It Might Be Time to Adjust to Anthony Rendon

Pitch-pattern data can be interesting when you’re trying to spot trends or adjustments for scouting reports. Changes in pitch patterns can sometimes be revealing. Just the other day, we looked at Miguel Cabrera, and beginning in last year’s playoffs, pitchers started to challenge him with more fastballs over the plate. That trend continued into this April, as opposing teams picked up on the fact Cabrera wasn’t 100% after offseason surgery. With Cabrera not swinging like himself, pitchers often tried to blow him away. Now Cabrera’s getting back to normal, so pitchers, one figures, should soon return to their normal. Not that it’ll do them much good.

Pitch-pattern data can also be interesting and revealing when it doesn’t change. Wilin Rosario doesn’t see many fastballs, or strikes, or fastballs for strikes. What’s revealed is how people think of Wilin Rosario and his eye. The way Rosario gets pitched is perfectly justifiable, and this is an example of baseball finding its equilibrium. Yet there’s something curious I’ve noticed about Anthony Rendon. His name has come up when I’ve been researching other things.

Wednesday night. It’s the first inning, and Rendon’s facing Brett Oberholtzer. The first pitch is a fastball in the zone. The fourth pitch — a 1-and-2 pitch — is a fastball in the zone. The sixth pitch is a fastball in the zone that gets called a ball. The seventh pitch is a fastball in the zone, and Rendon hits it for a double.

Rendon singles on a curve in the third. He bats again in the fourth, and with the count 1-and-2, he gets another fastball in the zone. Rendon hits it for a double.

RendonDouble.gif.opt

The second double lifted Rendon’s average to .313, his slugging to .518 and his wRC+ to 142. Though it’s been only a month, Rendon has hinted at a big season, which wouldn’t exactly come as a shock given his top-prospect background. He was a league-average hitter a year ago, and, a year wiser, Rendon seems primed to take a step or two forward. He’s one of the guys the Washington Nationals will be counting on in the temporary absence of Bryce Harper.

What’s a little odd isn’t that Rendon is hitting. Rendon was always supposed to hit. What’s a little odd is what Rendon’s been seeing. It would seem it’s high time for opposing pitchers to make an adjustment with Rendon in the box.

Since the start of last season, a third of all pitches to Rendon have been fastballs inside the PITCHf/x strike zone. Out of all big-league hitters who’ve seen at least 1,000 pitches, Rendon’s rate ranks third-highest. Just this year, 35% of all pitches to Rendon have been fastballs inside the PITCHf/x strike zone, and, again, that ranks him third-highest. On its own, that might not mean much to you, but, consider the company.

I took the top 10 in in-zone fastball rate for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013-2014. This left me with a pool of 60 player-seasons. Those players have averaged an .082 ISO. Rendon is approaching a .150 ISO. The list is populated by names like Marco Scutaro, Jeff Keppinger and Jamey Carroll. Guys who mostly don’t pose any sort of power threat. To those players, it makes sense to be more aggressive with your fastball. With Rendon in the box, it makes less sense, because while Rendon isn’t Harper, he’s perfectly capable of punishing the baseball.

We can go at this a similar but different way: Since the start of last season, 342 players have batted at least 250 times. Out of that group, 29 players have seen a fastball rate at least a standard deviation above the mean, and a zone rate at least a standard deviation above the mean. That group has averaged an .085 ISO. Rendon has the highest ISO of all 29. His fastball rate in 2014 hasn’t gone down, and his zone rate in 2014 has gone up.

Rendon has been pitched as if he doesn’t have power. He’s been pitched as if pitchers aren’t very afraid of him. And if his numbers now are any indication, it’s time to change things up, because this approach isn’t getting the job done. As far as I can tell, there’s been a sense Rendon has a vulnerability to inside heat. From last August:

One key to Rendon’s recent surge: He’s recognized that opposing pitchers were starting to bust him inside with fastballs, trying to exploit the hole in his swing. By getting the head of his bat through the strike zone quicker, Rendon has been able to make better contact on those pitches, producing better results.

In his brief career, according to Brooks Baseball, Rendon has made contact with better than 90% of inside fastballs. When he’s put those pitches in play, he’s hit .320. Not every inside fastball is created alike, though, and there’s a difference between 88 mph in and 98 mph in, but everyone struggles with 98 in. If Rendon has a vulnerability there, his numbers aren’t showing it. Pitchers are pitching him aggressively, Rendon is hitting them aggressively, and pitchers don’t like to get hit for very long.

Rendon, from the bottom of the same linked article:

“I just think it’s pretty funny how that can change within a game,” he said. “From your first at bat, to see how you are, to come back and attack you a different way in your second at bat, just to see how you were standing in the box. They pay attention to every detail. They try to use everything they can.”

I’ll concede I’m not a professional swing analyst. I can’t look at a guy’s hack and determine where he’s going to struggle and where he’s going to excel. I can’t give you a better Rendon report than an actual major-league front office could. But it’s funny now to see Rendon crediting pitchers for quick adjustments, when it seems like another adjustment is overdue. In 2014, pitchers have pitched to Rendon like they did in 2013. In 2014, Rendon has done more damage. And in 2013, he was by no means a problem. It seems like it’s time to pitch to Anthony Rendon like the good hitter he is, and probably already was.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


47 Responses to “It Might Be Time to Adjust to Anthony Rendon”

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  1. Aaron (UK) says:

    It seems like a changeup in the zone isn’t a particularly good idea either, since that went for a HR in the 6th: http://m.mlb.com/video/v32505771/wshhou-rendon-puts-on-a-show-in-his-hometown

    Rendon can flat-out hit, and he has a good eye too (give-or-take the odd missed call by the very erratic umpire last night). I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see his BB% rate in double figures by the end of the year as pitchers adjust.

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    • A DC Wonk says:

      So, if I understand this correctly: last night he got one hit off a curve, two doubles off of fastballs, and a HR off of a change up.

      Sounds like the “natural hitter” that everyone though he would be when, as a sophomore, he became the first ever underclassman to Baseball America’s College Player of the Year, hitting the second most ever HR’s at the school (second to Lance Berkman), despite getting pitched around (averaging over a walk a game) and hitting .394 (and, tangent, making only 4 errors all season, playing 3b).

      Pitchers will adjust. I have no doubt that Rendon will similarly adjust. The guy has a super quick short swing, a great eye, and what seems to be off-the-charts hand-eye coordination — all of which ought to help him stay out of any prolongs slumps.

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    • Emcee Peepants says:

      Agreed, BB% in the mid to high teens throughout the minors. His profile says he’s likely being more aggressive now b/c he is getting good pitches to hit (good contact/z-contact) and will lay off the out-of-zone junk if/when pitchers adjust (low o-swing).

      This is pretty much how he was supposed to hit based on his top-prospect pedigree, right? Besides the walk rate, his numbers are pretty similar to his 2 longest minor league stints.

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    • Jill lNaishepa says:

      my best friends daddy got a stunning white Porsche Boxster Convertible by working parttime off of a macbook. see this website ………… http://www.works7.com

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  2. Esoteric says:

    Amusingly, it comes off like you’re almost mildly offended at Rendon’s success.

    I know you’re not, don’t get me wrong, but it’s an odd angle for an article. “HEY PITCHERS! STOP GIVING THIS GUY EASY OPPORTUNITIES!”

    That said, it’s an interesting point and one which you telegraphed in your FanGraphs Chat from the other day.

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    • Peter 2 says:

      I do get this weird sense that several of the authors on FG are rooting against Rendon

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      • pinch says:

        Oh yeah, totally. Just the Nationals in general, really. But also the Braves. And the Cardinals, the Pirates, the Royals, the Rays, the Red Sox, and you yourself, along with anything you’ve ever loved.

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      • FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Why on earth would…

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      • Esoteric says:

        Nah. They’re not.

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      • Patrick Thompson says:

        I’d say this article is the opposite.

        Its pointing out that Rendon’s been hitting well, primarily.

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      • Pennsy says:

        Everybody in every chat I’ve read on this site has been wildly bullish on him

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        • PC says:

          Not true. Mike Podhorzer, a writer at this very site, made his lack of bullishness quite clear.

          Follow his advice and watch him sing the praises of Marcus Semien over Rendon.

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    • quincy0191 says:

      It is the sort of thing that seems mildly offensive. Despite the rapid advance in the acceptance of sabermetrics inside baseball, the various teams that have played against Rendon this year don’t seem to have realized they shouldn’t pitch him like this. If a guy is hitting well (which he obviously is) and you have all this data (which they obviously do, as it’s public), the fact that they don’t seem to have realized this is a little offensive.

      No offense to Jeff, who is certainly not stupid about these things, but he doesn’t make his living on whether or not a team gets a guy out. He shouldn’t be the first guy to realize this. The fact that there’s so much money spent in baseball and it seems like no one has figured this out is, to me, a little offensive.

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      • cass says:

        I don’t think offensive means what you think it means.

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        • Jason B says:

          At least he got “mildly” correct. VERY mildly.

          As in, “there is a single grain of sand in my carpet. It is mildly dirty.”

          “I coughed once three days ago. I’m mildly ill.”

          “Ben Revere hit a homer in little league that one time. He is mildly powerful.”

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  3. Lutz says:

    Is that gif real speed? Quick hands.

    As an owner, my first instinct is to shush you, but opponents will get wise anyway. Here’s hoping he can adjust with them.

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    • Aaron (UK) says:

      Everybody loves his swing.

      I wonder whether he’s getting pitched like this partly because he’s a 2B/3B. If he were an outfielder perhaps he’d get more respect? Or is this way of thinking finally gone from MLB?

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Yes, quick hands. I’d argue that Rendon has the best pure hitting ability on the D.C. team, fully aware of the implications of that argument.

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      • Esoteric says:

        Better health that certain other young stars on the team, that’s for sure.

        Also, a quietly awesome name, which I’m sure you of all people would appreciate. Not flashy, but sleek and stylish.

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        • cass says:

          He also had a very nice cheering section in Houston. There were almost as many Nats fans as Astros Fans.

          http://www.natsenquirer.com/2014/05/homecoming-king-anthony-rendon-houston.html

          Rendon’s step forward and Espinosa’s resurgence have been the two best things to happen to the Nats this year. They’re keeping the team afloat, especially with Ryan Zimmerman out. I hate to say this, but Zimmerman might not have much impact on his return given the way these two have been playing. Rendon’s made some defensive plays that Zim hasn’t made in years, too.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          I’m thinking Zimm takes over for LaRoche if he stops hitting by the time Zimm gets back.

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        • Well-Beered Englishman says:

          If we’re talking NotGraphs-type considerations, I’m also prejudiced in Rendon’s favour by having once been in the same college dorm, sharing a mailbox, and having several mutual friends. The only bad thing I have ever known or heard about Rendon, as a player or as a person or as a friend, is that he never did collect his damn mail.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Oh shit! This kid went to Rice, haha.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        I could see it. Harper was always more of a 60/65 hitter, and you could argue that Rendon is a 65/70.

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      • Pennsy says:

        I agree with you. Harper has power and other assorted exciting tools (such as his arm) but he’s never looked like an A+ batter, really. He actually seems to have one pretty gruesome at-bat per night. Rendon is already markedly more consistent than Harper (but then again, he’s also a few years older).

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Yeah, Harper’s still the youngest player in the MLB. How absurd is that?

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    • H says:

      Pretty sure the gif is sped up.. Look at how quick the pitcher’s windup is, as well as how quickly the catcher stands up.

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  4. Mr baseball says:

    Don’t sell yourself short, you can probably do as good of, if not a better job of analyzing swings than a generic MLB front office.

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  5. cass says:

    As a Nats fan, I am just really hoping not too many opposing pitchers read FanGraphs. I mean, did you have to spill the beans, Jeff? Maybe wait until the ASB when Harper returns at least?

    On a more serious note, I’d like to say that Anthony Rendon seems to be good at laying off of bad pitches. Indeed, his Swing% over the last two years is just 40.8% despite all the fastballs in the zone. Perhaps opposing pitchers know he’d lay off of pitches outside the zone? His career O-Swing% is 22.2%, for what it’s worth.

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    • RunTeddyRun says:

      Right? He just ruined everything! For real though, Having Rendon around sure takes the sting out of Zim being gone.

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  6. jdbolick says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    I don’t have any handy-dandy gifs, but if you look up youtube videos of Rendon at Rice and in the minor leagues, his stride toward the plate was much more pronounced. He had the same open stance but would step his front foot beyond parallel with the mound as the pitch arrived, leading to a slightly closed stance upon initiation of his swing. Guys who do this generally are susceptible to inside fastballs.

    What’s interesting is that if you look at the gif above, Rendon is no longer coming beyond parallel with his stride and may even be still slightly open as the pitch comes in. My guess is that the Nationals worked with him to reduce the movement in his load and leave him in a better hitting position as the pitch arrives, but the teams you heard about were still relying on that old scouting report.

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  7. A DC Wonk says:

    It also occurs to me that Rendon has played almost all his games this year batting 1st or 2nd. With guys like Werth and R Zimmerman batting right behind him, it makes sense that he gets a higher percentage of fastballs, no?

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Incredibly, in the month of April he batted in every position except 3rd (even 9th). I think he was at the bottom of the order early, when it was not yet clear that he was having a breakout campaign.

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  8. Nats3256 says:

    As someone who has seen every single game he has played in the majors (most on TV), he has amazing quick hands. On top of that, he has a perfect two strike approach. He pretty much spreads they whole box and doesn’t hardly move his front foot. I would be interested to know how big of % his K rate is looking vs swinging.

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  9. Lutz says:

    When I watch that gif, it feels like Jeff did something to speed up the part where Rendon is swinging. His hands are cartoonishly fast.

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  10. @dcholcomb says:

    I wonder if his power is not respected because he is smaller in stature than most powerful hitters.

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  11. 300ZXNA says:

    As an M fan, still don’t get why JZ passed on Rendon to take Hultzen. Yes, Rendon had the shoulder injury, but drafting a pitcher to try and hedge that turned resulted in a predictable way…

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Drafting Hultzen because they were leery of a shoulder injury…

      Oh, Seattle. Nothing ever goes your way.

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    • Esoteric says:

      I hate to be the first guy to suggest this, but…maybe the Mariners’ FO isn’t all that good at identifying and developing talent.

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      • Naliamegod says:

        I say they are good at identifying talent. Some of their picks (Franklin, Seager and Walker most notably) weren’t exactly beloved at first but now look like steals.

        Developing.. er, yeah that is a different issue all together.

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  12. GK says:

    1 for 13 since this article.

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