Aug 2, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (6) looks on during the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park. The Nationals won 11-0. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
I highly doubt that anyone outside of Houston, Texas imagined Anthony Rendon would have the type of season he did. Not this year. Not at the youthful age of 24 (23 entering the season) and switching from his natural position of third base to start the season at second. By year’s end, Rendon’s first full season saw the 2011 first round pick finish leading the NL in runs scored, third in total bases, fourth in doubles, fifth in both hits and extra base hits, and second in both bWAR and fWAR at 6.5 and 6.6 respectively.
The average team received just under three wins at third base during the season, coming in around 2.5 median, and when you consider Rendon more than doubled both of those values, third base was something of a positive. Rendon just missed out on the All Star team, losing the fan vote to Anthony Rizzo, but he did much better by doing everything in his power to earn some down the ballot MVP votes.
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So, yeah, he played pretty well.
If you throw into the mix that Rendon was the only Nats regular to hit over .300 in the NLDS (going 4-for-7 in that regrettable 18-inning Game 2) and other than Bryce Harper to actually provide any facsimile of offensive value against the Giants, he finished the year giving fans hope for 2015.
Going back through the early season projections, Fangraphs projected Rendon to earn around 2.4 fWAR while Baseball Prospectus came in around 2.8, and maybe these numbers don’t mean all that much to you, but in both cases he either doubled or nearly did those projections, making his 1.8 million dollar salary for the year something of an underpay. He won’t always be this cheap, but odds are he’ll always be this talented.
Using Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, since the Expansion Era began in 1961, there have been 47 players whose primary position was infielder that have earned greater than 6 wins in a season at the age of 24 or younger, and if you only count second and third basemen that number drops down to 26. In that list you see names such as David Wright, Chipper Jones, and Ryan Zimmerman and all-time greats like Mike Schmidt and George Brett. Are all the names perennial All Stars? Let’s just say for every Billy Grabarkewitz who had an abnormally great season there are six or seven names like Robinson Cano.
Oh to be young and ridiculously talented.
Over the course of the season, Rendon was about as consistent as a player could be, hitting .287/.343/.490 over the first half and .287/.361/.449 in the second half. Take away a fairly awful May where Rendon hit .212/.292/.323 and drove everything into the ground (with pitchers adjusting from his April success by attacking him low and outside more with an increase in sinkers and cutters) and he never had another month where his OBP was below .300 or with a below average wRC+.
Of course, perhaps May can be explained as a case of there being no real reason to pitch to Rendon since Denard Span had yet to hit, Jayson Werth inexplicably lost all ability to hit for power, and Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, and Bryce Harper were all out with injuries. There was a time that a lineup filled in with Tyler Moore, Nate McLouth, and Danny Espinosa was more the norm than a day to rest the regulars.
Through the course of the season, Rendon had five games where he recorded four hits, 11 more with three hits, and twice had streaks where he hit safely in nine straight games. He wasn’t exactly the second coming of Joe DiMaggio here, but only LaRoche hit safely in 9 or more straight games more than once for the season. He also made his first trip home to Houston a memorable one, going 4-for-5 with two doubles and a home run in the series finale, and at the end of the year, against the Mets, he went 10-for-15 with two home runs in the first three games of the four game series.
As far as team totals went, Rendon led the Nats in runs scored, total bases, slugging, and at-bats; tied Span for doubles; finished second in triples, OPS, and OPS+; and was third in batting average, walks, stolen bases, home runs, and RBI. But, then again, everyone was hurt so maybe it was all just favorable circumstances.
If we have to quibble, and I suppose that’s exactly what I should do, Rendon was a poor hitter in high leverage situations (.180/.271/.295) and better at hitting with men in scoring position (.269/.347/.490) than I remember. If my eyes told me anything it was that Rendon left a lot of men at third with less than two outs. Also, for as many at bats as Rendon had, it would be nice to see that walk rate of 8.5% increase.
Baseball, however, is not played exclusively with the bat, and Rendon also excelled defensively even as he moved between second and third enough early in the year that he might as well been playing on rollerblades. With Opening Day starter Ryan Zimmerman missing 115 games due to various ailments, Rendon took over at third and claimed the bag as his own by season’s end. If there’s any doubt that the position is his entering next year, those doubts should be quieted because he found his permanent home.
For old time’s sake, let’s remember this play against Texas in all its amazingness. There are countless others (this and this for instance), but by now I hope you get the point: the Nats aren’t hurting when he plays the field.
In fact, even though he played roughly 17% of his games at second, he still led the NL in putouts for third basemen and was third in double plays. According to Baseball Reference he was worth an additional 10 runs with the glove, once again topping all third basemen. He did commit 15 errors, tying David Wright and Nolan Arenado for third most. If we use UZR/150 as our measuring stick, his 4.6 places him third in the NL behind Todd Frazier and Arenado.
He also stole 17 bases at an 85% clip, giving the Nats two legitimate 20/20 players on the left side of their infield.
Fangraphs has the 2015 outlook for Rendon coming in at around 4.5 wins, which would have ranked him just below Werth as far as team value this past season. If Rendon stays healthy (look to Bryce Harper to see how the talent of youth can be derailed due to injury) I think it’s reasonable to expect something in the .280/.320/.450 range with maybe an uptick in home runs as he physically matures.
If his offense falters, his defense is good enough to keep him in the lineup, but if history is our guide, judging by the company he keeps in his youthful accomplishments, I don’t see there being that much to worry about in his progression.