Years ago, I set in the cold, metal bleachers for a night game at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, Va. I was there not only because I enjoy baseball, but to watch a Nationals prospect named Anthony Rendon. It is easy to tell the legit prospects from the organizational talent at that level and it has nothing to do with skill. Rendon was giant compared to the other minor leaguers. Looking at him now it would be hard to believe. He’s not a large major league player but compared to the other Carolina League players, he was massive. That wasn’t the only thing that was easy to notice about him. When he came to bat, the air seemed to leave the stadium with a sense of anticipation. That this was the at-bat that something would happen.
Often with Rendon, something does happen in his at bats. He isn’t nicknamed “Tony Two Bags” for nothing. I remember watching him then and thinking that this is a player born to win a batting title. Rendon has admitted to being bored by baseball. To him, the batter’s box is more of an office than a playground. I am certain he enjoys his work, but to him it is work, and like a true craftsman, he has set himself apart as a master. That is why it was so insulting that he was snubbed from the All-Star Game. Rendon isn’t just the best third baseman in the National League in 2017, he is the NL’s best player. Most valuable, if you will.
That day at Single-A Potomac, Rendon lived in full counts, and when he found the right pitch to swing at, he’d lash a line drive to some part of the field. At that low level, he was already a complete hitter. He could recognize and pull the inside pitch and recognize the outside pitch and take it the other way, and if he got a pitch he could do nothing with, he’d let it go by. Rendon knew then and knows now how to approach an at-bat. He’s looking for the pitch he can do damage with, and if he doesn’t get it, he’s not going to waste a swing.
The argument for Rendon for MVP is going to be made using advanced stats like WAR and UZR, but I’m not certain it has to be. The concepts behind the advanced stats are more important than the stats themselves. Rendon leads the NL in WAR because of his defense and while there aren’t a lot of traditional stats that quantify how good Rendon is, anyone that has watched how smooth he is at the hot corner knows he’s good. Rendon’s problem is he isn’t flashy. I remember Carlos Beltrán in his prime in center field. Beltrán never dove; he never needed to. He glided under baseballs that a lesser center fielder would be sprinting and leaping and diving to catch. Rendon is that way at third. He comes in, snags it on a bounce and tosses on to first as effortlessly as anyone. Good defense is more about reading the ball off the bat and taking the right route than it is showy dives and jump throws.
Rendon isn’t a showman. He’s a workman. Watch a professional artist sometime. The brush glides over the canvas and what it leaves behind is incredible, but the artist themselves seems to make no great effort. That is how Rendon is. He makes it look easy. At the plate, he has a smooth lashing swing that effortlessly sends baseballs careening into a gap; in the field, he moves to the baseball with ease knowing where it will be from his read off the bat. Rendon is good at everything baseball. He is the only player among the top three in NL WAR that FanGraphs ranks as a positive in offense, defense and baserunning. Redon is a complete player.
We’ve come to see in recent years that it is hard to count on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to make an intelligent decision. If I had to make a guess on who will be NL MVP, I’d choose Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, but there are plenty of voters who won’t vote for a defensive stalwart like Rendon who also won’t vote for a player on a non-playoff team. Those voters may turn to Kris Bryant or Paul Goldschmidt, but their offensive stats are similar enough to Rendon’s that those voters wouldn’t have a good argument as to why they snubbed him. Rendon is the Most Valuable Player in the NL and in a fair world he’d win it. But when counting on the votes of the BBWAA, it is hard to say what will happen.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals at Citizens of Natstown. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHuzzard. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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 regular roster of writers.