Reynolds not worried about strikeout totals
Slugger focused on helping D-backs with homers, steals
PHOENIX -- Mark Reynolds knows what most people want to talk to him about.
"Everyone always wants to ask about the strikeouts," he said.
So let's get that out of the way first. Yes, Reynolds is going to strike out. A lot. He set the Major League record of 204 in 2008 and he may exceed that number in 2009.
While he may have been self-conscious about that fact last season, this year, he has taken a different approach.
"I don't care about the strikeouts," Reynolds said. "I know I do things to help this team win. If I have a down day, someone else is going to have a better day. I just don't care. I can honestly say that. People can write all the bad things they want about me or the way I play, but I know that I go out there and play hard every day and I'm trying. I don't read anything, I just go play."
Reynolds is probably safe reading the newspapers these days. After all, he has 41 homers, second in the Majors to Albert Pujols. He also has 94 RBIs to go along with 22 stolen bases and 87 runs scored.
"He's a rare player that, in a healthy year, he's got a chance to score 100 runs and drive in 100 runs," D-backs general manager Josh Byrnes said.
While his strikeouts tend to get a lot of attention, the fact of the matter is that Reynolds makes fewer outs than the average Major Leaguer. His on-base percentage is well above league average and he doesn't hit into many double plays.
So while neither the D-backs nor Reynolds is thrilled with the strikeouts, they are able to put them in perspective.
Reynolds also has a chance to join some pretty good company if he's able to steal a few more bases. Only 10 other players have recorded 40 or more home runs in the same season they had 25 or more steals. Of that group, only Alex Rodriguez, Ryne Sandberg and Jeff Bagwell were infielders. If he should somehow manage to reach the 30-steals mark, that number shrinks to eight with Bagwell and Rodriguez the only infielders to do it.
No one in baseball history has hit 50 homers while stealing 30 bases.
"I know about it. I've heard the numbers," Reynolds said. "I would be lying if I said it was not in my head, but it's not going to change how I play. I'm not going to do anything to force the issue like stealing bases when I don't need to or try to hit homers. I'm just going to keep playing."
Reynolds, at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, doesn't look like a basestealer, and he had just 11 steals last year, but this season, he has worked extensively with bench coach Kirk Gibson on the art of stealing bases.
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"The things that I've taught over the years, the technique part of it, the learning part, he's really grasped it," Gibson said. "His technique, I don't want to say is flawless, but it's very, very good."
Reynolds put up pretty good numbers in 2008, hitting 28 homers and driving in 97 runs with a .779 OPS (on-base plus slugging). However, as the season's final days ticked away, the focus was on the fact that he was nearing the strikeout mark, and that he also led the league in errors.
Admittedly, it took its toll mentally on Reynolds. On the day he set the strikeout record, he commented: "It's something I have to work on with my approach next year and come in and be ready and don't let it get in my head."
Reynolds got a break from all the talk as soon as the season ended as he went right into preparing for a November wedding to Kathleen Shanahan, whom he credits with helping him stay grounded during the season. The couple is expecting their first child this offseason.
Kathleen is the daughter of Bill Shanahan, one of the owners of the D-backs' Double-A team in Mobile, Ala. Kathleen was under strict orders not to talk to baseball players, but she and Reynolds fell for each other during his time there in 2007 and one thing led to another.
"We were trying to keep things under the radar with her dad. You know, we wanted to see how things were going to work before we caused any turmoil for her," Reynolds said.
When Reynolds reached the big leagues that May, he and Kathleen stayed in touch and finally that summer, Reynolds called her dad to get things out in the open.
"He did like a background check on me," Reynolds said. "He called [Double-A manager Brett Butler] and asked about me. I guess everything was OK, because he said it was cool."
By the time the wedding and honeymoon had come and gone, Reynolds felt like the 2008 season was well behind him.
"It got my mind off a lot of stuff," he said. "All that stuff, it was a good distraction from the year. It was a good offseason. It did relax me. The strikeouts and errors last year kind of made me realize that I had to get better. So I came to Spring Training with a better sense of what I had to work on, what I needed to accomplish. I came with a better work ethic."
The D-backs put that to the test as they had All-Star third baseman Matt Williams work with Reynolds this spring. Third-base coach Chip Hale also put in a lot of time with him on his defense and Gibson did likewise on baserunning. Extra work was the norm.
Williams had one rule for Reynolds: everything had to be done at game speed. Every grounder he took, every throw he made, he needed to do it as he would in the game. It's something that Reynolds took to heart and maintained through the season.
The rest of the lessons were about developing consistent arm angles and proper footwork.
"He must use his feet, he must get his feet in proper position to field the ball and he has to get his feet in proper position to throw," Williams said. "I asked him to do that, he made the commitment to do it and I think the results speak for themselves."
Reynolds error totals are down almost 50 percent from last year and advanced defensive metrics such as John Dewan's plus/minus system verify the improvement as well.
While defensively, he could make improvements without changing who he was in a fundamental way, offense, well that was a different story.
Trying to cut down on strikeouts for a power hitter is not an easy task and there came a point in the process where Reynolds realized that altering his approach too much might take away from what he does best -- hit the ball a long way. In other words, he's not letting the strikeouts get in his head.
"He's dangerous," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "You know he strikes out a lot, but don't miss your spot because he can do some damage. If you put up 40 home runs, strikeouts are the price you pay."
According to hittrackeronline.com, Reynolds has the longest homer in the big leagues this year, a 481-foot shot off Brad Lidge at Chase Field. His home runs of 471 feet at AT&T Park and a 462-foot blast at Citi Field are the longest home runs hit at each of those parks this year.
"I've watched his swing," said Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, whose record of 199 strikeouts was broken by Reynolds. "He gets so much torque behind his swing. It looks like sometimes even when he swings with one hand. When he connects flush? It's gone."
The early part of Reynolds' career is remarkably similar to that of former Phillies great Mike Schmidt. Through the first 1,593 plate appearances for Reynolds and 1,592 for Schmidt, Reynolds had a better slugging percentage (.509 to .469) and batting average (.261 to .244) as well as more homers (86 to 74) and RBIs (251 to 227). The pair also have similar error totals at third base with Reynolds having 62 and Schmidt 59 in that time frame.
The point isn't that Reynolds is Schmidt -- Schmidt walked more than Reynolds and struck out fewer times -- rather that Reynolds' first two-plus years in the big leagues have been pretty darned good.
"How many years did he play, 20-something?" Reynolds said when the Schmidt numbers were relayed to him. "If I ever play that long, hopefully I'll have the same numbers. Seriously, though, he was a great player and if I even have half the numbers he had, I'll be happy."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.