Padres need first-half Renfroe to re-emerge

October 25th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Which is the real Hunter Renfroe? The Padres need to answer that question as honestly as they possibly can this winter.

Is he the first-half version of himself -- a borderline All-Star, a scary middle-of-the order bat and an elite power threat?

Or is he the second-half version of himself -- a chase-happy, injury-prone righty hitter who couldn't quite tap into that elite power?

"You look at both," Renfroe said when asked for an evaluation of his season. "You look at the things you did well, and try to keep doing them well. You look at the things you need to work on, and you work on them. ... You've got to know what you do bad to make it good."

Of all the outfielders on the Padres' roster, the 27-year-old Renfroe is the likeliest to return and start on Opening Day next season. Elsewhere, trade and injury questions abound. But if the Padres can get the first-half version of Renfroe for the entirety of the 2020 season, it would got a long way toward solidifying their outfield mix.

What went right?
Defensively, Renfroe made the leap from mediocre to great. After posting 22 defensive runs saved, he's a strong favorite for the Gold Glove Award in left field. (Arizona's David Peralta and Washington's Juan Soto are also finalists.) Offensively, Renfroe cemented himself as one of the game's top power hitters in the first half, slugging .613 with 27 bombs. He would finish the year with a team-leading 33 homers.

What went wrong?
Renfroe's defense remained excellent throughout. But the second half brought a number of challenges at the plate. Notably, Renfroe played through ankle and elbow injuries during the final two months. He was slated for foot surgery this month. It's unclear how big a part those injuries played in Renfroe's struggles. But struggle he did. The Padres slugger -- who had seemingly cemented himself as a long-term outfield fixture during the first half -- posted an abysmal .161/.263/.299 slash line in the second.

Best moment
Renfroe authored perhaps the best moment of the Padres' season. Having lost the first two games of an early May series against the Dodgers, San Diego trailed by a run in the ninth when Renfroe came to the plate as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded. He walloped a walk-off grand slam off the Western Metal building in right field. Renfroe became just the 16th pinch-hitter in baseball history to hit a come-from-behind walk-off slam.

2020 outlook
There are reasons to believe Renfroe's late-season struggles aren't indicative of the player he is. That said, there are flaws in his offensive approach -- notably a low walk rate and a penchant for whiffing at up-and-in fastballs and low-and-away sliders. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives with Renfroe. If he can put his injury issues behind him, he can be a force in the middle of the San Diego lineup and an elite defender in an outfield corner.