Anthony Rendon Thrives in Bryce's Shadow as 1 of MLB's Best Bang-for-Buck Stars

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 27:  Anthony Rendon #6 of the Washington Nationals celebrates during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park on July 27, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
G Fiume/Getty Images

As far as pundits and casual fans are concerned, the Washington Nationals lineup might as well be called Bryce Harper and the Other Dudes.

Harper has been a magnet for attention since he broke into the league with his brash, outsized personality and preternatural talent. Making five All-Star teams and winning a National League Rookie of the Year and MVP award before his 25th birthday hasn't dimmed his star.

There's another hitter in the Nats' order, however, who is thriving in Harper's shadow.

That would be Anthony Rendon, one of the top third basemen in the game and one of MLB's best bang-for-your-buck stars at any position.

Yeah, we could have aimed our focus on second baseman Daniel Murphy, who is hitting .329 with 17 home runs. Or we could have honed in on first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and his .309 average and 24 homers.

Washington is running away with the NL East for a reason.

Rendon is often overshadowed by his teammates, including superstar Bryce Harper.
Rendon is often overshadowed by his teammates, including superstar Bryce Harper.G Fiume/Getty Images

Rendon, however, surpasses Murphy, Zimmerman and even Harper, according to FanGraphs' WAR calculation.

Zimmerman sits at 1.9 WAR, Murphy is at 2.7 and Harper owns a mark of 4.9. Then there's Rendon and his 5.4, the third-highest total among position players in either league.

WAR isn't a perfect measure of value. As a shorthand, however, it does just fine. In this case, it highlights Rendon's unheralded prowess.

The sixth overall pick by the Nationals in 2011, Rendon made his big league debut in 2013. The following season, he won a Silver Slugger award and finished fifth in NL MVP balloting.

An injury-plagued 2015 and fine-but-unspectacular 2016 followed. It was worth asking if Rendon would ever live up to his potential. Four months into the 2017 campaign, consider that question answered.

The 27-year-old is slashing .314/.419/.578 with 21 home runs and is the best defensive third baseman in the game, according to FanGraphs.

Somehow, Rendon was left off the NL All-Star roster, a snub that sparked a protracted Twitter battle between the Nationals and Colorado Rockies, whose own third baseman, Nolan Arenado, started the Midsummer Classic.

Rendon has been the best defensive third baseman in the game according to FanGraphs.
Rendon has been the best defensive third baseman in the game according to FanGraphs.Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

In addition to Arenado, an unassailable stud on offense and defense, the Senior Circuit is blessed with some elite third basemen, including Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs and Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Despite his prodigious output, Rendon is the forgotten man.

"I think he's highly underrated in this league, especially when everybody talks about the third basemen," Nats manager Dusty Baker said in April, per Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post.

"He's a pretty quiet guy," Zimmerman added. "Doesn't really do anything to draw attention to himself that much. So, when you do that, I don't want to say he flies under the radar, but you can do what he does and not get as much 'pub' as you should."

The best part, for Washington, is that Rendon is eminently affordable. He's making just $5.8 million this season, and while that will tick upward in his next year of arbitration eligibility, he's under club control through 2019.

For more context on Rendon's exploits, we turn to The Ringer's Michael Baumann:

"Since April 30, Rendon [has] walked 45 times and had 41 extra-base hits and just 32 strikeouts. '[Joey] Votto at a tougher defensive position' is a good way to describe that level of production. You might also try Jose Altuve with less speed and more walks, but after that there really isn't a great reference point for what Rendon is doing, and how he's doing it."

Rendon leads the Nationals in WAR yet is making just $5.8 million this season.
Rendon leads the Nationals in WAR yet is making just $5.8 million this season.Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The next test for Rendon and the Nationals will come in October. They're a lock to win the NL East, but the franchise has never advanced past the division series.

It's not all on Rendon; Washington has a deep, balanced attack on the mound and in the batter's box.

If he keeps shining on the playoff stage, however, he may finally get the recognition he deserves. Heck, the Nats might even be known as Bryce Harper and the Other Dudes Featuring Anthony Rendon.

                 

All statistics current as of Wednesday and courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs.

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