March Madness is right around the corner, so you’ve probably seen the blind resume game once or twice by now. You know, the one where ESPN hides the team names and puts up a collection of stats that makes you think, “hm, maybe Northwest East State really does deserve to make the tournament over Villanova!” In the spirit of March Madness, let’s play a little baseball blind resume game.
Tag Archives: Anthony Rendon
January is typically the doldrums of the MLB offseason. Never mind that it is just a few days until the two-year anniversary of the Nationals’ signing of Max Scherzer: At this point in the offseason, most teams have made their moves and are filling their teams out around the edges. The Nationals have surely already made their biggest move in offloading several top prospects for Adam Eaton.
This is the second of three parts in my offseason preview series. If you want to know more about the methodology, check out part one here. You should also just read it anyway! How did you even get to part two first?
Ohhh boy. Oh man, oh man, oh man. Oh boy. Oh man. Hooooo boy. The postseason is upon us, y’all. Friday night, Max Scherzer will duel Clayton Kershaw and the backs of our seats will be neglected. As the christening of the postseason became closer and closer through the week, the Nats prepared on the field while they stirred up excitement off it. Now that the NLDS is brushing against our fingertips, it’s time to recap.
Of all callous things in baseball, a pitcher’s arm cares the least about how the season is supposed to go. Stephen Strasburg’s only natural enemies are the sun and the whole right side of his body. But this isn’t about the strained flexor mass in the pitcher’s right arm, or the dark embrace of the September Disabled List. It’s about what the Nationals did off-field to provide some distraction from the image of Strasburg exiting, glove covering his mouth. Buffalo-back rides and walk-up songs might just suffice.
The Washington Nationals visited some old friends this week, splitting a series with the San Francisco Giants and former National Denard Span, and decidedly sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks, for whom former manager Matt Williams coaches third base. It was a busy week with the non-waiver trade deadline smack in the middle and an off day sprinkled in for good measure and extra off-field escapades. Anthony Rendon got kids to the eye exams, the Nats met Willie Mays, and we all said goodbye to Felipe Rivero and his infinite potential to welcome sturdy veteran closer Mark Melancon.
If you managed to stay awake for the ending of the Nationals game against the San Francisco Giants on Friday night, then you got to see a little piece of Major League Baseball history, and a fairly large piece of Washington Nationals history.
The Nationals lost Tuesday night. Hold your vitriol for a moment, though, there is at least one positive to take out of the game. Before getting to the positive, let’s start with a few caveats. “Optimal” batting orders can mean something like 10-20 extra runs per season, one to two wins at best. The Nationals are on the road against the Indians, meaning the pitcher doesn’t hit and the Nationals get some extra lineup flexibility with a DH in the lineup. Finally, Dusty won’t commit to Tuesday night’s lineup long term.
But man, I loved the Tuesday night lineup. Here is why, on a position-by-position review:
Back in late April, there was lots of concern over Anthony Rendon. I even wrote up an analysis of what was going wrong with Tony Two Bags, since lost in the tubes of the internet. That’s probably for the best because Anthony Rendon has been hitting .289/.394/.471 with four home runs since April 29, 37% better than the league average according to wRC+. And that’s prior to Saturday’s game, where Rendon went 1-for-3 with a two run home run.
There were legitimate reasons to worry about Rendon at the start of the year. He struggled with injuries and subpar performance for the better part of 2015. He followed that up over the first three weeks of the 2016 season where he hit only .229 with a sub .300 OBP and zero home runs. Despite the poor surface numbers, there were signs of a breakout coming. His BABIP was well below the league and Rendon’s own average at .264. His soft hit rate as only 17%, so he was consistently hitting the ball hard as anyone watching those early games can attest to. Even sitting on April 28 with a .229 batting average, no one wanted to give up on Rendon.
From that point forward, though, Rendon has looked like the Rendon of old. He’s seen those hard hit balls start falling for base knocks as his BABIP has risen up to .360 since April 29. That power that was missing early in the year came back with a vengeance. Rendon knocked those five home runs mentioned before and he’s tacked on eight doubles and one triple for good measure. He’s even been more aggressive on the basepaths with six successful stolen bases in eight attempts. All of a sudden, the Nats have the Rendon of old back and a six hitter they can rely on again.
Back in that first piece examining Rendon’s struggles I theorized that Rendon wasn’t being selective enough. He wasn’t swinging pitches out of the zone. Rather, he was swinging at more pitches than normal in the zone, 76% of pitches in the zone to be exact. In doing do, Rendon was seeing fewer pitches in each at bat and putting balls in play before getting a good pitch to hit. I suggested that Rendon be more patient, let a few more strikes go, in hopes of seeing a pitch he could drive. Starting on April 29, Rendon did exactly that. He’s since swung at only 58% of pitches in the strike zone. By being more patient, he’s found better pitches to hit, gone to the opposite field less and hit for more power.
Now, there is one drawback to this new approach. By taking more strikes, Rendon’s strikeout rate has jumped from 12% to 22%. On the other hand, the more patient Rendon is also taking more walks by nearly doubling his walk rate to 15%. Sacrificing a few strikeouts for more walks and more power is a deal Rendon should be willing to make, he’s a much better hitter by doing so.
It took a few weeks, but the Anthony Rendon stepping up to the plate today is the same hitter who made such a great impression in DC in 2014. He’s patient at the plate, willing to watch a strike on the black go by early in the count in order to find a better pitch to hit later in the at bat. He’s still hitting the ball hard on a consistent basis only now he’s able to turn on the ball and hit to center or pull it to left field. Welcome back, Anthony Rendon.
This week the Nationals swept the Phillies, broke their record for pinch hit home runs in a season (thank you Chris Heisey), and hit the 12 games over .500 mark for the first time this season, but they also practiced voodoo, chopped hair, and…