If you're a Twitter user, you're probably sick of people ranting and moaning about Jose Reyes, but I promise I'm not going to rant and moan here. I just want to examine a few of the angles. Quick recap of the facts: Jose Reyes bunted for a hit in his first at-bat in today's Mets game and was immediately pulled, not for injury reasons. He is now the NL leader in batting average.
First, Mets fans. This is a family blog, so I won't exactly repeat what Twitter friend Fire Jerry Manuel said, but basically: it's messed up. Reyes is a free agent, and superstar free agent shortstops, even ones with injury concerns, don't come along every day. If I did a comprehensive post about Reyes's free agent destination possibilities, I bet I'd find that he has a lot more landing spots than Prince Fielder does. In other words, this could have been Reyes's final home game in Queens. Wouldn't you, as an organization, like to give the fans every last ounce of Reyes that you can spare?
Second, batting average. It's not as stupid as wins, mainly because it actually does measure something, but it's still more trivial than anything else. Leading the league in batting average is well and good, but fewer and fewer fans care about it as intensely as we once did because of the spread of knowledge about what's actually valuable.
Third, leading the league. Records of baseball statistics, including Baseball-Reference, often use boldface type to denote that a player led his league in the statistic so highlighted. The bold triples, steals, and hits categories in Jose Reyes's player card are cool, but they go too far. Reyes has 16 triples this year. So does Shane Victorino. Dexter Fowler is one behind the pair at 15. (Weird side note: all three have done this in reduced playing time -- Reyes and Victorino have exactly the same number of PAs at 585, and Fowler is a few behind at 558.) Is that one triple really so meaningful that Reyes gets to be immortalized in bold and Fowler's triples total stays in regular type?
Given the luck and general weirdness around baseball outcomes, I'd be much happier talking about rough groupings of players who led the league in certain statistics. Sometimes those groupings would still result in a clear leader: Reyes's 17 triples in 2005 and 2006 were four ahead of Juan Pierre both times, so I'm perfectly happy to call Reyes the league champion in triples.
I'm obviously not setting out principles for my distinctions between groups of leaders and solo leaders. Take 2005 and Reyes/Pierre again, for instance: Reyes had the most steals of anybody at 60, with Pierre finishing second at 57. The next guy was Rafael Furcal with 46. Three steals is not insubstantial, but it's also not a huge margin over 162 games. Is this a solo leader situation or a practical co-lead between Reyes and Pierre? I don't know, and I'm not sure how to figure it out. My point, though, is just that there are situations where the boldface type overstates the issue. This year's batting average "race" is certainly one of those. Reyes finished the season at 181/537 = .337057728..., while Ryan Braun, heading into tonight's action, boasts 187 hits in 559 at-bats, which comes to .334525939... . Had two more hits fallen in throughout the year (and had Reyes still just gone 1-1, a big assumption), Braun's average would be higher and Ron Roenicke might even sit him to preserve the boldface type in his player card. Is this not absurd? Two hits over six months is nothing. It's two bloops, or a handful of foul balls that reach the stands extending at-bats, or two grounders that just miss hitting a glove. Or two scorer decisions. Is this really a basis on which we want to hand out immortality?
Fourth, game-playing. To quote Fire Jerry Manuel again, it's not quite sporting what the Mets or Reyes or whoever was responsible did, and it ties in to the worst of what old farts with newspaper columns think about baseball players and statheads -- that they're obsessed with individual numbers at the expense of the team game. Sure, it's been done since the early days of baseball, but that doesn't make me any happier about it. Statistics should, in my mind, be a record of what happens on the field as the two teams make their best efforts to win a game. When, on the last day of the season, players and coaches start monkeying around (Nap Lajoie bunting for singles with the opposing third baseman playing back; George Gervin and David Thompson racking up huge numbers of shots to try to win the scoring title in the NBA in 1978), it calls the statistics into question at the margins.
I think this is especially true given the third point above -- monkeying only happens when the race in question comes down to the wire, which is exactly those situations when, I posit, we shouldn't make such stark distinctions between first and second place. This monkeying only reinforces that point -- if Lajoie and Reyes got their "batting titles" through this sort of nonsense, how much weight should we really put on those titles?
The tl;dr here is that I'm not a fan of this move by Reyes or Terry Collins or whoever ordered or approved of it. The fans get boned for the sake of some boldface type they shouldn't care about now and likely won't care about in ten years. It's just not worth it.
UPDATE: Adam Rubin tweets that it was Jose Reyes's decision. Obviously the manager has to acquiesce, though. A player can't make a lineup move by himself.