Washington Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon has made the jump from impressive rookie to elite player in the span of a season.
Rendon has fared very well in the basic stats -- a .285 batting average with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs. He ranks sixth among National League position players with 5.9 wins above replacement.
But there's something he's currently doing that no one else has managed to replicate. In making the move from second base back to third base, where he played in college at Rice, Rendon has made significant statistical improvements defensively. He has nine defensive runs saved (DRS), which ranks eighth among third basemen (he also has four DRS at second base in the games he's played there).
For a third baseman, DRS is based on the ability to turn batted balls into outs, convert double plays and defend bunts. The majority of Rendon's defensive rating comes from his defending bunts like no one else in the 12 years that the stat has been tracked. Rendon has six defensive runs saved specifically from fielding bunts. No one else in the majors has more than two. In fact, no player has recorded as many as six runs saved in the 12 seasons in which this stat has been tracked.
One of the reasons for this is volume: The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that Rendon leads the majors with 22 assists on bunts this season. Rendon has nailed the lead runner on bunts three times and recorded a double play once (those four plays provide a nice spike to his numbers). He's also recorded at least one out on each of the sacrifice attempts against him this season. In all, he's fielded 26 bunts, and they've resulted in at least one out 23 times. That's a success rate that hasn’t been matched.
Watch Rendon's highlight reel of bunt defense and a few things stand out. A look at one bunt by Peter Bourjos illustrates Rendon's abilities well.
He anticipates well, as was noted on the broadcast, allowing him to get really close to home plate without fear that the hitter is going to swing away. He has good fundamentals when it comes to picking the ball up with his bare hand. Baseball Info Solutions (which devised the DRS metric) has tallied barehand plays for us this season. Rendon is tied for second among infielders with 13, two behind major league leader Nolan Arenado.
Rendon also has a strong throwing arm, one that has suited him well at the hot corner and allows him to nail the fastest players in baseball, including Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton on another bunt attempt worth watching.
Some may knock the advanced defensive stats for the manner in which they're calculated. But in some cases, they allow us to become aware of things we wouldn't possibly know otherwise.
This is one of those instances. We already knew that Rendon was a well-skilled player in all aspects of the game. It just turns out he's performing one skill far better than anyone knew.