Throughout the month, we will be ranking each Nationals starter and a couple of bench players and see where they rank among the National League, and then among the entirety of Major League Baseball. Earlier this week, we ranked Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond. Today we will be continuing with second baseman Anthony Rendon.
In these rankings, we usually use statistics from the last two seasons to give us a bigger sample size. However, since Rendon has only played parts of one season in the big leagues, we will only be using statistics from 2013 and we will look at second basemen with a minimum of 350 plate appearances.
In these rankings, we will see what part of the team needs to be fixed and which is solid compared to the rest of the league. The main goal is to win the division, so if any National League East player comes across in our findings, we will be sure to point it out. If not, the main goal is winning the National League Pennant and going to the World Series.
It’s very difficult to rank a player who only played in 98 games last season, so all of these statistics should be taken with a considerable grain of salt. That being said, this ranking will be a pretty good outline of where Rendon ranks compared to the top second basemen in the league and where he can improve.
I will analyze standard offensive and defensive statistics, as well as advanced statistics. This will give us a full picture of who the best players are at that position. To put the players in some type of order, we will be using WAR. That gives us a baseline to start the analysis.
The top-five National League second basemen in 2013 according to FanGraphs by WAR were Matt Carpenter, Chase Utley, Daniel Murphy, Neil Walker and Marco Scutaro, with Rendon coming in at tenth overall.
While Rendon is nowhere near the top of the list, we have to keep in mind that Rendon got just over half as many at bats as everyone in the top-five and it was his first season at the big league level. Nevertheless, statistics show that Rendon may be well on his way to becoming the player the Nationals envisioned when they drafted him in 2011.
In his first major league season last year, the 23-year-old Rendon hit .265 with 93 hits and 35 RBIs, while scoring 40 runs and striking out 69 times. Had he played in the majors for a full season, Baseball Reference projects that the young second baseman would have finished the year with 154 hits, 38 doubles, 58 RBIs and 158 strikeouts. While those numbers aren’t necessarily spectacular, they would have put Rendon in the top-five of our list for nearly every major offensive category. In fact, if he had played a full season and if he had hit somewhere around the projected 38 doubles, he would have finished second in that category among all qualifying second basemen.
However, as good as those numbers might look, they are just projections and do not necessarily represent how Rendon would have performed over a full season. So for the purpose of this article, we will be using advanced statistics such as OPS, wOBA and BABIP for offense, and UZR/150 for defense. All of these stats are great for comparing players as they measure the true value that a player gives to his team, regardless of playing time.
OPS is an excellent offensive evaluation statistic as it takes into account the key aspects of hitting: contact, patience and power. Part of the reason why Rendon was called up to the big leagues as fast as he was is because of the otherworldly OPS he was posting in the minors. In 36 games between Double and Triple A last season, Rendon had an OPS of 1.027. That’s insane. In those 36 games, not only was Rendon hitting the ball all over the ballpark, but he was also hitting it over the fence and taking walks. But no matter how successful a player is in Triple-A, the majors is a completely different level, and the transition wasn’t easy for the young Rendon.
During his time with the big league club, Rendon posted a .725 OPS, a major drop from his production in the minors. Not only is his OPS nowhere near the top-five, but FanGraphs places it below the league average. That being said, we have to keep in mind that it was Rendon’s first major league season, and unless your name is Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, it can take time to adjust to big league pitching. With a year under his belt, there’s no reason to believe Rendon’s OPS will be anything less than stellar in 2014. He’s more familiar with opposing pitchers and the strike zone, he’ll take more walks, he’ll get on base more and he’ll probably have more power. These are all the things that go into having a good OPS, and these are all things that Rendon will most likely improve in 2014.
While OPS is a great statistic for analyzing offense, wOBA is even better. Designed under the concept that ‘not all hits are created equally’, wOBA or Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting and weighs each of them in proportion to their actual run value. Rendon finished the 2013 season with a wOBA of .318, good for eighth among qualifying second basemen. While he doesn’t make the top five in this category either, his wOBA is still above the league average and given his enormous success at the minor league level, there’s no reason to believe that that number won’t improve in 2014. A decent wOBA shows that Rendon not only got hits, but he got hits when they mattered most. It’ll be interesting to see how his wOBA can improve with his rookie season behind him.
Another statistic used to analyse offense is BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls In Play. BABIP is essentially a measure of luck, as it can be influenced by line drives being hit right at someone or by good defenders robbing a hit from the batter. While BABIP is not necessarily a measure of offensive success, it tends to reveal hitting trends for certain players. Rendon had a BABIP of .307 in 2013, a number which FanGraphs considers to be just above average. While it’s not as stellar as Carpenter’s BABIP of .359, it shows that when Rendon makes contact, the ball tends to find the outfield grass. Also, Rendon did not hit a whole lot of home runs last season. The fact that Rendon managed to maintain a respectable BABIP with the ball rarely leaving the yard shows that not only was he getting hits, but he was also likely hitting gaps in the outfield. It helps that 25.5 percent of his hits were line drives, the fourth best line drive percentage among National League second basemen. With more at bats in 2014, and if Rendon continues to hit line drives as he did last season, his BABIP could increase dramatically.
While Rendon’s offensive numbers aren’t stellar, they show that he is on the right path. But hitting is only half of the story, as defense is just as important. Rendon, a third basemen throughout his baseball career, quickly became the Nationals’ starting second baseman, a position he had only played a few times before in his professional career. While you would expect that this sudden transition would have made Rendon a defensive liability, he actually adjusted pretty well to his new position.
UZR/150 or Ultimate Zone Rating (scaled to 150 games) is a great metric for comparing players based on defense, as it calculates the number of runs a fielder saves (or gives up) in range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined. Rendon posted a UZR/150 of 6.6, good for sixth place among qualifying National League second basemen. FanGraphs considers a UZR/150 of 6.6 to be well above average, and for a player that had very little experience at his position, the Nationals could not have asked for anything better.
Rendon’s path to the majors may have been accelerated by injuries and lack of production at second base, but in his first season at the big league level, Rendon certainly held his own and he wasn’t too far off from the best second basemen in the league. Rendon had a decent season with the bat, and given his ridiculous success in the minors, there’s no telling how good he’ll be if he manages to put it all together. While general manager Mike Rizzo insists that Rendon will have to compete with Danny Espinosa for the starting job, I still think the it belongs to Rendon.
With a major league season under his belt, the Nationals’ second baseman has already given us a taste of what he is capable of accomplishing both in the batters box, and on the field. Now, Rendon is a year older, he has experience facing big league pitching and he has become stronger at second base. Not only that, but based on what I saw at NatsFest, it looks like his mullet may be making a comeback, and we all know what that means.
Many people expect Rendon to eventually become one of the best infielders in the game. He’s not there yet, but he’s on his way. If he stays healthy, there’s no telling what he can accomplish once he puts it all together.