While discussing the offense, the commenters and I have had a little back and forth about the projections for Rendon. A young player (25 in June) who had an excellent pedigree, there was a question of why I would project a slight decrease in performance for 2015.
The fancy stat argument exists but it isn't very compelling. His strikeout rate (15.2%) lags behind the strikeout rate he put up in the minors. Looking at his swing stats - he isn't being more discerning though. He's swinging more and his contact rate has dropped a bit, mainly for pitches in the zone. These are the pitches you generally hit well. What's happening is muddled but from what I can glean he's dramatically reduced his strikeout looking percentage (43.5% to 32.7%) I haven't gone through a ton of players but it doesn't look like a stable stat to me.
Rendon's HR power is also in question. He hit a fair number of home runs that barely got enough distance and a few that wouldn't have went out in any other park. Some I'm sure will argue "He hits line drive home runs!" but he doesn't average an elevation angle that much lower than the average home run and about half of his barely HRs were normal fly ball type homeruns.
The BABIP going up (.314) seems a little high and it's a little strange that it went up given that his LD% went down (25.5% to 20.4%). So the average is probably a skooch higher than it should have been.
Off the plate, which is the only thing we were talking about but I'll expand the discussion, his SB total of 17 is way higher than he had in the minors and seems questionably aggressive for someone with ankle issues. His fielding is good, but those things can be notoriously fickle on an annual basis.
We looked at all the data going into last year and came up with an idea of how he would hit in 2014, weighing the most recent data (.265 stint with ok power) heaviest. I would have pegged him for something like just over .270 with a SLG of like .420. In the alternate universe where he hit that, maybe I'd go up to just under .280 with a SLG of like .450 for 2015. But in this universe he passed my bar set for 2014 easily. So we adjust the projection up. But we're still doing the same thing as last year. We're taking all the data. The same data that had us at .270 and say 13 homers last year. If you do that, last years numbers won't be the floor for 2015. It'll be something less.
Taking all this above into account is how I end up with something a half-step back from last year. .280 slugging .455, so like 16/17 homers, something in that neighborhood. I think most stat guys will agree with me. That's still very good!
Now the fun part about players like Rendon is that he's young and we don't have a lot of data so there is a lot of variability in the projections. He could absolutely get even better. He could go out there and threaten .300 and... well I have a tough time seeing 30 homers but maybe 25? Totally possible, but I'd say unlikely. It's also possible, and more unlikely given the recent success, that he regresses and hits say .260 again with say 12 homers. I don't see it but it's out there. For what it's worth the fans basically say he'll stay the same. That's a pretty good guess, too.
If Rendon DOES stay the same, or gets a little better, that will be very exciting for the future. Rendon will basically be Ryan Zimmerman redux. Not the Ryan Zimmerman that the Nats have had, who's been perfectly fine since 2011, but the Ryan Zimmerman the Nats could have had. The one that could have been a team-carrier. Let's see how the two compare.
First full year
Rendon : .287 / .351 / .473
Zimm : .287 / .351 / .471
That's a bit scary, right? Now of course if you're smart you'll say "Harper, Rendon did that when he was 24. Zimm was 21 when he did that. It isn't comparable". Ok then how about this
Age 24 year
Rendon : .287 / .351 / .473 125 OPS+
Zimm : .292 / .364 / .525 133 OPS+*
Rendon isn't quite the hitter Zimmerman was in his prime but only just a touch off. Zimm back then was almost certainly a better fielder than Rendon is now, but Rendon is very good and a bigger threat on the basepaths. Overall Zimm was probably more valuable but only just enough for separation. Zimm was Top 3 level, Rendon, probably more Top 5-10.
It's easy now to overlook how good Zimm was back during that time period, because it was easy then to overlook how good Zimm was. For a period from late July 2008 (when he returned from injury) through early April 2011 (when he'd go out again for injury reasons), Ryan Zimmerman was a Top 5 player in the major leagues and a legit MVP candidate. He never got his due because he played on lousy teams (the 2008-2010 teams won 59, 59, and 69 games respectively) and because you had a lot of 3B competition. Evan Longoria was arguably the 2nd best player in the majors during this time. For the Red Sox, Youk had a great 2009, then gave up his spot to Beltre who had a great 2010. For the Yankees, A-Rod had his last great year in 2009. Zimm couldn't help being an "Hey! Over here!" type. How bad was the overlook? Last year Rendon finished 5th in the MVP voting, a completely deserved vote total. 2009 Zimm hit better and fielded better than 2014 Rendon did and ended up 25th.
When Zimm came on in 2006 there were people who immediately thought he could have a Hall of Fame type career. After a misstep and an injury people grew wary, but 2009 & 2010 turned them back into believers. Unfortunately that ab injury would knock Zimm's power and hurt his fielding which would then break down further with his arm troubles. He was so good that he's still useful but he's no longer a star and the chance at a HoF-type career is long gone. You can't help but wonder what could have been and with Rendon, in a way, we have a chance to see.
*What happened? It got tougher to hit. When Zimm entered the league the NL batting line was .265 / .334 / .427. When he had his best season in 2010 it was .255 / .324 / .399. By the time Rendon had his breakout year it was .249 / .312 / .383.