It’s been an exciting year for Anthony Rendon. In addition to tying his career best in doubles and reaching the 20-homer plateau for the third straight season, the Washington Nationals’ third baseman also earned a career-high $12.3 million salary and saw the birth of his first child.
While he failed to make the All-Star Game, Rendon still may have some hardware to commemorate this season in his trophy case by season’s end. The Houston native has had an exceptional year defensively and should be in the running for his first career Gold Glove.
Entering play Monday, Rendon boasts a fielding percentage 14 points higher than any other qualified National League third basemen (.980) and has the fewest errors of the group with just six. He’s been all over the MLB highlight reels, including this Trea Turner-esque jump throw from a couple weeks ago.
Bob: "That's going to be really hard for Rendon to make the play..."— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 16, 2018
Of course, the managers and coaches who select the Gold Glove winners will look at more than just fielding percentage. Ultimate Zone Rating is a commonly used statistic that attempts to gauge the number of runs a player saved or gave up as a defender. The figure quantifies how much better or worse a player is at his position compared to the average defender.
Rendon tops all qualified NL third basemen with 5.4 UZR, sitting 1.3 points above the second-place Nolan Arenado (who has won each of the past five Gold Gloves at the position). In fact, only four other infielders from the entire Senior Circuit have a better UZR than Rendon: Kolten Wong, DJ LeMahieu, Freddie Freeman and Brandon Belt.
There is, however, one glaring statistic that doesn’t support Rendon’s case for the honor. Defensive Runs Saved, a figure devised by the baseball research company Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), is considered to be one of the best defensive metrics available alongside UZR and operates similarly in that it assigns a run value based on the average defender at each position.
Sitting with -7 DRS, Rendon is tied with Pittsburgh’s Colin Moran for the second-lowest DRS among NL third basemen. The biggest difference between UZR and DRS is the latter is computed by BIS scouts who watch every single defensive play and rate them based on their level of difficulty, while UZR instead relies on the errors determined by official scorekeepers.
Essentially, BIS determined Rendon wasn’t as valuable as his counting numbers suggested. A discrepancy this big between DRS and UZR is fairly uncommon, but the volatility of defensive statistics allows for the increased likelihood of outliers such as this one. Often, more than one season of data is required to truly measure a player’s defensive value.
Does this mean either DRS or UZR should be thrown out? Probably not, as Rendon’s value likely lies somewhere in the middle of the two numbers. Cases can certainly be made for Arenado (4.1 UZR, 5 DRS), Atlanta’s Johan Camargo (3.8 UZR, 6 DRS) and Milwaukee’s Travis Shaw (2.1 UZR, 9 DRS), but the two statistics don’t necessarily agree on them either.
Arenado has owned the title of “Best Defensive Third Baseman in the National League” for half a decade, but it appears his reign has run its course. If his shiny error total holds for the rest of the season and he maintains his spot atop the UZR leaderboard, Rendon may have just enough to earn his first career Gold Glove and cap off what’s been a spectacular year for the Nationals’ third baseman.