Mark Reynolds: A Blessing and a Curse

A deeper look Mark Reynolds’ career offers a valuable lesson to all baseball players: Just keep swinging.

Who is Mark Reynolds? The current free agent is a relative of one of my high school social studies teachers, but that’s not why he’s important. I am a lifelong San Francisco Giants fan, and seeing Reynolds in the batter’s box typically meant one of two things: a strikeout or a home run. Hits that stayed in the park were few and far in between. Reynolds is perhaps most well-known for setting the MLB record for strikeouts with 223 in 2009.

It may sound like a good thing at first if you thought that he was a pitcher, but Reynolds set this infamous record as a hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks. For comparison, until 2012, the player with the second most strikeouts in a season was none other than Mark Reynolds.

At first glance, Reynolds’ tendency to strikeout so often seems like it would be a liability to his team. Unlike tapping a ground ball, striking out means the batter does not put the ball in place and thus does not have a chance to get on base. A strikeout is the least productive type of out; I would go so far as to say that it is a selfish out. If nothing else, it shows a lack of discipline. Aside from the strikeouts, Reynolds had committed 24 fielding errors in 2009, the most on the Diamondbacks and twice as many as Justin Upton, who was second on the team with 12 errors. To be fair, third base is a harder position to play because the ball travels at the fielder significantly faster, but Reynolds was arguably a weakness both defensively and offensively.

If he was such a liability, why wasn’t he cut? One answer is that the Diamondbacks did not have anyone that could man third base — the hot corner. To an extent, that was true, but they did have Ryan Roberts, a solid defensive second baseman that could play third, as well as veteran Chad Tracy. However, Reynold’s ability to slap home runs made was what kept him on the team. He balanced his 223 strikeouts with 44 home runs, fourth-best in the MLB that year behind Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Ryan Howard. 2009 was the only year Reynolds received MVP votes. After his contract expired at the conclusion of the season, he was rewarded with a 3-year, $14.5 million dollar contract from the Diamondbacks. He never quite reached the highs or the lows that he posted in the 2009 season, and, at the age of 34, he is probably heading towards the waning years of his career.

To the cynical eye, Reynold’s 2009 season shows the good can happen when one is selfish or lacks discipline at the plate.. Reynolds was able to land a lucrative contract at the expense of his team’s success. At the same time, Reynold’s 2009 season reinforces the concept made famous by Wayne Gretzky (and later again by Michael Scott) that “you miss 100% of the shots that you do not take”. In the same vein, one cannot hit a home run on a pitch at which they do not swing. With a little bit of luck and the inability to give up, some version of success will come.

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