Nationals Baseball: Rendon is the new Zimm?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Rendon is the new Zimm?

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.


Zimmerman11 said...

Better yet, let's have the BOTH show us what could have been and have Zimm '09 type years and battle it out between them for second place in MVP voting (behind Bryce Harper). :)

JWLumley said...

First of all, I didn't know I had changed my name to "commenters". Second, I don't think stats help a ton for Rendon's future production because he didn't spend much time in the minors and doesn't have two full seasons worth of AB's. To me, this is a classic case of what do your eyes tell you and does that deviate much from the stats. My eyes say this is Paul Molitor all over again. The stats don't seem to contradict that, so we'll see.

Fran said...

The thing that gives me hope on Rendon is that he was the consensus best hitter available the year the Nats drafted him. He dropped to 5 bc of injury concerns. If he stays healthy maybe he is better this year. It will be fun to watch.

I agree 100% on Zimm. If he can stay healthy this year he might very well carry the offense. He's that good of a hitter when hot.

Looks like drafting somewhat risky players in the first round with high upside has worked out so far for Rizzo. Rendon, Giolitto, and hopefully Fedde last year. Seems like they are still loading up on big name guys if possible.

Harper said...

Z11 - Meanwhile Ramos becomes Mike Piazza and Escobar is Cal Ripken! Nats win 140 games!

JW - wasn't sure if someone else was on your side, too lazy to go back and read through all of them.

Fair enough on the eyes. You're right on the data being limited all over the place. .280 18 might be most likely but the distribution of outcomes is alot wider than most players. We might have to wager on this.

(Note - I looked at Molitor. I assume you mean Paul in his 30s)

Fran - yeah him being great would be a little off from what we've seen but in line with what could have been coming out of college.

I think Zimm's best days are behind him. He's been healthy enough for me to buy that he is merely a good hitter (who can get really hot for a long stretch)

The upside deal is all about only needing to get it right once every other year. When you start missing 3 in a row the depth suffers. Hasn't happened yet but it's only been 3 years since the obv Stras/Bryce picks passed

Bjd1207 said...

@Z11 - The switch to 1B probably takes Zimm out of the running for any kind of MVP race unless he hits .300 with 30+ homers, which I think it outside the realm of reasonable possibilities. .285 with 20 homers and Zimm/Rendon level of defense at 3B is MVP worthy. .285 with 20 homers at 1B is probably average.

On the Rendon topic, the only thing that keeps him from the A-Rod, Zimm, Longoria category is the power question. The closest comp I can find for him is probably David Wright. David's hit tool was a little better, but early in his career he wasn't projected to have the type of power we eventually saw out of him. He learned how to turn his unbelievable batspeed into power to the pull side (and remarkably able to keep a .300 avg by pushing to the weak side when necessary). If Rendon hits on all cylinders I wouldn't put a 30HR out of reach. Now this is a best-case scenario type story, if Rendon turns into David Wright I'd be over the moon. But he's the upside in this projection.

The best news I get out of this post is that Rendon's floor is pretty freaking high in most estimations. We're saying that in an "off-year" our 3B will hit .260 with 13-15 HR's? Trevor Plouffe just had a comparable year for the Twins and it generated 3.5 WAR. I'll take that over the next 4 seasons

Zimmerman11 said...

@BJD ".285 with 20 homers at 1B is probably average."

I think MLB (incl AL) average is more like .250/.350/.450 ... I'll concede 20 HRs.

MLB average 1B is a 2 WAR player, or was last season. R Zimm in '09/'10 was a 6 or 7 WAR player (albeit @ 3rd base, not 1st).


ChuckD said...

Ha--love it when you all start talking HOF career starts. How about the following career start stats for the best ever:
Age 22 season: .206/.325/.294 WAR: 0.1(Sept call up--34 AB's
Age 23 season: .196/.324/.373 WAR: 1.7 --367 AB's

Oh, and throw in a combined 151 K's.

And of course, drum roll please, the "break-out" Age 24 season: .282/.395/.546 ops of .941, 36 HR's, and a WAR of 9.5!

Just goes to show you that early years can be misleading, and MJS, in my recollection, was never a big fly/tape measure shot hitter or a dead pull hitter but rather a laser shot line drive hitter with a short quick stroke. In his own words, he never tried to hit a home run…

Andrew luck said...

Dream scenario for Rendon hits .315, 25 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and gold glove defense. Nightmare scenario plays through ankle injury, hits .260, 7 home runs, 2 stolen bases, and no range because of ankle.
Dream for Zimm hits like it is 09 and never has to throw the ball overhanded. Nightmare hits .250, 10 home runs, 0 steals, and has to move back to third or left field defensively.

These are without injury for Zimm, but I can't see Rendon playing poorly without injury.

K-Ray said...

Sounds like we need to do a Rendon slash line contest much like the Detweiler ERA.

Harper said...

BJD - I don't think Rendon has that pop, given what I've seen so far I think the 20+ he put up last year was high. Maybe he works things out and can average about 25 but a 33 homer season... I just don't see it.

Z11 - the 3rd base thing matters, surely he's not going to get to 6/7 WAR without that Defensive push. It's been so long that he's hit like he has - good but not great - that I can't think that it's not his new level. Prove me wrong, Zimm.

ChuckD - eh no one is saying Rendon is going to be in the HOF. I wasn't even saying Zimm was going to be in the HOF, just that up until 2011 people, baseball people, not just fans, thought he could be on track for a HOF-type career. There's a ton that has to go right from 22-35 to even be considered so up until you get into the mid 30s all you can say is "this could happen"

As for Schmidt I think we're applying too much of today to yesterday. A slick fielder who had power and patience? (his SLG and OBP were right in line with NL average depsite the awful BA, and his HR and BB stats would be Top 20 if he played the full year) There's nothing misleading here. The thought was "If he can hit for enough average this kid can be special" and in his 2nd full season he did.

I remember Schmidt being a big boomer so who knows. HR stats weren't kept back then like they are today. Into the DeLorean!

Bjd1207 said...

@ChuckD - Man, Mike Schmidt was A-Rod before A-Rod. 14 seasons in a row with 5+ WAR? That's just absurd

@K-Ray - I'm so down. I'm gonna go with:


Almost a repeat of last year, with a bit less contact and bit more XBH

Bjd1207 said...

Also to contextualize my previous comment. I was born in 1988 whenabouts Schmidt was in decline. I definitely heard his name out of my father's mouth every time we talked about third basemen, but never got to see him play or looked much into his stats.

After spending about 20 minutes looking at them I'm really pissed I never got to see this guy play. Like I said, I turned 8 years old when A-Rod broke out in '96, so he was the gold standard for most of my developmental years. Dunno what the PED environment was like in the '70s but at least that generation didn't see their heroes writing cowardly cop-out notes that look like they were written by an elementary schooler

Sorry for venting...f A-Rod

KW said...

Here's a pertinent question: just how big is Rendon? Both B-R and Fangraphs say 6'1" 200, but I'm not buying either of those figures. ESPN has 6'0" 190, which his Rice bio also has. Every school in America inflates the size of its kids, particularly ones thought of as a bit undersized. Have any of you been close enough to him at NatsFest or elsewhere to judge? I would make him out to be more in the 5'10"-5'11" range, maybe 180. But then Harper and Werth are so big that of course Rendon is going to look like a kid cousin next to him.

If I'm recalling the draft write-ups about Rendon correctly, the consensus was that he might project to about 25 HR power. That seems on target. There was also a lot of talk about him potentially winning a batting title one day. I'd sacrifice 5-7 HRs/yr if he could get his average up to the .310 range and OBP pushing .400. His biggest offensive value to the Nats right now is getting on base.

JE34 said...

I remember an early 1980s appearance by Mike Schmidt on The Baseball Bunch. He taught his young audience to move as little as possible when a pitcher tries to throw you some chin music. Up and in? Just turn your head and stay in there... badass mind games you can play on a pitcher who's trying to intimidate you. I came to find out that the application of this to little league was not great, as pitchers were often unintentionally scatter-armed... some painful trips to first base. I like stories.

Chinatown Express said...

KW: I have a photo taken next to him at the season ticket holder thingie at Nats Park. I'm 5'8", 175, mostly muscle. He's at least 3 inches taller than me and at least as broad. 6'0" / 190 sounds totally plausible, and maybe even a little low on the weight side.

KW said...

Thanks, Chinatown. If he is that big, maybe it's not out of the realm of possibility that he can get into the 30+ HR range. I'd hate for him to go for more of a power stroke, though. Such thinking killed Danny and has hurt Desi. Just keep hitting line drives and let the chips fall where they may.

blovy8 said...

I think you're all forgetting the way the league is for offense now. Rendon hitting close to .300 with 20-25 hr, decent patience, excellent defense, and good baserunning gets you in the high WAR - MVP discussion. The guys who can hit over 30 HR sell out for power and strikeout a lot, can't run as well, usually can't play defense, and have enough other flaws to mitigate that value. It remains to be seen what Rendon can do or if his legs let him stay on the field, but his swing is very direct to the ball, strong, and simple, and THAT part makes me agree with the Molitor comp. All it took with Molitor was to get off the coke and get healthy to hit the way he could. He was certainly faster than Rendon, but I suspect the bat could have similar value.

Rendon said...

We don't need 30 home runs from Rendon if it hurts his average/obp. In three years we want the middle of our order to be Rendon ( a .300 hitter .400 obp 15-20 home runs ) Harper ( .270-280 hitter .330-340 obp 30-40 home runs ). Because we have both we don't need Miguel Cabrera numbers from either of them just very good numbers.

Zimmerman11 said...

Harper I agree the position matters, but why can't Zimm play very good 1B defense? Isn't his range going to be a lot better than LaRoche's or is it all about the number of plays you're asked to make? And 1B defensive metrics are a little strange due to the whole fielding bad throws thing... but I have to believe Zimm can do that well too. How DO you compare WAR across position changes?

I agree a 6 WAR season is not likely from number 11... but we're heading into Spring Training. Anything is possible... :)