Anthony Rendon: Blown Call

Before the season started, I had Anthony Rendon ranked as the 15th best second baseman in the league.  Not one of us here at Fantasy Assembly had him ranked in the top 10.  Paul Hartman was the most optimistic with a rank of 11 while Peter Waterman was at the opposite end of the spectrum at 19.   Suffice it to say, he was not thought of as someone who would produce much in 2014.  Yea…we blew that one, it happens sometimes.  I wrote this about Rendon back in October when discussing his chances for success this year.

“I think he’ll need a few years under his belt before we start seeing what he’s capable of, but stranger things have happened.  Like Gyorko, you’re not drafting him as your primary second baseman.  His upside is intriguing.”

We all knew he had the tools and skills needed to be a top producing player in the future, I just didn’t think that future was now (obviously many others felt the same).  Even the big sites had him ranked as a late round pick, someone to take a chance on but not a player you want to bank on.  Yup, short of a few guys out there, we all blew it.

It’s easy to see how we all came to that conclusion.  In 2013, after only 260 minor league at bats, the 23-year-old was thrust into action after the Nationals demoted starting second baseman Danny Espinosa.  He hit the ground running batting .330 in June, but pitchers made adjustments resulting in a .187 Espinosa like showing in July.  Rendon hit .272 and .286 in August and September and finished the year with a .265 average.  Not exactly something to write home about, but overall not bad considering his limited experience.  He had one walk for every two strikeouts showing he had a patient eye and good plate discipline which left us optimistic he should improve his average in the future.

The big thing missing from his game was power, in 351 at bats he hit only 7 home runs.  It’s not like he didn’t have enough distance behind the ball and a 34% flyball rate was high enough that he should have had more.  Just like with the batting average, we chalked that one up to inexperience.   There was one other thing missing from his game that not many give him credit for and that is stolen bases.  Rendon stole just one base in 2013 (2 if you count the one in AA).  What everyone forgets, overlooks or just doesn’t know is that Rendon can steal bases.  During his 3 years at Rice University he stole 36 bases in 187 games, yet he only had 2 steals in 4 attempts over his 2 years in the minors and majors.

Rendon had the talent, but in his short career all he had shown was a mediocre average and enough power to hit 15 home runs.  Players like this grow on trees.  He may have future talent, but it didn’t look like things would come together for a few years.  Add in the fact that a good number of us tend to move on to the next big thing when our prized rookie doesn’t hit the ground running and you can see why he was ranked where he was.  He was listed on some sleeper and breakout lists, but very few of those who pegged him as a sleeper put their money where their mouth was when it came to rankings.  After putting up average numbers in spring training, it looked like those that said “not yet” were correct.

Fast forward 5 months and Rendon has been a pleasant surprise.  He started off in April the same way he did when he during his debut with the Nationals in 2013 (I don’t count the cup of coffee he was given in the beginning of the year).  He hit .312 in April and it looked like all systems go, but a .212 average in May made us think we spoke too soon.  He showed us limited power during those first two months, but he also started showing off his legs with 3 steals.  The final 2 games of May he went 6 for 11 setting up a June run that saw him hit .310 with 6 home runs, 19 RBIs and 3 more stolen bases.  Rendon slumped again in July, but this time it wasn’t that bad.  He hit .265 in July and while he only hit one home run, he stole 4 bases in 4 attempts.  He also decreased his strikeouts while maintaining his walk rate so there were some positives with this latest setback.  This month it was business as usual as Rendon batted .299 with 5 home runs and 3 more steals.  He lowered his strikeout rate once again with just 10 K’s in 110 at bats.

For the season, Rendon is batting .282 with 18 home runs, 72 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and has scored a league leading 97 runs.  That puts him near the top of the rankings on the four major sites.

  2B 3B Overall
Yahoo 2 1 13
CBS 2 1 19
Fantrax 2 3 31
ESPN 3 2 17

Not bad for a guy who was taken after round 20 in most standard leagues, and he still has room to grow.  Rendon has an 8% walk percentage, not bad but he is capable of getting that into the double digits.  His strikeout percentage is under 15, close to what he had in the minors and the numbers he put up in college suggest it is something he can sustain and possibly improve upon.  His FB% is up from last year and now sits at 40%, that is basically even with his GB% leaving 20% for line drives.  He’s also using more of the field as you can see by the spray chart below provided by Fangraphs.


Source: FanGraphs

His average fly ball distance is close to 300 feet, putting his power in the same company as Yasiel Puig and Carlos Gomez.  That’s a big improvement over the 277 feet he averaged in 2013.  The HR/FB% sits at 10.2%.  This is still fairly low for a power hitter and ranks him at number 71 for the category, sandwiched between Aramis Ramirez and Evan Longoria.  Home and away splits are basically even so it doesn’t matter where he plays.  Rendon has hit remarkably well against lefties to the tune of .302 compared to the .274 against right handers.  Most of his power comes against right handers so you have to take the good with the bad better than average.  A .304 BABIP suggests that luck hasn’t played much of a part in his success this year and is certainly something he can sustain moving forward.  It basically stayed constant from month to month as well with the exception of the drop in May.  This is what we expected from Rendon, just not so soon.

So is the pace Rendon has set for himself something he can maintain for the rest of the year and in the future?  I was skeptical when the season started.  Not of his potential mind you, just of how quickly he would realize it.  After what he did this season, I’m all in.  You may see a slight decline in September, but it will not be any Danny Espinosa type slump.  I believe those days are behind him and a worst case scenario would be like the .265 he put up in July.  The power and speed should stay constant though along with his walk rate.  As for next year, I can see a slight increase from this year’s numbers, but I don’t see this year as a stepping stone to some huge breakout season or career year.  What you see at the end of the year is exactly what you should bid on in 2015, except expect runs closer to 90 as opposed to 100+.

Anthony Rendon could easily go in the third or fourth round next year.  Next month when I start my way too early rankings I’ll have a better idea of exactly where he should go.  I undervalued him in 2014, but I’m not sure if I will overvalue him in 2015 (even though I’m a huge fan).  In keeper and dynasty leagues, he is definitely someone you should target in the off-season or before the 2015 season gets underway.  He will still be eligible for second base next year and could qualify for the position in 2016 if the Nationals insist on leaving Ryan Zimmerman at third.  Rendon holds more value as a second baseman/middle infielder, but as you can see by his rankings this year, he still plays nicely at third.  Conventional wisdom says that Zimmerman should move to first and Rendon to third, but big league coaches don’t always do what’s best.

People underestimated Rendon coming into the season and got him for pennies on the dollar, that won’t happen in 2015.

Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.

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