WASHINGTON -- Brian Dozier saw this back at Southern Mississippi. He was a senior, Anthony Rendon was a freshman at Rice, the two crossing paths in Conference USA play.
Rendon was named Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year in 2009 when he hit .388 with 20 home runs. Just about every other award a freshman -- or otherwise -- could win was bestowed on him: District VII Player of the Year, Conference USA player of the Year, Conference USA All-Tournament team, and so on.
“When you come across guys like that you know are going to be really good in the big leagues, you keep up with what they do in the minor leagues, their career in the big leagues” Dozier told NBC Sports Washington.
Dozier has the talent right in front of him this year. Rendon’s opening run is akin to his college domination, though not quite as preposterous. Rendon had more homers (26) than strikeouts (22) his sophomore season at Rice. That’s not happening at the major-league level for anyone.
What has transpired in these first weeks is a Rendon weight lift which has helped keep the 7-7 Nationals afloat. Entering Monday, Rendon was third in the majors in OPS. His 231 OPS-plus (adjusted for park factors) is second in the National League. He’s also second in runs created. In essence, he is the Nationals’ offense through 14 games.
Good luck getting Rendon to explain why his offensive success occurs. He still doesn’t want to talk about his play, if possible. His go-to answer is semi-rhetorical when shrugging off questions about success: If he knew the answer it would always be like this. Fair point.
He also notes the fickleness of baseball. Stretches of good contact can lead to outs. And, his current BABIP (batting average on balls in play) backs his assertion sometimes balls land on grass when otherwise caught. Rendon’s BABIP is .381 so far this season, almost 70 points ahead of his career average.
Up along with his BABIP is his hard contact percentage. Rendon is making hard contact 47.9 percent of the time. That’s 11 percent higher than his career average.
And, early season analysis can show extremes. Rendon’s numbers will decline. So maybe assessing his value to the Nationals is better done by looking at the gap between him and his closest teammate in a variety of offensive categories.
In Runs Created, Rendon is 25 spots ahead of Victor Robles, who ranks 27th in the National League. His 0.9 WAR is almost five times that of Yan Gomes -- 0.2 -- who is second on the team among regulars or those not on the injured list (Howie Kendrick and Trea Turner would be on this list otherwise). Rendon is second in NL OPS, Robles is 24th, Juan Soto 39th, Adam Eaton 45th.
Most of what Rendon does at the plate is predicated on simplicity. His stance is open in order to swing his dominant right eye into a better visual position. His hands have a brief path to load. He picks his foot up, puts it down, then lets his hands and hip torque work. In short, a lot of direct lines to the ball.
“The biggest thing for me being a new teammate of his is how well he slows the game down,” Dozier said. “We preach that, especially to younger guys, all the time. The more you can slow the game down, you feel like you can wait an eternity before the ball comes. You can get it out front. That kind of thing. He’s doing a really good job of slowing the game down.”
Rendon stopped for a rare baseball chat at the end of last season. Here’s what he said about his stance:
“I’ve always been open,” Rendon said. “My whole life. Sometimes I’ll get more closed, I’ll get even. It’s more just comfortability for me. That’s where I feel comfortable, then I was always told it doesn’t matter where you stand as long as you get in a position to get ready to hit the ball. Remember Tony Batista? He was wide open, but he came down to here [pulls a leg in] every single time. I think it’s just all feel.”
He’s found the right touch the first two weeks of the season. He just needs some of his teammates to come along with him.
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