The first two weeks of A.J. Reed's pro career haven't exactly been smooth. Reed came up in the Kansas City series with high expectations amid years of replacement-level offensive performance from Astros first basemen. But after an 0-15 to begin his career, Reed's approach was badly exposed by major league pitching- at the All-Star break, Reed is slashing .143/.244/.314 in 35 at-bats. In this post, I'll dive into the pitch locations and pitch type of Reed's early struggles, as well as a glimpse into what he's done well so far, to find possible trends from his slow start.
(Data current through 7/9/16)
Swings and Misses
The most glaring part of Reed's struggles have been whiffs. In three games a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, Reed went hitless in three games as he looked fairly lost at the plate. Here's a quick plot of Reed's swing and misses in his first two weeks of play.
Two pitches of note- Reed has whiffed on a large percentage of fastballs in or near the zone. 11 out of his 25 total whiffs have been on different types of fastball offerings, which could mean he's sitting on the wrong pitches at the wrong time.
Additionally, changeups low and away are fooling Reed into swings and misses. The whiffs on a combination of changeups (24%) and fastballs (44%) could point to issues with Reed's pitch recognition between the two offerings. It's always been said that the major league secondary pitches are far and away more difficult than the minor leagues- this sounds like an obvious conclusion, but Reed's propensity to whiff on this combination of offerings shows how it plays out for rookie hitters.
Reed has also made it an early habit to get behind in the count. According to Fangraphs, Reed is taking a first strike on 75% of his at-bats. Though that's a pretty small sample and should come down, major league average historically hovers around 60%. Based on the graph below, Reed is taking a good number of fastballs for called strikes- though it would take more work to analyze how many fastballs Reed is taking for first pitch-strikes, he's allowing pitchers to get ahead way more often than normal. That patience could be a positive long-term for Reed, but he's letting fastballs in the zone go by and letting pitchers get ahead in the count too often.
Hits and Homers
Hey look, fastballs that Reed has hit! Here's a graph of Reed's hits and runs batted in so far (note: the furthest low and away slider was a sac fly that obviously is not a hit).
This should be Reed's bread and butter-hitting fastballs over the plate a long way. His home run off of Taijuan Walker last week was a terrific display of power, going the opposite way on an up and away fastball. His homer off White Sox closer David Robertson was another fastball (of the cutter variety) over the heart of the plate, a pitch he's taken a good amount from the second graph.
It sounds overly simplistic from our perspective, but a little more aggressiveness out of Reed on fastballs could lead to better results- the called strike graph suggests he's getting quality pitches to hit, and his whiff graph (the first one) shows only a couple of whiffs on slider/curveballs. If the trouble with changeups is simply a pitch recognition issue, that bodes well for Reed eventually adjusting to the speed difference instead of being overpower by superior stuff.
It's impossible to say that better pitch selection on changeups and fastballs, or more aggressiveness early in counts will make Reed a better hitter for the rest of the season- however, conclusions from this data should be fixable with solid coaching and a little more time to adjust to major league pitching. The only question is: Do the Astros have enough time to wait for Reed's offensive adjustments in the middle of a playoff race?