I have been meaning to write about Anthony Rendón for awhile now. I saw that I made a note to write about him that was dated a month ago. When a recent episode of Effectively Wild discussed how overlooked Rendón was, I knew the time had come.
In their discussion, Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan said a few things that surprised me. What I found most surprising was that nobody wrote about Rendón at FanGraphs all season. Sullivan might have the highest post quota of any full-time baseball writer, and not even he wrote any articles focused on Rendón. The last article at FanGraphs about Rendón was written in July 2017, and was coincidentally, written by Sullivan.
Also coincidentally, in that article Sullivan wrote about how Rendón “slips through the cracks.” He went on to say that he has not been overlooked in the stat-head community. The Ringer’s Michael Baumann wrote something similar at the same time. Ironically that has not been the case since then. Baseball Prospectus did not publish any articles focused on Rendón this year either.
Perhaps it was because of the Nats’ disappointing season, or because Bryce Harper seems to overshadow everyone, but it was strange that a top-ten player in the National League got so little attention. Trust me, ideas are not always easy to come by. To be clear, I am not saying that it is “wrong” that he did not get more attention. I just find it peculiar, as did Ben and Jeff.
Rendón had another excellent season in 2018. He hit .308/.374/.535 and led the league with 44 doubles. His propensity to limit grounding into double plays combined with his adept baserunning added another five runs of value, per FanGraphs. Rendón’s 140 wRC+ ranked 10th in baseball among qualified hitters, just ahead of Matt Carpenter. He has always been a very good defender at third base, but he had an odd year as far as the defensive metrics go, so there is quite a bit of variance among his WAR values. He had a 6.3 fWAR, 4.2 bWAR, and 5.6 WARP.
UZR rated Rendón’s defense well, but DSR and FRAA did not. Unlike with Bryce Harper, I don’t think this was anything but a small sample size aberration. Harper’s defensive metrics were atrocious by any of the advanced stats, and it seemed to pass the eye test. A lot has been written on that subject by great minds such as Mike Petriello and Ben Lindbergh, so I won’t get sidetracked by that subject here. I bring it up because Rendón’s negative defensive metrics do not pass the eye test. Maybe I would think differently had I seen every one of his plays like the people at Baseball Info Solutions did, but he still looks like a plus defender to me.
Rendón first broke out in 2014, his second season in the majors. He hit .287/.351/.473 with excellent defense and baserunning, all of which added up to 6.6 WAR. He finished fifth in MVP voting, and deservedly so. Ever since the beginning of that 2104 season, Rendón’s 126 wRC+ is tied with Buster Posey and Manny Machado for 21st-best in baseball among hitters with at least 2,500 PA. His 24.8 fWAR ranks sixth, though his 21.1 bWAR ranks 26th.
The difference is the result of how UZR and DRS view his defense. It is important to remember that Rendón basically had a lost season in 2015. He played in only 80 games due to injury, and those injuries caused him to be a below average player in all facets of the game. Had he been healthy that season and turned in — we’ll be conservative here — a 4-WAR season, he would have ranked much higher on the bWAR list I cited, though only one spot higher on the fWAR list.
On this year’s NL MVP balloting, Rendón finished in eleventh place. I thought that was a little low, but it is defensible if you really thought he had a down year defensively. Had I filled out a fake ballot, he definitely would have been on it; he would be low on that ballot, but he would be on it nonetheless. I can only speculate, but I am guessing that he did not finish higher because his team did not make the playoffs, not because voters were agonizing over how to rate his defense. Honestly, though, a few spots on down ballot MVP voting really do not matter.
Fun fact: as I mentioned before Anthony Rendón had 21.1 bWAR and 24.8 fWAR since 2014. You might be wondering about how those WAR numbers compare to Bryce Harper. They are better! And that is with Harper’s transcendent MVP season in 2015. Since 2014, Harper has accumulated 18.6 bWAR and 22.2 fWAR. Of course WAR is not everything and is far from perfect, but I think those number are a testament to just how good Rendón is.
Rendón will be a free agent after 2019, so it will be interesting to see what the Nationals decide to do with him. It is too early to speculate on what they should do with him until after the offseason plays out. Too many variables are at play. What we can is that the argument can be made that he has been the team’s best position player since 2014. As his former manager Dusty Baker once put it, “I think he’s highly underrated in this league...”
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.