Anthony Rendon: National League Ranking

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Oct 6, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Washington Nationals third baseman

Anthony Rendon

(6) hits a single during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants in game three of the 2014 NLDS baseball playoff game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the month, we will be ranking each Washington Nationals starter and a couple of bench players to see where they rank at their positions in the National League. Earlier this week, we ranked Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman. Today we will be continuing our series with third baseman Anthony Rendon.

In these rankings, we will be using statistics from the last two seasons to give us a bigger sample size – to see just how good Nationals players are. In this effort, we will see which parts of the team need to be fixed and which are solid compared to the rest of the league.

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.

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The top-five National League third basemen according to FanGraphs by WAR over the last two seasons are Matt Carpenter, Rendon, Todd Frazier, David Wright and Pablo Sandoval. It’s incredible to look at how quickly Rendon has risen to the top of the pack among NL third basemen, especially considering that teammate Ryan Zimmerman ranked fifth on this list just last year.

And even though Rendon is not at the top of the list, the fact that he is considered one of the best third basemen in the league  over the last two years is impressive since 2014 was his first full season in the majors. Had Rendon played two full seasons over the last two years, his standard offensive numbers would likely be higher.

But despite the fact that he’s had fewer plate appearances than the other four players on the list, his standard offensive statistics are still near the top.

Over the last two years, Rendon has hit the third most home runs (28) of the five players on our list, trailing only Frazier (48) and Sandoval (30). This is especially impressive not only because Rendon – who isn’t exactly considered a ‘power hitter’ – is third on the list, but also because he hit his home runs in significantly fewer plate appearances than both Frazier and Sandoval. In fact, had Rendon had a similar number of plate appearances in the last two years as Frazier, his home run total likely would have been closer to 33.

Rendon also trails Carpenter in runs scored but, again, the fact that Rendon’s 151 runs scored ranks second on the list is impressive given his relatively limited playing time. Carpenter has scored 241 runs in 1426 plate appearances – 349 more than Rendon.

Needless to say, Rendon’s place on the leaderboards for most standard statistics is quite limited by his relatively low playing time over the last two years. If we were to base this analysis solely on the 2014 season, it would be a different story.
Rendon was one of the best players in baseball in 2014 and was undoubtedly the best third baseman in the NL. Rendon led NL third basemen in nearly every offensive category, finishing the year atop the leaderboards in RBIs (83), runs (111) and doubles (39), while finishing second in home runs (29), hits (176) and triples (6). Rendon was rewarded for his dominance at the plate with the NL Silver Slugger Award at third base.

While Rendon’s performance last season based on standard statistics is a major reason why he has been the second most valuable third baseman in the last two years, those statistics don’t show how valuable Rendon truly is to the Nationals and that’s why it’s important to look at advanced statistics as well. There’s nothing wrong with standard statistics, but to get the full picture it’s essential to use advanced statistics such as OPS, wOBA and BABIP for offense, and UZR/150 for defense.

OPS is an excellent offensive evaluation statistic as it takes into account the key aspects of hitting:  contact, patience and power. Rendon’s OPS over the last two seasons is .788, trailing only Carpenter (.813) and Wright (.791). Not surprisingly, Rendon’s OPS was significantly higher in 2014, where he finished second among third basemen at .824. Rendon’s high OPS is a good indicator of how well he did with the bat last season as it shows that not only was he hitting home runs, but that his other hits were productive as well.

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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 trails both Wright and Carpenter in wOBA over the last two years, but FanGraphs still considers Rendon’s wOBA of .345 to be well above average and it’s a good indicator of how productive he’s been at the plate. wOBA is my favorite statistic for analyzing offense because it’s the only true ‘tell all’ metric that calculates every aspect of hitting. Read more about wOBA here.

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.

When it comes to BABIP, Rendon’s numbers aren’t so hot. His BABIP of .312 is only good for seventh-best among NL third basemen. This could be caused by a few reasons, with the most obvious being that he probably hit into some bad luck. But Rendon’s relatively low BABIP is also a testament to how great his performance has been in the last couple of years as it demonstrates that while he’s not being rewarded on every ball he hits, the ones that do drop are very productive hits.

Needless to say, Rendon has been an extremely important part of the Nationals’ offense in the last two seasons and especially in 2014. But Rendon’s value last season goes well beyond the batters box as he also played Gold Glove-caliber defense all year long at second and third base.

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’s UZR/150 of 4.6 is good for third among National League third basemen and is considered by FanGraphs to be above average.

While his UZR/150 doesn’t fall into FanGraphs’s ‘Gold Glove-caliber’ range, anyone who saw the Nationals play last season knows just how good of a third baseman he is. His numbers are especially impressive considering that he is one of only three NL third basemen to have positive UZR’s. For some perspective, it’s worth mentioning that Zimmerman’s UZR/150 in 2013 – his last full season at the hot corner – was an abysmal -14.9.

When considering Rendon’s immense talent both in the batter’s box and on the infield, it’s abundantly clear that he’s the most valuable player on the Nationals. His contributions to the ball club over the last two seasons – and especially in 2014 – are a big reason why the Nationals won the division last season and are favorites to win it again in 2015.

Expectations will be incredibly high for the Nationals next season and the pressure will be even higher as many believe that it will be the team’s last chance to win the World Series as many of its best players could leave via free agency next winter. Fortunately for the Nationals, Rendon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But if the Nationals accomplish their lofty goals in 2015, there’s no doubt that Rendon will be a big reason why.

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