Wondering why the Cardinals signed Mark Reynolds? Blame the Giants.
Think back to the very last series of the 2014 season that the Cardinals played. After dispatching the league’s best team in the Dodgers, the Cardinals —with their lineup looking invincible against left-handers — faced the San Francisco Giants and Madison Bumgarner
. To paraphrase Ralphie Parker, “Madison Bumgarner! What a rotten name! We were trapped. There he stood, between us and the World Series.” He went on to shut down the Cardinals with a 1.72 ERA and 12 strikeouts in the NLCS, then became the face of the World Series, omnipresent and omnipotent. But what does that have to do with Mark Reynolds, you ask?
In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes the availability heuristic:
People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory — and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media. Frequently mentioned topics populate the mind even as others slip away from awareness.
It is possible that the Cardinals’ direct experience with the lefty, combined with the indirect experience of his exploits in the World Series, created a dominant impression: We need strong right-handed options to combat such left-handed pitchers.
But that’s not the only recent memory that could’ve influenced the deal. Recall the Cardinals’ final game of the season: The biggest play of the game was when the Cardinals’ Pat Neshek
, trying to protect a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning, surrendered a game-tying home run to Michael Morse
. If, as a coping mechanism, you’ve managed to put that traumatic even out of your mind, let us remind you who Morse is:
- 32-year-old righthanded slugger
- Steamer-projected ISO for 2015: .183
- Steamer-projected strikeout rate for 2015: 25%
And the Cardinals’ latest hire?
- 31-year-old righthanded slugger
- Steamer-projected ISO for 2015: .193
- Steamer-projected strikeout rate for 2015: 28%
Mark Reynolds is essentially Michael Morse without the skanky hair.
Well, that’s not the only difference. One important distinction is the price tag. At $2 million for one season, Reynolds will certainly make less that Morse will in his next contract (though likely not for as much as Morse fancies he should) and for shorter time. With Randal Grichuk
and Stephen Piscotty
in the wings, the Cardinals didn’t need to go nuts with a long-term bench signing.
As an aside, we think it’s a bit disingenuous for reporters to use Reynolds’s striking out “122 times in 378 at-bats” formulation. That’s technically true, but it distorts reality. The sophistic “at-bats” obscures the reality of total plate appearances, which includes walks, something which Reynolds collects at a decent clip (11.6%). (To his credit, Bernie Miklasz points out Reynolds’s walk rate.)
Okay, so the availability heuristic might explain why the Cardinals sought a right-handed slugger this winter. But why Reynolds, in particular? Again, the ease with which memories come to mind is at play; Reynolds’s career numbers compared to his performance against the Cardinals:
It would appear that the trio of available memories — Bumgarner’s 2014 playoff run, Michael Morse’s outsized impact in the playoffs and Reynolds’s “in-person” play against the Cardinals — conspired at least in a small way to give John Mozeliak the impression that he needed a right-handed slugger this winter, and that that slugger should be Reynolds. It causes us to consider how things this offseason might’ve different if the 2014 had ended differently. If the final memory of the season had been the epic slaying of Kershaw, would Mark Reynolds be on the team today? It’s all academic, of course, and likely. But it’s worth remembering that the availability heuristic — to borrow Bill James
’s phrase — is real and virtually universal. Not even the shrewd John Mozeliak is immune to it — or likely even to be conscious of it in himself. As we have postulated for Ty Wigginton
and John Lackey
, it may be that the Cardinals have more than simply scouting and stats to thank for some of their recent personnel.