Anthony Rendon is an All-Star. Finally.
Once again, the fans did not vote Rendon to be the starting third baseman for the National League (he finished fifth at his position). However, in a shocking break from tradition, the powers that be actually selected him to be a reserve. To paraphrase a 2017 quote from former Washington Nationals teammate Daniel Murphy, they must have finally gone to FanGraphs. As such, they knew that heading into Sunday's announcement, Rendon ranked 12th in the majors in WAR among position players, and second among NL third basemen. In other words, Rendon has been one of the best players in baseball this year. Still, he gets no love from the electorate. This should come as no surprise.
Since the beginning of 2014, his first full season in the majors, Rendon has established himself as one of the best all-around players in the bigs. During that time, he has amassed a total of 27.9 WAR, which ranks seventh among all position players. The top 30 players on that list have combined to make 78 All-Star appearances over the past five seasons, and every one of them has been to the Midsummer Classic at least once -- except for Rendon. Until this week, he was basically MLB's version of Glenn Close.
If you're a baseball fan, you probably know Close from the classic 1984 flick "The Natural." She played Iris Gaines, Roy Hobbs' hometown girlfriend, a role that earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination from Academy Award voters. It was the third time she was nominated, and the third time she lost. Since then, Close has received four more Oscar nominations (including earlier this year for "The Wife"), and all four times she's whiffed. If you're scoring at home, she's now 0-for-7 lifetime and is arguably the greatest actress who has never won an Academy Award.
Unlike the Oscar voters' repeated snubbing of Close, the fact that All-Star balloters have never voted in Rendon is only mildly surprising. After all, the fan balloting is typically dominated by players whose teams draw really well and/or have an intensely passionate following, and the Nats don't really fit into either category. Plus, stat-stuffer guys like Rendon -- versatile players who do a bunch of things well but don't have one obviously eye-popping stat -- tend to get lost in the shuffle. Especially when they're pathologically quiet, like a certain Nats third baseman.
Having said all that, the fact Rendon had never been named a reserve -- an honor not determined by the masses and therefore considered to be significantly more meritocratic than the fan vote -- was a whole lot harder to swallow. But not impossible. Here's how it happened:
2014: The Nobody Really Knew Who He Was Yet Year
The fans messed this one up royally by voting Aramis Ramirez as the NL starter, despite a first half in which Milwaukee's third baseman posted a relatively ho-hum .795 OPS and accounted for an even ho-hummer 1.3 WAR. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny then chose Cincy's Todd Frazier (deserving) and Cardinals corner man Matt Carpenter (questionable) as the NL's reserves.
Fun fact: Rendon's 3.8 WAR at the break that year was the best among all National League third basemen, just ahead of Frazier's 3.6 WAR.
Bonus fun fact: In his first full season, Rendon went on to finish fifth in the MVP voting.
(Glenn) Close but no cigar scale*: 5.5. It's tempting to go higher here based solely on the data, but like it or not, it takes time for young players to penetrate the collective subconscious of both fans and managers alike. That said, it takes less time today -- the Interwebs being what they are -- than it did five years ago. If 2014 were 2019, Rendon probably gets in.
2015: The He Was Hurt Year
Rendon suffered a sprained MCL in spring training and played only 18 games in the first half. Frazier was the deserving starter in his home park, where he also won the Home Run Derby. And skipper Bruce Bochy got it right by tabbing Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado as the reserves (although Justin Turner had a legit case, too).
Fun fact: Bryant entered the All-Star Game as a sub, but not at third base. Instead, he played left field, where he'd made one career start previously.
(Glenn) Close but no cigar scale: 1.0. Nothing to see here.
2016: The He Had A Meh First Half Year
Rendon was healthy this time around, but his numbers weren't. He went into the break hitting .254 with nine homers and a 103 OPS+ that wreaked of averageness. Bryant (starter), Carpenter and Arenado all deserved their nods.
(Glenn) Close but no cigar scale: 1.0. It's not called the All-Average Game.
2017: The Daniel Murphy FanGraphs Year
Rendon finished the first half with 4.0 WAR, best among all MLB position players and significantly higher than the 2.6 WAR of Arenado, who won the fan vote. Arizona's Jake Lamb (2.3 WAR), who hit a mess of homers early in the season, was named a reserve. When the Final Vote candidates were announced, Rendon was one of three third basemen on the NL ballot, along with Bryant and Turner. The following day, when asked why Rendon should be an All-Star, Murphy said simply: "Do you go to FanGraphs?" Despite Murphy's rhetoric, Turner won the Final Vote.
Fun fact: Just because Rendon lost out, that doesn't mean the fans completely ignored FanGraphs. Among position players, Turner (3.8 WAR) ranked third at the break behind Rendon and Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager.
Bonus fun fact: Rendon, who ended up placing sixth in the MVP balloting, was one of four players who finished the season with more walks than strikeouts.
(Glenn) Close but no cigar scale: 7.0. One of the most egregious snubs in modern, data-informed All-Star history.
2018: The Timing Is Everything Year
Exactly one month before the Midsummer Classic, Rendon didn't deserve to be there. He'd missed three weeks with a busted toe and was hitting .254 with six homers and 23 RBIs. Over the next month, he went on a tear, hitting .333 with nine bombs and 22 RBIs. By the time the break rolled around, he had raised his OPS more than 100 points and ranked third in WAR among NL third basemen. The two guys ahead of him (Arenado and Eugenio Suarez) both made the All-Star Game. Had NL skipper Dave Roberts opted for one more third baseman, it probably would've been Rendon or Carpenter. Instead, Roberts carried four first basemen (Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Final Vote winner Jesus Aguilar).
Fun fact: From June 15 through the end of the season, Rendon's .981 OPS ranked him third in the NL behind Christian Yelich and Carpenter.
(Glenn) Close but no cigar scale: 3.7. Judging solely by stats as of the All-Star break, this number would be higher. Way higher. But because All-Star voting starts so early relative to the actual game, the process suffers from the opposite of recency bias. You'd like to think the reserve selections, which are made much closer to the Midsummer Classic, would help offset the lag-time issue in the fan voting. But it doesn't always work out that way.
2019: The He Finally Made It Year
Under the new format, the top three vote-getters at each position on the "Primary" ballot have a run-off battle to determine the starter. Rendon was a fairly distant fifth in the fan voting behind Arenado, Bryant, Josh Donaldson and Turner. That meant that the only way he was headed to Cleveland in July was as a reserve. Until a couple of years ago, it was the manager who selected his bench guys. Now, it's a combination of a players' ballot and the commissioner's office. Regardless of who's pulling the strings, had Rendon and his 1.017 OPS (the best among MLB third basemen) gotten the cold shoulder yet again, it would have qualified as one of the great unsolved mysteries of our universe. Fortunately for Rendon and baseball (and the underpaid detectives whose job it is to solve the great unsolved mysteries of our universe), he finally made it.
Fun fact: Rendon's 3.1 WAR through the end of the primary voting was almost as much as the combined WAR of the two guys immediately ahead of him in the polls (Donaldson and Turner).
(Glenn) Close but no cigar scale: N/A
*A snub-o-meter measured from 1 to 7, where 1 is completely understandable and 7 is the ultimate injustice.