Anthony Rendon Exploding into $200 Million Superstar with Bryce Harper Gone

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 18, 2019

Washington Nationals' Anthony Rendon bats during a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

The Washington Nationals are trying to succeed with Anthony Rendon where they failed with Bryce Harper.

Per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post, Washington's best offer to Harper was for 10 years and $300 million, but with $100 million in deferred money. The 2015 National League MVP smartly held out for a 13-year, $330 million free-agent contract with Washington's NL East rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies.

Evidently wary of also losing Rendon to free agency this coming winter, general manager Mike Rizzo and principal owner Mark Lerner met with the 28-year-old on Tuesday about a possible contract extension, according to Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports.

It's notable that Tuesday's meeting was the latest stage in talks that have been happening on and off for more than a year. Though no deal has been struck, some momentum might exist. 

Unless, of course, Rendon wants to keep turning the screw by pursuing an MVP of his own.

Though his first 16 games of 2019, Rendon has indeed been hitting like an MVP with a .387/.458/.806 batting line and 14 extra-base hits.

After serving up one of Rendon's two home runs last Friday, Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams didn't hold back with what he thought of Washington's third baseman.

"He's the best player in baseball right now. I thought I made a good pitch, and he put a better swing on it," he said, per MLB.com's Jamal Collier. "What he's doing right now is very impressive. It's fun to watch when we're not playing him. It's tough to watch when we are playing him."

Though this may be the first time anyone has pointed to Rendon as the best player in all of Major League Baseball, his status as the best player in Washington, D.C. is actually nothing new. He was often lost in Harper's shadow during their six seasons as teammates, yet he (21.0) outpaced Harper (18.5) in wins above replacement between 2014 and 2018, according to Baseball Reference

Rendon was particularly good in 2017 and 2018, across which he put up a .923 OPS with 49 homers and 10.1 WAR. A largely banged-up and inconsistent Harper could muster only 5.9 WAR.

Still, Rendon apparently didn't put too high a price on himself in talks with the Nationals. According to a January report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, he had been shooting for a deal comparable to Jose Altuve's seven-year, $163.5 million contract extension with the Houston Astros.

The big picture changed in February, however, when the Colorado Rockies signed superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million extension. Rendon is less than a year older than Arenado, and the two have actually been equal offensive players once the Coors Field effect is accounted for.

Speculatively, that gave Rendon an excuse to push his price closer to $200 million before the 2019 season even began. Now the only question may be why he wouldn't demand a nine-figure deal that starts with a two.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12:  Anthony Rendon #6 of the Washington Nationals hits a solo home run in the eighth inning during a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on April 12, 2019 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Get
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

There's always been little to dislike about the way Rendon handles himself at the plate, but there's basically nothing to dislike right now. He's achieved a sort of hitting nirvana in which he's swinging strictly at pitches that are good to hit and putting them right on the barrel.

The progression of Rendon's overall swing rate is a zig-zagging line, but he's been zeroing in on pitches in the heart of the strike zone like a T-800 on a member of the Connor clan. Baseball Savant tracks swing rates for that specific area, and Rendon's keeps going upward:

  • 2015: 64.9 percent
  • 2016: 67.9 percent
  • 2017: 69.0 percent
  • 2018: 75.5 percent
  • 2019: 77.8 percent

As Rendon's aggression against these pitches has increased, so too has his slugging percentage against them. It currently stands at a whopping .917.

Not coincidentally, Rendon's average launch angle (20.6 degrees) and exit velocity (94.9 mph) are also the best they've been in the Statcast era. And lest anyone think that combination of numbers is common, this plot shows the opposite is true:

Data courtesy of BaseballSavant.MLB.com

This doesn't quite translate to Rendon being the best hitter in baseball, but he's high up there. According to Statcast's xwOBA metric—based on strikeouts, walks and contact quality—his .532 mark trails only Mike Trout (0.542) and Cody Bellinger (0.584).

At this point, Rendon's defensive metrics, which are in the red so far, are the only things worth griping about. But it's a tad early to take those readings at face value, especially since he has generally rated as a well-above-average defensive third baseman.

All this puts Rendon firmly in the driver's seat for extension talks with the Nationals, though he has yet another reason not to rush things to the finish line. 

Not too long ago, he was slated to be just one star among many on the 2019-20 market. But Arenado took himself off the list when he signed his deal, and Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, Paul Goldschmidt and Justin Verlander swiftly followed suit. As a result, Rendon is now slated to be this winter's best free agent.

If he doesn't get a $200 million deal from the Nationals sometime this summer, he'll almost certainly get one on the open market should he keep doing what he's been doing.

For their part, Nationals fans have been vocal about what they would do with Rendon if it were up to them: "Lock him up."

                  

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant

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