Usually, when you see a headline like this, as a reader you expect the article to answer the question posed. That might not be the case here. I’m writing this because — as of this moment — I have absolutely no idea what the answer is. Hopefully, by the time you’re reading this, I will have reached some sort of conclusion.
As so often happens when I write about baseball, I had no plans on writing about Anthony Rendon today. While researching another topic — which I will save for a later date — I went down the Rendon rabbit hole. The number of unanswered questions I found there interest me far more than any easy answers, so let’s talk about how the heck anyone can assess the future value of a player like this.
There’s a difference between injury-prone players, and guys who just happen to suffer a series of ailments. It’s pretty clear at this point that Rendon falls into the former category. Check out the laundry list of injuries Rendon has suffered going back to his freshman year at Rice:
- 2009: torn ligaments in right ankle (surgically repaired)
- 2010: broken right ankle (surgically repaired)
- 2011: strained right shoulder (limited to DH for 55 of 63 games played)
- 2012: fractured left ankle (surgically repaired)
- 2013: no major injuries
- 2014: no major injuries
- 2015: sprained MCL in left knee (rehabbed), strained left oblique (rehabbed)
To me, the most frustrating thing about Rendon’s 2015 is that he was coming off of two full years in which he stayed mostly healthy. If he had gotten through this year in the same fashion, his early-career injury concerns might have vanished into the rear-view mirror. Unfortunately, that’s been far from the case.
The optimist in me looks at the list of ailments above and is thankful that his 2015 injuries were not recurrences of prior issues. The pessimist in me sees a 25-year-old whose legs may not be able to support a lengthy career in professional athletics.
Even without a doomsday scenario like that, it’s easy to see Rendon’s skills deteriorating in the next few years. If he suffers another injury or two, he could be in a steep decline by the time he should be reaching his prime. It’s already clear that certain aspects of his game aren’t what they used to be.
Last year, Rendon successfully swiped 17 bases in 20 attempts. In his 49 games this year, he’s only attempted three steals, and he’s been caught twice.
As a quick — and directly related — aside, I’d like to squash any arguments that his 17 steals last year were a fluke. Rendon led Rice in steals in both his sophomore and junior seasons, and was two shy of the team lead his freshman year as well. If you’re wondering why he didn’t start stealing bases in pro ball until last year, just look back up there at that list of injuries, and realize that 2014 was the first time Rendon came into a season with his legs at 100 percent.
He’s been hot lately, riding an eight-game hitting streak that’s seen him hit 13-for-30, including two of the three homers he’s hit this year. He’s also sprinkled in eight runs, seven RBI, five walks against five strikeouts — and his one successful steal of the season. The sample is obviously miniscule, but it’s certainly possible that Rendon is finally feeling fully healthy.
But yet — if that is the case — isn’t this discussion even more problematic if Rendon tears the cover off the ball for the next month, looking like his 2014 self? For the sake of this argument, let’s just assume that he will keep mashing throughout all of September. How easy will it be to overvalue him heading into 2016?
“Rendon finished last season on fire, and has made it through the offseason without incident,” you’re thinking to yourself, as you prepare for your first fantasy draft next year. “If he gets back to his 2014 numbers, he’s going to be a huge value” is the next thought to cross your mind. Before you even know what’s happening, you’ve spent top-five 2B money on him — just like owners did in this year’s drafts and auctions.
If he scuffles at the plate for the rest of the season, he’ll be easy to categorize as a trendy bounceback candidate for 2016. He’ll be on all kinds of sleeper lists — a mid-round flier with enough youth to give people hope that he can return to his 2014 production. One thing he won’t be is a top-tier target at the position.
However, if he keeps up his current pace, what even is “Anthony Rendon, fantasy commodity” for 2016 (not to mention the years beyond)? He’ll certainly be too popular an option to qualify as a sleeper, but should he be? His skill set is obviously tremendous — I’m not questioning that one bit. A player with a plus-plus hit tool, above-average power, and enough speed (regardless of injuries) to swipe ~15 bases is a no-doubter of a fantasy commodity.
What I am questioning is his health skill. Rendon’s upside is still that of a perennial all-star. His downside is clearly, concisely stated in that exhaustive list of injuries up above.
Now that I have this written, I’m glad I pursued this topic. I’ve found the answer to my original question. We’re talking about a player who has now suffered six significant injuries — and undergone three surgeries — in his age 18-to-25 seasons. Even if he hits something like .325/.400/.600 over the season’s final month, how much stock are you buying in a 25-year-old who has averaged 0.86 significant injuries per season?
I don’t think I’ll be buying much at all. Betting on Rendon to be a consistently productive fantasy commodity isn’t just betting on a bounceback season. It’s betting against nearly every single year of his career to this point.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.