More than two weeks have passed since the Los Angeles Angels signed third baseman Anthony Rendon to a seven-year deal worth $245 million. The Angels hope that new manager Joe Maddon can get the most out of a roster that features three of the best players in baseball, in Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, and reigning MVP Mike Trout. If so, the Angels could reach the postseason for the first time since they were swept in 2014 by the Kansas City Royals.
To help pass the time until Opening Day (and hopefully sate appetites), we intend to spend the rest of the winter profiling the offseason's biggest additions and figuring out what makes them so effective. That process began last week with Gerrit Cole (as you can read here). Today, let's focus on four reasons why the Angels should get their money's worth with Rendon.
It's easy to forget that injury woes caused Rendon to slip to sixth in his draft year. Those concerns about his durability remained in place throughout the early stages of his big-league career, too. In recent years, however, Rendon has developed into a reliable quantity in multiple senses -- he's been physically able to perform, and he's consistently played well.
Over the last four seasons, Rendon has averaged at least 146 games played. (He's topped that mark in three of those individual years, too, with the exception being 2018.) On top of that, Rendon has been a safe bet to provide value. He hasn't had an OPS+ below 130 since 2016, and has been at least a least-average hitter in five of his seven seasons.
Rendon has notched four-plus Wins Above Replacement in each of the past three seasons, according to Baseball-Reference's calculations. The only third basemen with more WAR over that timespan are Alex Bregman, Matt Chapman, Nolan Arenado, and Jose Ramirez.
2. Well-rounded hitter
When you think about it, the core skills that form a good hitter include (but are not limited to): discerning balls from strikes; discerning good strikes from bad strikes; seldom swinging and missing; hitting the ball hard on contact; and so on. Rendon does all of that.
Consider that least season Rendon was: 1) less likely than the average hitter to swing outside of the zone; 2) more likely than the average hitter to swing in the zone; and 3) more likely than the average hitter to make contact when he offered. Additionally, Rendon posted an average exit velocity over 90 mph, putting him in the 75th percentile, according to Baseball Savant.
That combination enables Rendon to hit for average and power alike while posting impressive walk and strikeout rates. He's already walked more than he punched out once, back in 2017, and he came close to doing it again in 2019. If he can pull off the feat in 2020, he'd be one of eight active players to have done as much in multiple seasons (including new teammate Albert Pujols, who has done it 10 times in his career).
Rendon is more than just an above-average hitter, he's also a defensive asset at the hot corner.
Rendon has good reactions and instincts, as well as more than enough athleticism and hands to make difficult plays. He doesn't have the strongest arm among star third basemen, but he gets sufficient carry on his throws and is accurate enough for it to be a non-issue.
Defensive metrics are unreliable -- especially in single-year samples -- but in this case they agree with the eye test. Rendon's glove has been worth 10-plus runs total over the last four seasons according to Defensive Runs Saved and more than 25 per Ultimate Zone Rating.
Rendon, then, is a capable two-way player at a premium defensive position.
We're going off the beaten path here to note that Rendon has shown an ability to succeed while adjusting. That's an important part of being a successful big-league player, of course, but it doesn't always show up the way it has with Rendon.
In the Statcast era, Rendon has raised his launch angle by nine degrees (from 2015 to 2019), and has both cut into his strikeout rate and has upped his in-zone swing rate. We're not talking about a slight tweak, either. Rendon offered at 55.9 percent of the in-zone pitches he saw in 2015; last season, he was up to 68.3 percent -- suggesting he's altered his approach.
There's a physical component to adapting as well -- some hitters have grooved swings that don't allow them to alter their plane or their plate coverage; Rendon doesn't, and he's able to hit just about any pitch, anywhere. While there aren't any definitive studies on the subject -- how could there be at this point? -- that would seem to bode well for his long-term viability, and his odds of making the necessary tweaks to remain productive as his physicality fades.
The Angels sure hope so, anyway.