Hunter Renfroe on Producing on Both Sides of the Coin

Hunter Renfroe had a huge game last night. The Padres outfielder hammered a two-run double in the second inning and followed with a two-run homer in the 10th. The latter was a walk-off, giving San Diego a 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. The blast was his seventh on the season, tying him with Josh Bell and Cody Bellinger for the lead among NL rookies.

Renfroe’s overall numbers aren’t great — his slash line is .217/.273/.406 — but he’s showing signs of breaking out. Over his last six games, the 25-year-old former first-round pick is 6-for-18, and four of those safeties have gone for extra bases. Every bit as notable is the fact that he’s drawn seven free passes. Selectivity has never been a strong suit for the slugger, but given his ability to propel baseballs long distances, a more-discerning eye could very well be his ticket to stardom.

There’s no questioning his raw power. The Mississippi State product left the yard 30 times last year for Triple-A El Paso while capturing Pacific Coast League MVP honors. He added four more dingers after a late-September call-up. Six of the 11 home runs Renfroe has hit in a big-league uniform have traveled over 400 feet.

Renfroe discussed his power-laden gap-to-gap approach, and his views on launch-angle data, prior to the start of the regular season.


Renfroe on launch-angle data: “I’m obviously aware of it, but the ball is moving. It’s not sitting on a tee, so you can’t stand in the box and think about things like launch angle when the ball is coming at you 98 mph. You hit it, and whatever it does… you know? Hopefully you hit it on the barrel at a good angle, and it makes it over the fence, or at least goes for a double, or even a single.

“I understand why it matters. If you look at statistics — say you’re a general manager, or something like that — and a guy has a bunch of good launch angles, he’s probably going to be one of the better hitters. The more barreled balls, the better you are at knowing your pitch and getting your pitch to hit. That’s what’s ultimately going to lead to better launch angles.”

On his swing and his approach: “You have your main approach, and you’re going to work on it in the cage. You’re going to do your fundamentals. But then, all of a sudden, you’re in a game and you might have to change. You have to be able to do other things. You might have a hit-and-run, or your job is to move a runner over. Rather than being big and wanting to hit a home run, you have to be short and straight, and try to hit a line drive, or even a ground ball.

“There are also different approaches for different pitchers. Say you’re facing a submarine guy — you’re not going to swing exactly the same as if you were facing a guy throwing 100. You’re going to shorten up a little bit, shorten your stride up. On the guy throwing submarine, you’re going to wait a little longer to see the ball and catch it deep. If it’s a crafty lefty, you’re going to maybe shorten up a little bit, although not as much as you will on a guy throwing 100. I’m mainly going to stay with my main approach, and think right-center field.”

On focusing on gap-to-gap and letting home runs come: “If you watch me hitting BP, the first few rounds are straight right-center. I want to drive the ball to right-center with backspin. I want to work on staying over the ball, and through the ball. Then, in later rounds, I’ll try to launch a few just to get the bat angle there, and to remind myself that I’ve still got it.

“Home runs come. I had a great coach in the minor leagues tell me, ‘Corky, don’t hit the ball far, hit the ball hard.’ That’s how I approach hitting. If you do that, and hit the bottom part of the ball, it’s going to leave the ballpark. If you concentrate on hitting the middle of the ball, and think line drives, you’re going to have success. The ones you just miss are actually the ones that go out.

“I’m going to hit some home runs, but I don’t necessarily think you need to have a lot of them to be a productive hitter. If you hit 20, but at the same time you’re hitting a buck-twenty, that’s probably not going to keep you in the lineup. You have to produce on both sides of the coin, not just hit home runs.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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6 years ago

Clay Bellinger has returned from 2002 to lead rookies in homers, what an inspiring story 😛