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Edgar Renteria’s Underrated Career

Although he didn’t play a single game in 2012, it wasn’t until yesterday that Edgar Renteria officially announced his retirement from baseball. The long-time big leaguer told RCN Television in his native Colombia that “I’m definitely retired from baseball and it will soon be announced in the majors … I decided to retire from baseball and try to spend all my time with my family.”

Renteria, 37, had a very long and productive career, racking up 39.6 WAR in 2,152 games across parts of 16 seasons. He retires as a .286/.343/.398 (95 wRC+) career hitter with some dynamite individual seasons to his credit — specifically his 128 wRC+ and 6.9 WAR in 2003. If you want to cherry-pick some end-points, Renteria was the fourth best shortstop in baseball from 2002-2007 at 23.7 WAR. Only Derek Jeter (29.8), Miguel Tejada (27.2), and Jimmy Rollins were better (26.4)*.

* Alex Rodriguez piled up 49.2 WAR from 2002-2007, but only 19.3 came as a shortstop. That’s only two years at the position, which is nuts.

Despite the steady production, I think Renteria really stands out for two specific moments. The first is obvious — the walk-off single against Charles Nagy and the Indians in the 11th inning of Game Seven of the 1997 World Series:

WPA measures that hit at +0.34, but c’mon. There should be some kind of “extra innings of Game Seven of the World Series with a franchise that had never been to the postseason before” multiplier worth a couple million WPA points or so. Seriously, hits don’t get any bigger than that. At age 21 with fewer than 300 big league games to his credit, Renteria had already had his career-defining moment.

The second memorable moment of his career came more recently — the three-run homer off Cliff Lee in the seventh inning of Game Five of the 2010 World Series. This one wasn’t as dramatic as the 1997 walk-off hit, but it served the same purpose. It was a World Series-winning hit:

That homer checks in at +0.36 WPA, but again, WPA’s lack of context doesn’t do the hit justice. It turned a scoreless game into a three-run San Francisco lead and eventually gave them their first World Championship since leaving New York in 1958. That’s two historic, World Series-winning hits that basically bookend Renteria’s career, and in my opinion they raise career accomplishes beyond his WAR total, so to speak. They’re iconic moments, especially to the Marlins and Giants and their fans.

There’s also this: Renteria is the greatest Colombian-born player in baseball history and it’s not even close. That isn’t as impressive as being the best Dominican-born player or anything — there have only been 13 Colombian-born players in MLB history — but I think anytime you’re the best player to come out of your home country, it’s significant. Orlando Cabrera is the only other player even in this conversation at 29.1 WAR. Being the best anything from your country is a pretty awesome accomplishment.

Since MLB first expanded in 1961, only seven players — Cal Ripken Jr., Omar Vizquel, Dave Concepcion, Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell, Larry Bowa, and Jeter — have played more games at shortstop than Renteria (2,114). He was a two-time World Series MVP and had a good five- or six-year run as one of the best players at his position in the game. He’s no Hall of Famer or anything, but Renteria had a very significant and memorable big league career that seems to have gone underappreciated since his last game in September 2011.