Two weeks ago, stories trying to decipher Anthony Rendon’s slow start began to populate the Internet. Rendon hit .103 in his first 12 games after a late start to the season because of an oblique issue. He even threw his helmet after striking out -- a rare show of frustration from a stoic player. So, what was wrong with the high-priced Angels’ acquisition, 2019 National League MVP finalist and former Nationals star? Well, nothing.
Rendon is suddenly tied for fifth in fWAR in Major League Baseball. HIs OPS is 1.018. His on-base percentage is .441. All of this despite his batting average on balls in play being a mere .271, meaning “luck” is largely running against him. That’s 52 points lower than last year.
A nine-game hitting streak has flipped his season the same way the first 12 games put Rendon in a hole. He, at the moment, is the best-performing hitter on the Angels, outpacing Mike Trout. Angels manager Joe Maddon saw this coming.
“For me, it’s just a matter of time with this guy,” Maddon said Aug. 11. “It will be a rhythm thing or a feel thing, and once he gets ignited, once he gets toasty, man … it’s not going to go away.” The Nationals choosing to pay Stephen Strasburg instead of Rendon last offseason will be a topic for the next seven years. Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the organization could only afford to pay one of the team’s stars. It picked Strasburg for an identical amount. Rendon left for Anaheim. The Nationals replaced him with rookie Carter Kieboom.
So, two parallel comparison points will exist going forward: Rendon versus Strasburg, and Rendon versus whomever plays third base in Washington for the next seven years. The immediate contrast is apparent: Rendon is a far better player than Kieboom, as well as a far more experienced and higher-priced player. Kieboom has a 71 OPS-plus to start the season. Rendon’s is 100 points higher.
Strasburg is currently on the injured list because of a wrist impingement in his right hand which is causing nerve irritation. He is scheduled to see a nerve specialist Thursday. The Nationals are discussing what to do with him the rest of the season.
None of this is to declare a “winner” in the offseason decision-making 20 games into the pandemic-stricken 2020 season. Years will be necessary to do that. But, it does emulate the risk of a known commodity versus a dice roll.
Rendon excelling to start this year is no surprise. Everything he did last season appeared replicable in the near-term. Though his 2019 numbers marked career-bests in numerous categories, his path to them was not filled with outlier scenarios. His walk and strikeout percentages were within career norms. His BABIP was up a tick (nine points), but not an outlandish amount. Rendon’s isolated power took off in 2019. However, it was increasing year-over-year for three years. This was the expectation.
The Nationals will endure these comps for years to come. Should they have paid the everyday position player instead of a starting pitcher? Should they have relied on an MVP finalist instead of a rookie? The only thing clear in this moment is Rendon is indeed “toasty.”