Anthony Rendon and Regression

Anthony Rendon hasn't been in the headlines this offseason and Dave has an issue with the few stories that have featured the young third baseman.

I haven't read a lot about Anthony Rendon this offseason and what I have hasn't been very good. I have a few ideas about this and none of them are the fault of Rendon. Unlike Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper there wasn't a lot of hype surrounding Rendon. He was the best prospect in the Nats system entering the 2013 season, but that didn't mean as much anymore and his promotion to the majors came about because Danny Espinosa was that bad. There was no space made for Rendon or a sold out coming out party. He just sort of came up, played well, and never left, but this ignores a few facts about Rendon.

Anthony Rendon didn't come out of nowhere. He was the best hitting prospect in his draft class and the projected number one overall pick, but injuries in his final season at Rice caused him to drop to the Nationals who held the sixth pick in the 2011 draft. Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy, and Bubba Starling were the five players taken before Rendon and he shatters all of them in WAR. For his career he has a 6.4 bWAR and 8.1 fWAR. Gerrit Cole, the first overall pick that season, has a 2.9 bWAR and 4.5 fWAR. Anthony Rendon was the most talented position player in his draft class and has more in common with Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg than people realize, but still the hype doesn't surround him and it is like he appeared on the Nats roster as if by magic.

Because Anthony Rendon seemingly materialized out of thin air he is judged in much the same way as a late round pick or non-prospect that burst on the scene. If that isn't the reason I can't think of another for why his great 2014 season is regarded with so much doubt and whenever people speak of Rendon in 2015 it is to mention that he's due for a regression. I'd argue that in order for a player to regress they have to have a mean to regress to and a player entering their third season hasn't built a large enough sample size for us to truly know who they are.

The biggest areas targeted for his regression are his .314 BABIP and his 21 home runs. At this point we don't know what Rendon's mean is but by the stats of his first two seasons his career BABIP is .312 and his 162 game average home run total is 18 so if we want to say he has a mean 2014 wasn't too far off it, but the majority of that mean is provided by his 2014 stats. Saying Rendon is going to regress simply due to the fact that he had a very good season in 2014 is lazy analysis and stats are not always the best way to analyze. Anthony Rendon has a simple compact swing that is direct to the ball and will never make him look bad. Rendon has had periods in his young career where he hasn't put up good numbers but he has never looked bad doing so.

Anthony Rendon's swing is comfort food. It is simple. Rendon stays quiet in the box with his head on the ball and because of his compact stroke is always quick to the ball. He pulls inside pitches and places pitches away the other way. It is an approach that won't draw much criticism. Compare his swing to teammate Bryce Harper who is a force of nature. Bryce Harper swings with the ferocity of lightning. When Bryce Harper's timing is off he will look bad because his swing is full of violence and rage whereas Anthony Rendon's is the practiced swing of your grandfather chopping wood.

That simple direct to the ball line drive gap to gap approach is one reason I doubt regression for Rendon and the other is the existence of such things as nutrition consultants and trainers. I am certain that when every player on the Nationals left Nats Park for the last time in 2014 they did so with an offseason workout and diet plan. With Rendon preparing all offseason to be a third baseman he doesn't have to worry as much about range and mobility. Third base is a reaction position and a more offensive position than second base and because of this adding muscle and strength could have been the top goals for Rendon during the offseason. So while 21 home runs seemed high to some there is no reason to doubt Rendon could come close to or even eclipse that number in 2015.

When I watch Anthony Rendon play baseball I see David Wright. It is almost eerie how similar they are. The same gap to gap line drive approach taking what the pitcher gives them, the quick reactions at third base, Rendon even posses the sneaky stolen base ability of David Wright. David Wright's highest home run season came in 2008 when he hit 33. 20-30 home runs sounds about right for a line drive hitter like Anthony Rendon. Rendon is still early in his career but the third season is normally the season where the player shows who they truly are. Rendon avoided a sophomore slump in 2014 and should continue to progress not regress.

Regression is a term for players that had a season that stood in anomaly to their career numbers. Anthony Rendon has not had enough of a career to know what those numbers are, and at the age of 25 entering his third major league season it is hard to imagine him taking a big step backwards. If I were to predict what Rendon does in 2015 it would be for most of his numbers to hold steady with a step forward in walk rate. Anthony Rendon has too good of a batting eye to be walking only 8.3% of the time. The one weakness in Rendon at the plate is he is susceptible to the inside fastball under his hands. As umpires begin to respect Rendon's batting eye and knowledge of the strike zone fewer and fewer pitchers will get that call against him. Rendon can correct some of this without help from the umpires by working on getting the barrel to inside fastballs and making pitchers regret working him inside. Either way it is a correctable flaw in a young player that should be viewed on the upswing of his career instead of being doubted and listed as a candidate for regression.


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