Anthony Rendon, Finding the Final Tool

We know Anthony Rendon has a diverse skill set. You could say, in fact, that he has the prototypical diverse skill set: he hits for contact and power, fields well, and as of 2014, steals bases. Even though he usually plays a position in which you don’t have to throw the ball very far, he also has a good enough arm to play third, so you could say he has all the tools in the five-sided shed. Rendon certainly doesn’t scream “five-tool guy,” but that’s mostly because he doesn’t look like the usual four or five-tool guy, not because he doesn’t put up the necessary numbers.

Rendon showed us he was really good at baseball in 2014, improving all aspects of his game. Most important to our discussion today, however, was the fact that he stole 17 bases in 2014 after stealing just one in 2013 and seven total in the minors. Anthony Rendon went from a guy who basically never stole in his professional career to the ninth-best base runner by BsR in the majors during 2014. Yes, he didn’t spend long in the minors, but that’s still a pretty unusual change.

Before we go further into Rendon’s base running, a primer: BsR is our base running statistic composed of two different statistics, UBR and wSB. wSB calculates the number of runs a player adds or subtracts by stealing (or getting caught stealing), while UBR calculates the number of runs added or subtracted by running the bases (taking an extra base, or making an out on the base paths).

A player can be great at wSB but not great at UBR, like Jose Altuve, who led the majors in wSB by a wide margin in 2014 but wasn’t anywhere near the top of the UBR leaderboards. Conversely, you can be great at UBR but not very good at wSB, like Ian Kinsler. Stealing bases is a different skillset from running the bases. There’s definitely some overlap, as you might imagine, but it’s not unusual for the players who lead one category to not excel in the other.

With that said, it’s not a surprise that Rendon ranked higher in UBR than wSB in 2014. wSB is led by stolen base specialists like Altuve and Ben Revere, while UBR is led by guys like Kinsler and Brian Dozier. Rendon isn’t a speed demon, and he’s never going to steal 50 bases, but he reads the ball well off the bat, takes extra bases, and doesn’t make a lot of outs on the base paths.

Let’s look at where Rendon ranked in 2014 for wSB, UBR, and BsR:

2014
wSB 35th
UBR 4th
BsR 9th

What leads to a higher UBR? Plays like these:

1st_to_3rd

It’s a ho-hum play, but that’s the idea: good base running is subtle at times, and on a lot of occasions it goes completely unnoticed. Most players would get to second on this line drive single, but Rendon gets to third more often on this type of play. Via Baseball Reference, Anthony Rendon went from 1st to 3rd base on singles 37% of the time; league average was 29% in 2014. He scored from second on singles 77% of the time; league average was 60%. We’re starting to get the picture. He also did things like this, on a 3-0 pitch to Ryan Zimmerman:

Steal_of_3rd

According to Baseball Savant, there were 23 attempted steals on 3-0 counts in 2014, and 22 were successful. Rendon accounted for two of them, and both times there was no throw on the play. He didn’t end up scoring in this inning, but it illustrates the point: Rendon takes extra bases when they’re there, and sometimes when you least expect it, like on a 3-0 fastball right down the middle of the plate.

What caused this breakout base running improvement in 2014? Getting over injuries, first of all. Rendon has a history of ankle problems: he severely broke and dislocated his right ankle in 2010 while playing for Team USA, then broke his other ankle in 2012 at Class A Potomac. The second injury wasn’t as bad, but it led to the Nationals reining him in on the base paths for his entire stay in the minors and most of the 2013 season. From National’s first base coach Tony Tarasco, who coached Rendon in the minors:

“We always pulled him back, told him not to take any chances,” Tarasco said. “…he was hurt. His ankle was bothering him. When I got him in instructional league, he was like 50 percent. Over the course of the season, we were always toning him down.”

That makes sense with the numbers. Rendon was more or less static on the base paths in 2013. In 2014, the Nationals finally gave him the green light, and he proved to be an efficient base stealer, succeeding 17 out of 20 times. However, if we were satisfied with the conclusion that injuries were the whole picture related to his base running, we’d dust off our hands and consider the work done. The injury explanation doesn’t fully account for Rendon improving markedly in his overall running, however. He still improved in 2014 over 2013 in terms of taking more extra bases and making fewer outs. Let’s compare his performance taking extra bases in 2013 vs. 2014:

Year Extra Base% Lg Avg. 1st->3rd on Single % Lg Avg. 2nd->Home on Single % Lg Avg.
2013 41% 40% 24% 28% 55% 59%
2014 55% 40% 37% 29% 77% 60%

It could very well be that Rendon’s legs felt better in 2014, and the improvement simply showed his true talent. We shouldn’t overlook the role the Nationals as a club might have had over Rendon’s improvement in 2014, though, as they led all of baseball in 2014 by BsR. Taking extra bases were part of a team philosophy: Rendon, Ian Desmond, and Jayson Werth all ranked in the top 10 for extra bases taken in 2014. When you have the skill, speed, and instruction to take extra bases, improvements like this happen.

The main question going into 2015 is: do the Nationals continue to let Rendon run? Considering the fact that he just sprained the MCL in his left knee a few days ago while diving for a ball in the field and has a history of lower body injuries, it would be surprising if they let him loose in the early part of 2015. Still, even with that history, he showed he’s one of the best in the game on the base paths when allowed to run – so we know he has that in his back pocket. It was simply the final tool in Anthony Rendon’s belt, another thing that he is quietly very good at on the baseball field. Given his improvements in the other parts of his game in 2014, we shouldn’t be too surprised.





Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

13 Comments
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chuckb
7 years ago

I would have thought that an article entitled, “Finding the Final Tool” would be about Free AAC, Phillies 113, or everdiso (or one of everdiso’s dopplegangers).

Phillies113
7 years ago
Reply to  chuckb

I’d just like to clarify that the ‘philllies113’ from yesterday is an impostor account, likely a doppelganger of Free_AEC, as his account might have been banned. Note the three L’s and the lower case p.

I’m a lot of things, but I’d like to think I’m not a tool, sir (ma’am?). Please don’t include me with the other two trolls.

welll beered englishman
7 years ago
Reply to  Phillies113

well there goes THAT idea 🙁

chuckb
7 years ago
Reply to  Phillies113

My apologies. It appears as though you’ve been “everdiso”-ed.

I don't care what anyone says
7 years ago
Reply to  chuckb

Except that the real Phillies113 is actually a good, legit commenter. I like what he posts.

I honestly don’t know if the real everdiso is just a biased Blue Jays fan or a super-crazed biased Blue Jays fan.

Phillies113
7 years ago
Reply to  chuckb

Aw, shucks.