Rendon seeking simplicity as recipe for success
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Anthony Rendon says he kept his offseason routine the same, which undersells a couple of major changes that took place during the winter: He got married in late November; he volunteered his time with the non-profit organization Rebuilding Together to help rebuild a home in Houston devastated after Hurricane Harvey; and the most notable change Nationals fan will be able to see this year -- he cut his hair for the first time since the middle of 2016.
"Oh, man, it was just too long," Rendon said. "It was too much to maintain. I either got to put product in it or I got to wear a hat. So I was kind over it. It was too curly."
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Other than the change in appearance, Rendon had every reason to want to keep everything the same after the best season of his career in 2017. He hit .301/.403/.533 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs, both career-highs, and Fangraphs lists him at 6.9 Wins Above Replacement. As strikeout rates rise in the Majors, Rendon was the rare player who had more walks (84) than strikeouts (82). He also finished as a finalist for the Gold Glove Award. That all earned him a sixth place finish in the crowded race for the National League Most Valuable Player.
Rendon attributed his success to a slight change in philosophy. He is not a complete disciple of the proverbial fly ball revolution, but he focused on driving the ball more frequently a year ago and hitting it in the air a little more. He hit 63.7 percent of his batted balls last year at a launch angle of 10 degrees or higher, which is basically the start of the line drive angle, a slight uptick from 59.8 percent in 2016. And a greater share of those hard hit balls (95 mph exit velocity or better) were in the air last season (60.9 percent) than the year prior (54.9 percent).
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Those changes, however slight, helped produce the best season of his career.
"Rendon is ... he's a magician," hitting coach Kevin Long said. "He's fun to watch. He was one of the hitters that when he was up to bat, I sat there and I marveled. He's quiet, he puts himself in a good position, he's always on time. It looks effortless. His mechanics are flawless, he's in line. He's balanced. He just does a lot of things right.
"I'm leaving him alone. He's one guy that I'm not going to be able to help too much. What he does is special."
So the Nationals are hopeful that Rendon can continue that success. He is still in the prime of his career with two years remaining on his contract before free agency. Washington had some initial discussions with Rendon's agent, Scott Boras, this offseason while the two sides negotiated Rendon's arbitration contract, but the conversations did not get very far. Still, Rendon has said he is open to remaining with the organization long term.
It's not surprising, considering Rendon has spent his entire career in the Nats' organization and enjoys feeling comfortable. Perhaps he would prefer to keep things routine, just like how he feels his offseason went.
"It was the same thing," Rendon said. "We worked out in the morning, golfed in the afternoon, laid on my couch. I didn't really do too much. I try to keep it simple."