Anthony Rendon Is Everything

If you want to understand why the Dodgers have such a good record, I can share with you a fun fact. Right now, as I look at the leaderboard, the Dodgers have six players within the top-30 in National League WAR. They have five players in the top-20, and three players in the top-10. I think there’s been some kind of understanding that the Dodgers have been built around depth, instead of stars. They have stars. They have, at least, star-level performances.

Yet the Nationals, I think, can top that fun fact. The Nationals aren’t better than the Dodgers, and the Dodgers are likely to be the favorites for the pennant. But what the Nationals have is the guy in third place in the NL in WAR. They also have the guy in second place. And they also have the guy in first place. According to this one method, the top three players in the league have all played for the same team. You expect Max Scherzer to be dominant, and Bryce Harper was projected for a rebound season. The player in first, though, is Anthony Rendon.

So often, it seems like Rendon’s name slips through the cracks. He’s part of a star-studded roster, with two of the more wildly-hyped players of their generation, and Rendon has never been much for a colorful interview. You can see how he kind of stays off of the radar, and he hasn’t escaped the appreciation of stathead types. You’ve already concluded that Rendon is somewhat underrated, given his talent, and as soon as someone’s considered underrated, their rating becomes more appropriate. I don’t want to argue that Rendon is the most-overlooked player, or anything. I just thought it was time to give him a post of his own. In fact, I’d like to follow up on something I quickly put together last September. In that post, I showed how Rendon is a contributor across the board. Let’s revisit!

I gathered data for all players with at least 500 plate appearances over the past year. This is mostly a sample of regulars, so, already, these are players with above-average abilities. I focused on some fundamental skills, including: walks, strikeouts, power, BABIP, baserunning, and defense. The whole sample comprises 150 players. For Rendon in particular, I calculated percentile rankings. Here is the plot, with a seventh column, for total WAR.

Maybe you’re drawn to the higher bars. Maybe you’re drawn to the lower ones. The lowest bar corresponds to BABIP, where Rendon ranks in the 62nd percentile. Put another way, Rendon has been better than average at everything. Better than average, even among a sample of players selected to be better than average. Rendon is shown here to be wonderfully, unusually balanced; the only other player to be above-average across the board is Justin Turner. And so you end up staring at that final bar. In terms of WAR per 600 plate appearances, Rendon ranks in the 97th percentile. He’s at 7.0, tied with Turner, and behind only Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman. That means he’s been ahead of, say, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve, and Corey Seager. For a year, Rendon has been one of the very best players in the game. Really, he’s been one of them for longer than that. He’s just presently removing any doubt.

Rendon has one of the higher expected wOBAs in baseball. He isn’t a fluke. Right now, he has a career-high walk rate, and a career-low strikeout rate. He has a career-high isolated power, and so he has what would easily be a career-high wRC+. Helping him along is that he’s swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone, while swinging at a career-high rate of would-be strikes. Rendon’s Z – O-Swing% has improved, relative to last year, by 8.6 percentage points. Here are the largest year-to-year improvements:

Gains in Z – O-Swing%

Rendon was already a good player, and so far he’s been able to make better decisions. His isn’t a complicated swing — it’s a quiet swing, a quick swing, driven by his hands. One wonders if he’s been able to improve his discipline by tweaking his stance:

Rendon has swung at pitches less often down and away, and for most righties, those pitches are murder anyhow. Rendon’s been unwilling to chase them. That makes him harder to put away. He’s become incredibly challenging to dismiss.

To generate the following plot, I used data from Baseball Savant. You see swinging-strike rates in two-strike counts, and in non-two-strike counts. Rendon is highlighted in yellow.

Rendon has become an extreme contact hitter, and with two strikes, no one has swung and missed at a lesser rate. No one is even within a percentage point. And Rendon isn’t simply doing whatever he can to just put the bat on the ball. In this plot of two-strike hitting, you see two-strike strikeout rate, and isolated power. Rendon, again, is highlighted.

Rendon has been, simultaneously, one of the better two-strike contact hitters, and one of the better two-strike power hitters. It’s a lethal combination, because ordinarily, two-strike counts work heavily in the pitcher’s favor. Rendon has been simply too good. All the same career-bests apply here — career-best two-strike walk rate, career-best two-strike strikeout rate, career-best two-strike ISO. Rendon has a 116 wRC+ in two-strike counts. Mookie Betts has a 116 wRC+, overall. Rendon’s been one of the very best two-strike hitters in the game, and when you encounter someone with these hands and this eye, there’s just no winning strategy. Rendon doesn’t have an obvious weak spot.

He doesn’t have an obvious weak spot at the plate, and he doesn’t have an obvious weak spot in his game. He runs the bases perfectly well, and he’s been an excellent defender according to UZR. In case you have some problems with UZR, he’s also been an excellent defender according to DRS. He’s been an excellent defender according to the fans. He’s an excellent defender! And he hasn’t even been on the disabled list for two years, helping to squash some of the lingering durability concerns. Anthony Rendon is fully healthy, and the fully healthy version of Anthony Rendon is better than average everywhere. He’s managed to improve even further, situationally. And so he ranks among the game’s elite.

It’s a quiet elite. It usually is, when you’re dealing with this kind of balance. The most remarkable thing about Rendon’s skillset is his hand-eye coordination, and that’s an easy thing to miss. Lots of hitters can put the bat on the ball. Few hitters can match Rendon. Few players can match Rendon. And so here he is today, looking down upon the rest of the National League.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

Anthony Rendon is My Everything

6 years ago
Reply to  Pennsy

It’s nice to see that Trea Turner comments on fangraphs.