October 21, 2020

Statistically Speaking: Anthony Rendon’s Swing

Sitting atop the Washington Nationals leaderboard in several offensive categories, Anthony Rendon is having himself quite the start to 2014. The Texan’s long-coveted swing and bat-to-ball skills appear to be in full bloom, also displaying some tantalizing pop that some felt he might not fully develop. Here’s a quick look at some of Rendon’s numbers, compared to his rookie season:

Season PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2013 394 7.90% 17.50% 0.131 0.307 0.265 0.329 0.396 0.318 100
2014 59 6.80% 15.30%* 0.273* 0.386 0.345* 0.390 0.618* 0.426* 166*

* denotes team leader

Comparing his start to 2014 to his 2013, we see Rendon is not only making lots of contact, but is making harder contact (per his isolated power), while also continuing to develop his already keen eye for the strike zone. Let’s delve a little deeper into that eye for the strike zone and its development; here, we have Rendon’s swing and contact rates for pitches in (labeled with the prefix ‘Z-‘) and out (labeled ‘O-‘) of the strike zone:

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 9.59.42 AM

Here, we see an interesting trend—Rendon is swinging at more pitches, but making less contact compared to last season. In fact, he is swinging more at pitches outside of the zone, which is also flies in the face of his slight uptick in walk rate in 2014. Despite the slight rise in chasing pitches outside of the zone, he still shows the most restraint when comparing his O-Swing rates to his Nats cohorts; Rendon trails only Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth with respect to Z-Contact rate (89.6% versus 90.6%), but leads the team in overall contact rate, connecting with 85.6% of pitches he has seen.

Much of this possibly points to pitchers attacking Rendon differently—is this the case? Let’s take a look at Rendon’s heatmaps for pitches seen from this and last season, courtesy of Brooks Baseball; 2013 pitches are on the left, with this year’s on the right:

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 10.32.13 AM

By the looks of it, pitchers are taking a slightly different approach with Rendon, busting him inside with pitches more so than last year, when they went down and away with their most of their offerings. How is he faring with this tweaked approach? Let’s look at his batting average heatmaps, again with last season on the left, 2014 on the right:

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.28 AM

The colors are a tad misleading for 2014 simply due to sample sizes—he is still making lots of contact and getting hits on pitches in the strike zone. However, we also see that Rendon is taking those inside, slightly off the plate pitches and doing more with them this year, which is not only reflected here, but in his BABIP, currently at .386.

Let’s discuss BABIP briefly. Overall, the stat doesn’t have a strong year-to-year correlation, so the chances of Rendon maintaining and continuing his current average isn’t likely. However, popup rate (PU%) is pretty correlative year to year and is also relatively predictive of BABIP. It is also a nice way to gauge how hard a hitter is hitting the ball. With this in mind, we can take a look at Rendon’s popups and not only see the potential of his BABIP to remain above average, but also how well he is hitting the ball, not only in terms of accumulating base hits, but also how hard the contact he is making really is.

Using the formula IFFB / (FB+LD+GB) * 100, we can calculate PU%. First, let’s do this for 2013:

9 / (97+73+116) * 100 = 3.16%

To put this into contrast, Joey Votto had a 0.22 PU% in 2013, having had one IFFB; teammate Bryce Harper had a 2.1% popup rate. Comparing him to a similar hitter in terms of BABIP, Manny Machado had a 5.1% popup rate.

For 2014, Rendon, like most of the league, has a 0 PU%, so we can’t really say much about popup rate improvements just yet, as we simply don’t have enough data points. However, this correlation is something to keep in the back of our minds as the season progresses. However, looking at last year’s numbers, we do see Rendon as someone who projects to hit the ball hard as he continues to develop.

Last, let’s briefly look at Rendon’s swing. Overall, it’s one that spends a long time in the strike zone, allowing for more opportunities to make contact. He does show some ‘noisy’ hands, exhibiting lots of extra movement. However, as you can see, his hands appear to be a little less noisy:

rendon3 09-09-55-127

Click to start gif

…compared to 2013:

Verlander_strikeout_7-31-13

Click to start gif. Courtesy of www.blessyouboys.com

While these gifs aren’t the best for comparison given the first is on a fastball, while the second is on a curveball, it does show the changes in how his hands and feet are set and work throughout his approach. With that caveat noted, it appears that Rendon has also removed some extra movement with his lower half, making an already compact swing quicker, allowing him to cover all corners of the plate and also turn on those high and tight fastballs he appears to be getting more of in 2014.

Despite counter intuitive statistical changes from this season to last, we see an improved approach by Rendon, possibly brought on by some slight mechanical tweaks. He is not only taking what he is given in terms of pitches in the strike zone, but is also showing pitchers that he can turn on the inside pitch, thus opening up the outside corner for Rendon in future at bats. In terms of his BABIP and the ability to consistently make hard contact, the trends bode well; however, it’s a little to early to say with much conviction whether the BABIP we have seen from Rendon in the first month of the season will remain through the year or his career, but nonetheless, we should enjoy the show one of the best pure hitters in the game is putting on.

 

Data courtesy of FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted

 

OPINION: Stats, taken in context, help us understand the game better

In my guest blogging gig for MASNSports.com today, I wrote about Bryce Harper’s eighth inning sacrifice, Win Probability Added, and human evolution. It was a bit of a rambler, but my biggest point was this:

 You don’t get to pick and choose which stats you think are the right ones. They all are.

It drives me absolutely crazy to hear fans, players, managers or executives dismiss certain statistical evaluators, like we’re fabricating these numbers or pulling them out of thin air. WAR, or WPA, or wOBA, or wRC+, or ISO, or FIP, or UZR… all of those numbers are in the game every bit as much as batting average or earned run average.

It’s just that those “in the game” have been using the traditional statistical evaluators for over a century and some others were “invented” by folks not actually “in the game” in the past two decades.

Just because a statistical evaluator was created by math whiz doesn’t mean it’s any more or less legitimate than those we’ve been using for 120 years.

Each, in their own way, tells part of the story about what’s going on out there. No single statistical evaluator can tell us exactly how efficient a particular player is in his chosen craft. Some of them give us a better idea than others. But each should be taken in the context it is presented.

The “new stats” weren’t created to make following the game more difficult. They were developed to help us more deeply understand the game. Or help us compare players on a more neutral field. Or help us compare current players against the past more accurately. They weren’t created to confuse, but enlighten.

Fangraphs.com has a glossary of many of the “new stats”. They don’t hide their formulas. There’s a lot to take in, but if you take a couple of minutes most of the “new stats” are pretty simple to understand. Sure, there are some concepts that might take a few moments to think about before they make total sense. But they are all as rooted in the game as ERA, which is not a particularly good or accurate method to evaluate a pitcher.

Here’s another chunk of my MASN column to think about:

Back in the old days, they invented batting average and earned run average as a method of evaluating players side-by-side since they weren’t able to watch every game in person.

Yes, there was an era before computers. Before television. Even before radio was popular. If you wanted to know what type of ball player a guy was, you has to see him in person. You had to travel for days and hope for no rain out. There was little scouting and even less statistical evaluation. That’s why they started to keep track of these things, in order to be able to evaluate players without actually seeing them in person.

Even though every single game is now on TV and we have video of each player going back to their middles school games, we’re still looking for more clear statistical evidence to measure a player’s effectiveness. PITCHF/x and batted ball data are taking us into the next phase of statistical evaluation, and it all helps us better understand the game.

Statheads and seamheads have been at odds for decades. They don’t have to be. Each individual statistical evaluator only tells part of the story. Taken in context, they are part of the big picture. If you love the game, it’s worth your while to become more familiar with these concepts. It’s just a little math, that’s all.

D.C. United GAME 6 ANALYSIS: United scoring woes resemble those of club’s worst seasons

“It could be worse,” is often the tag line of the defeated, the thing someone says at the end of a bad day at work, a rough commute home, or upon finding out that someone stole your last cookie.

It might have been stated by one or two folks leaving RFK Stadium Saturday night, after D.C. United lost to the New York Red Bulls, 2-0. There aren’t many things worse than losing to your arch-rival, and United is winless against New York in two tries now this season (0-1-1, no goals scored).

But, United does have 4 points this season, though; they are 1-4-1, so in literal terms – yes, it could be worse. Heck, United went without a win at all in the first six matches of the 2003 season – though it should be noted that with four draws and two losses, that 2003 team had as many points after six matches as the current version does.

In fact, 2003 was the only season United failed to win a game in the first six. Of late, the early season hasn’t treated DC very well. The club hasn’t won as many as three of its first six matches in any season since 2006 (3-1-2). An anomaly there is 2009, when United went 2-1-3 in the first six, good for 9 points. Nine points would have United tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference this season. United are 6-14-4 over the last four years in the first six league matches of the season.

What is unprecedented, however, is the lack of goal production from United to start 2013. The two goals scored in six matches are the lowest number United has ever had at this point in any season – this is United’s 18th campaign as one of Major League Soccer’s charter clubs. The closest marks of futility to this year’s team were in 2010, when United, like this season, were shutout four times in the first six matches. However that year, United also scored twice in a pair of games to bank four goals after 540 minutes. United also only scored four goals in the first six matches of 2003, being shutout three times, scoring a single goal twice, and netting 2 in the season opener.

To put the numbers in perspective, consider in 1997 (which admittedly, is a completely different generation of MLS), United scored 16 goals in the first six matches, including five in a game twice. From 1997-2001, United scored at least 10 goals in the first six matches every year. United hasn’t scored five in a league match since 2006, a 5-1 home win over the Columbus Crew. The club record for goals in a game is six, done twice – most recently in 2004, also the last time United won MLS Cup.

Thinking about that stat of 16 goals in six games from 1997 (not including an added goal in the standings for a shootout win over Los Angeles), this United club is on pace to score 11 goals for the whole 2013 season.

It’s not been often that United have dealt with such a scoring drought. Early in MLS, goals seemed easy to find for DC, and tallying three or four per game was far from rare. Not surprisingly, United were also the league’s best club, winning MLS Cup in 1996, 1997, and 1999, while losing the 1998 final.

When the club’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in 2002 and United finished dead last in the league with 32 points (it was 10 teams then), United suffered its worst barren run. In a seven-game stretch from July 6 to August 10, United scored one goal – that coming in a 3-1 loss at home to Columbus on July 13. United were shutout in the other six games, earning points from three scoreless draws (at Chicago twice; home to Kansas City). United went scoreless in five consecutive matches from July 20 to August 10. The drought ended on August 17, when United managed a 2-2 tie at San Jose.

United finished that 2002 season 9-14-5, barely averaging more than a goal per game (31 goals in 28 matches, 1.11 per game). Bobby Convey and Ali Curtis tied for the club lead with five goals each. With a 34-game schedule now, this year’s club would need to score 36 goals in the final 28 games to match that 1.11 clip. Lionard Pajoy and Rafael’s one goal each lead the club now. Carlos Ruiz, now with United, led MLS in goals in 2002 with 24 while playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The 2010 season offers the only other examples of United scoring as few as two goals in a six-match period. The first came from April 17 to May 22, when United were shutout five times, and scored twice in a 2-1 win vs. Kansas City on May 5 (the only time in the run where the club earned any points). Later in 2010, United managed just two goals over seven matches – from June 26 to August 7. The club went 0-5-2 during that span.

That 2010 team also finished dead last in MLS, with 22 points from 30 matches (6-20-4), and only 21 goals scored. Like 2002, it only took five goals to win top honors on the team in 2010 – with Andy Najar and Danny Allsopp sharing the lead. United were shutout 17 times in 2010, as opposed to 12 times in 2002. San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski led the league with 18 goals, while Dwayne De Rosario, the currently United midfielder then with Toronto FC, was third with 15.

Even though it’s early, there’s only one team in the league right now with fewer points than United, the Seattle Sounders, who have yet to win (0-3-2), and like United, have only scored twice. The Chicago Fire are also 1-4-1 and have four points.

Is it time to panic? With 28 matches left, maybe not. Is it time for changes? It has to be, but what can United do? Lionard Pajoy has started all six matches, played 514 minutes (meaning he’s only missed 26) and has one goal and just two shots on goal. Ruiz, acquired during the offseason, hasn’t played more than 26 minutes in any match this year and has yet to start. Ruiz does have four shots on goal in 79 minutes. Rafael scored on his debut vs. Columbus, but his long-range strike in that match is still his only shot on goal in 180 minutes over three appearances (all starts). Reserve Casey Townsend, 23, played for the Richmond Kickers (where he is on loan) over the weekend, and scored twice in a 4-1 win over Charleston.

While that is putting everything on the forwards, and there are more factors to the scoring issues than that, any team must have someone dangerous up front to contend. United has shown so far not to have such a danger. It may be that the answer lies outside the organization via trade, etc. But whatever happens, history has shown that United can’t continue down this path of meager offense. The moral of the story is, both years United have had such historic scoring droughts, they’ve finished as the worst team in the league. Which is no surprise really, bad teams often can’t score and teams that can’t score often are bad teams.

But it would have been difficult prior to the season to envision United finishing dead last in the league in 2013, especially off a successful season and playoff run last year. Something has to be done soon in order to change United’s path before it is too late.

Ed Morgans is a Contributor to District Sports Page, covering D.C. United. For in-game analysis and story notifications, follow him on Twitter @edmorgans.

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