Thursday, March 5, 2015

Scouting Report: Anthony Rendon

Well, the Nationals wrapped up their first spring training game last night. The results? Meaningless, except for the fact it means we are one step closer to Opening Day. With that in mind, we continue our Scouting Reports series with a look at the breakout player from 2014: Anthony Rendon.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I took a look at Rendon. As a relative newcomer to the majors, the scouting report on the borderline MVP candidate coming into the 2014 season had to have been thin; there just wasn’t a lot of tape to work off of. A couple of trends emerged by the end of 2014, though. Pitchers backed off using their fastball against Rendon, but only by a handful of pitches and a few percentage points overall. Like most hitters, Rendon saw a majority fastballs in all counts, but pitchers really upped their usage of specific off speed pitches when they were ahead in the count against Rendon. Lefties had the biggest percentage change, going to their curve nearly 20% of the time when they were up in the count compared to only 2% when Rendon was ahead and 11% when even in the count. Curveballs tend not to have big platoon splits given their mostly vertical break, so the fact that lefties went to the curve most often makes sense. Against righties, Rendon saw a healthy portion of both curveballs and sliders, again depending on count. With Rendon ahead, curves and sliders came in at rates of only 5% and 13%, respectively. Once pitchers got ahead, though, those rates jumped to 12% and 20%.

It appears that pitchers were as surprised by Rendon’s breakout season in 2014 as the rest of us, given their pitching approach at the start of the year to Rendon. Take a look at the locations of the fastballs from right handed pitchers to Rendon before the all-star break in 2014:

Nearly everything was in the zone with a clear tendency to be middle away. Pitchers went right after Rendon, challenging him to prove he could hit a major league quality fastball.

Left handers had a somewhat similar approach in the first half of 2014, although the heat map isn’t as neat and tidy as it is from right handers:

Left handers clearly moved the ball out of the zone more often than their right handed counterparts, but take a look for the two red areas middle, in and middle, away. Those are where left handers focused their fastballs, again challenging the inexperienced Rendon to prove his worth against major league fastballs.

Compare those heat maps to the fastballs Rendon saw from righties and lefties, respectively, over the second half of 2014:


From right handers, you see less clustering in the middle of the zone and a much higher number of pitches outside the zone, away. Lefties took a different approach. Where there was a focus in the first half of middle, in and middle, away, lefties really hit the high, outer corner against Rendon. And although they still worked the ball out of the zone, away from Rendon at times, they also worked the ball elevated and in the zone against Rendon and rarely worked down in the zone, a rather uncommon thing in this day and age of pitching.

This theme actually plays out with pitchers' breaking balls as well. Right handers in the first half threw their curves and sliders low and away, as you would expect. However, they actually kept the ball in the zone at a pretty high clip as you can see from the red and yellow areas here:

Similar to what we saw with fastballs, pitchers were challenging Rendon to prove his ability to hit a major league breaking ball. Once he did that, they shifted their approach: