In the face of a position change, Anthony Rendon has gotten off to a solid start with the bat in 2014. Despite a 2-for-12 showing against Oakland Athletics pitching extinguishing his dalliance with a .300 batting average for the time being, the third baseman is still in good shape, putting up a .349 weighted on-base average (league average is currently .310), good third on the Nationals.
Currently manning the hot corner while Ryan Zimmerman is on the mend with a thumb injury, Rendon has done admirably to maintain his offense after both moving across the infield from second base and his position in the batting order typically being a moving target. After receiving a baptism of fire playing second base while on the job last season and performing pretty well at his new position, the return to third and his natural position in Zimmerman’s absence was thought to be a boon for the Nationals’ team defense, considering the Gold Glove caliber skill set Rendon flashed at the collegiate and minor league levels.
The defensive numbers tell a different story for Rendon thus far. After putting up above-average defensive numbers last season and early on at second base - 6.6 and 20.4 ultimate zone rating per 150 innings (UZR/150) between 2013 and this year, respectively - Rendon’s showing at third has been less than impressive. Currently holding a minus-31.4 UZR/150, the shift back to third hasn’t reaped any benefits defensively for the Nationals. Compare this to the minus-28.6 UZR/150 he accumulated in 98 innings at third in 2013 and we find Rendon’s glove work a bit lacking. Add to this all five of his errors so far in 2014 occurring at third and a revised zone rating 294 points worse at third (.623) compared to second (.917), and the picture originally painted as Rendon being Zimmerman’s defensive equal at third isn’t as rosy at the moment.
Of course, this potentially becomes moot once Zimmerman returns from the disabled list and Rendon returns to second, sending Danny Espinosa back to the bench and his role as a defensive super sub with pop. Looking at the short- and long-term pictures at first base adds complexity to the matter, even with Adam LaRoche also on the DL, recovering from a quadriceps strain. While the chants of moving Zimmerman to first base permanently have become a little more bellicose as of late given his right shoulder and throwing woes, the way LaRoche has been hitting this season would make it very difficult to displace him from the lineup for any significant amount of time in order to get Zimmerman reps. Adding Rendon’s shaky showing thus far in extended innings at third make any thoughts for an accelerated transition of Zimmerman to first base a little less attractive, LaRoche’s contract status and trade potential notwithstanding.
As with many baseball stats, the defensive metrics discussed here can typically need a lot of data points before you can reliably tout them as indicative of a player’s talent - in particular, UZR/150 can sometimes need three years of data before any realistic conclusions can be drawn. As such, perhaps what we are seeing from Rendon at third this year and last is simply growing pains being suffered, arising from the back-and-forth across the infield he’s endured as a National. Whatever the case might be, Rendon’s hitting abilities will trump any defensive hiccups suffered for the time being. Thankfully, these defensive miscues have not affected his swing. For now, Rendon as a promising defensive third baseman will remain just that - promise.
Stuart Wallace blogs about the Nationals at District Sports Page. Follow him on Twitter: @TClippardsSpecs. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.