Over the last couple of weeks, we've offered introductions to our Best Players of 2015 series. We set the stage for the whole endeavor, and we then revealed the players who earned landed between 45th and 11th on the list. If you need a refresher on the methodology, nine of our writers ranked players based on how well they thought players would perform during the 2015 season. They ranked them 1-20, and those players got point values (20 for first, 19 for second, etc) and were ranked by the sum of their points. The highest possible score is 180.
#10: Anthony Rendon, Third Baseman (Washington Nationals)
Geoff Burke/USA Today
If you use WAR to start a conversation, Anthony Rendon was one of the best players in baseball in 2014. By fWAR, he was fourth among all position players coming in between six and seven wins above replacement during the most recent season. Obviously the decimal value isn't sacrosanct, but Rendon hit 30% better than league average, played a fine third base, and ran the bases better than almost anyone in the game.
There's a decent chance you don't think of Rendon as one of the game's best players because his success is new and it seems like he's a prospect that took forever (he didn't), but he's entering his age-25 season with 8 WAR over fewer than 1100 PA.
Why We Love Him
It's not hard to see why our electorate likes Rendon. He's young, he has prospect pedigree, and he's had a phenomenal start to his career. But if you dig into the numbers, it's not just that Rendon is good, it's that his game is really well balanced.
He hits for power and average, makes good decisions on the bases, and fields his position. When he was coming up, no one really mentioned the base running, but the word on Rendon was that if he could stay healthy, he had a great chance to be a star. And when a guy with that potential puts together a near-MVP season at age 24, he rockets up to the top. Obviously our voters like Miguel Cabrera, too, but Rendon isn't on the list because of one thing at which he excels, he's on the list because there's nothing he does below average.
Our voters love Rendon, but the major projection systems are nearly as smitten. Steamer likes him for 5 WAR, ZiPS for 4.2 WAR, and PECOTA for 4.0 WARP.
Everyone is buying.
Where He Fits In
Rendon was named on six of the nine ballots, including a 20th-place vote and a third-place vote. He finished with 64 votes and as the second best third baseman in the game, according to our panel of people who play experts on TV.
The guys he beat out for the tenth spot all have impressive credentials, but the comparison between Rendon at 10 and Jonathan Lucroy at 12 is the one worth exploring in my mind. Troy Tulowitzki came in at 11th, but that's pretty clearly just a question of how much he'll be on the field.
While Lucroy and Rendon were both in the 130-135 wRC+ range with plus defense in 2014, Rendon had a little more power and Lucroy got on base more often to balance it out. Rendon's base running was better, and their similar fWAR marks don't take into account Lucroy's framing exploits. Those differences seems important, but I think it's a good pairing for articulating the direction of the sport.
Rendon and Lucroy are two talent hitters who aren't hitting two to three home runs a week or stumbling around the bases. Their value shows up in the number of doubles they hit while providing lots of value on the defensive side of the ball. In this lower environment, everyone isn't hitting 20-30 dingers, a year so the players who hit 10-20 with a lot of doubles prove to be among the best bats you can find.
In other words, Rendon isn't a glamorous player, but that doesn't take away from the value he provides to his team. He's a player without weakness on a team that doesn't have many either.
Statistics via FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.