening in the bottle with minor league signings from Japan or organizational minor league talent.