Anthony Rendon Is the Nationals’ Mr. Anonymous. He Shouldn’t Be.
In the fall of 2011, not long after the Washington Nationals selected third baseman Anthony Rendon with the sixth overall draft pick, he was taking batting practice at the team’s spring training facility in Florida.
Rick Schu, a former major league third baseman, was the Nationals’ minor league hitting coordinator at the time and quickly sized up Rendon, who was a lean 6-footer.
“Who is this guy?” Schu said he said to himself. “A first-round pick? He needs to be like 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. Then I saw him take his first round of B.P. and said, ‘Oh, there it is.’”
And there it has continued to be as Rendon, with wrists so strong that his college coach once compared them to Hank Aaron’s, has gone on to establish himself as a key figure on a Nationals club that is back in the postseason, hoping to finally get past the first round.
And yet on a team of bigger names — Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman — the 27-year-old Rendon almost seems to be hiding, drawing little attention or acclaim. Perhaps it has something to do with that swing, which is so relaxed and unassuming — a flick of those wrists and little movement — that it appears unlikely to do all that much damage.
Except that it does. And the result is that Rendon was arguably the best overall player on the Nationals this season, as he was in 2014.
Consider this season’s credentials: He posted a .301 average with 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in. Advanced statistics and scouts rank him among the elite third basemen defensively. While he stole only seven bases, he is an astute and swift base runner. “That’s the best part of Rendon’s game that is really under the radar,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said.
This season, Rendon was one of only seven qualified hitters with a batting average of at least .300, an on-base percentage of at least .400 and a slugging percentage of at least .500, putting him in the same category as two former winners of a Most Valuable Player Award — Joey Votto and Mike Trout — and a potential future winner, Jose Altuve.
“There are always two or three guys that fit into that mold that are really good players that nobody really knows about,” Zimmerman said. “They don’t really get the recognition that they should. The problem is that Tony likes it better that way. He’ll continue to stay that way because he wants to.”
Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon, who will have to deal with Rendon repeatedly in a first-round series that started on Friday, said: “I’ve been a fan since I’ve seen him, but didn’t know much about him before. He’s a really good baseball player. He looks like he has a high baseball I.Q.”
On the other hand, few baseball fans probably know that it was Rendon who ended up tied with Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, at 6.9, for the National League lead in FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement for position players — the advanced statistic that attempts to quantify everything a player does on the field.