Why You Should Target Anthony Rendon in Fantasy Baseball in 2017

Rendon broke out when he was young, but injuries and tough luck have held him down the past two years. Can he be a fantasy baseball bargain in 2017?

Let's play a little game of blind resume, shall we? It's not necessarily blind because, ya know, you've likely read the title of this piece and can see the ginormous picture above, but just play along for a second.

This player absolutely raked in college, posting a .394/.539/.801 slash as a sophomore. This helped him wind up as the sixth-overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Then, this player shot through the minors. In his first full year in the big leagues, he finished fifth in the National League MVP voting and won the Silver Slugger award for the top-hitting third baseman. That was his age-24 season.

Now, that player is about to enter his prime as he'll turn 27 in June. And you can get him as the 88th overall pick in National Fantasy Baseball Championship drafts. Intrigued?

Okay, because I'm sure the suspension is killing you, this mystery player is Anthony Rendon. Your gasps are deafening, so please tone it down a bit.

After an injury-riddled 2015 and a slow start to 2016, Rendon finds himself at a reasonable cost in season-long leagues for this upcoming season. It's easy to understand why as he hasn't necessarily lived up to the hype in those campaigns, but does it make Rendon an undervalued target? Some of his numbers from 2016 would say yes.

Let's take a deeper look at what the peripheral stats have to say about Rendon last year. He's already broken out once, and if some of these numbers are any indication, he could be on the verge of doing it again.

Solid Batted-Ball Production

Even when Rendon was struggling last year, there were factors saying he was bound to snap out of it in a hurry. Namely, he was smacking the ball all over the yard.

Rendon finished the month of April with a vomit-enducing .242/.310/.286 slash. That's obviously not great, Bob, but we know numbers like that are fluky in small samples. The batted-ball numbers -- which stabilize more quickly -- told a very different story.

Even in that poor month, Rendon struck out just 12.0% of the time with a 38.0% hard-hit rate and 35.9% fly-ball rate. Those numbers were closer to Mookie Betts' season-long marks than Howie Kendrick's, but that's what Rendon looked like early on.

Needless to say, things leveled out from there, and the results started to match the peripherals. From May 1st on, Rendon posted a .275/.355/.481 slash with 20 home runs and 11 stolen bases. Where would he be drafted if he had gotten those types of results starting in the first month?

Rendon finished the season with an 18.1% strikeout rate, 36.5% hard-hit rate, and 43.8% fly-ball rate, which was a pretty elite combo. There were 146 players who had at least 500 plate appearances last year. Of that, only 7 had a strikeout rate below 20%, a fly-ball rate above 42%, and a hard-hit rate above 35%. Here's that list.

Player Strikeout Rate Fly-Ball Rate Hard-Hit Rate
Nolan Arenado 14.8% 46.7% 37.9%
David Ortiz 13.7% 45.1% 45.9%
Anthony Rendon 18.1% 43.8% 36.5%
Matt Carpenter 19.1% 43.2% 41.9%
Manny Machado 17.2% 42.7% 35.4%
Adrian Beltre 10.3% 42.1% 35.6%
Kyle Seager 16.0% 42.0% 38.7%

First takeaway: mother of goodness, third base is a loaded position. Second: David Ortiz is not human. Third: that's some saucy company for Rendon.

Both Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado are among the first eight picks off the board. Kyle Seager is going 66th overall, Matt Carpenter is 71st, and Adrian Beltre is 82nd. Rendon is at least two years younger than all three of Seager, Carpenter, and Beltre, and he's coming at a major discount from Arenado and Machado. There's an outlier in this group.

Rendon stands apart from these peers in another way, too. He managed to swipe 12 bags in addition to his production with the stick. None of the other players on the list had more than three steals. It's certainly not a huge mark in that department, but we know Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker loves to run (they were one of 7 teams to top 120 stolen bases for the season), so this is a nice little boost for Rendon at his discounted price.

Of course, having solid peripherals isn't everything for fantasy baseball, and we shouldn't be drafting Rendon simply because he excelled here. We also need to weigh a player's situation and surrounding lineup. Once again, though, this is something working in Rendon's favor.

An Improving Lineup

The Nationals did lose a good stick this offseason as catcher Wilson Ramos departed in free agency. But the pieces they gained -- and some improving health -- should fully compensate for that.

During the 2016 season, the Nationals' collective leadoff hitters combined to plop together a .303 on-base percentage, the third-worst mark in the entire league. When that happens, it takes away RBI opportunities from the batters who follow and puts a cap on the offense's upside. That shouldn't be a problem this year.

In acquiring outfielder Adam Eaton from the Chicago White Sox, the Nationals added a guy who has had an on-base percentage above .360 each of the past three years. That's the first major improvement.

Then there's Trea Turner, who will get his first full season in the big leagues after playing 73 games in 2016. That's another table setter who can ignite the lineup.

And let us not forget Bryce Harper.

You've probably heard that he had a down season in 2016, and that's partially true. But he played through a shoulder injury most of the season and still managed to swipe 21 bags and post a whopping .373 on-base percentage. If he rebounds with an offseason of rest, we could get the monster who got on base in almost half of his plate appearances in 2015 back to give even more base runners for Rendon.

So what does this lineup look like? Here's the top six in the order as Roster Resource currently projects along with each player's Steamer-projected on-base percentage for 2017. They gonna score some runs.

Spot in Order Player Projected OBP
1 Adam Eaton .355
2 Trea Turner .347
3 Daniel Murphy .362
4 Bryce Harper .413
5 Anthony Rendon .354
6 Jayson Werth .343

Every single guy in that mix is projected to have an on-base percentage of at least .340. That's a lineup you want exposure to in season-long, and Rendon is a great way to get it.

A Player to Target

Rendon -- due to the nature of category leagues -- isn't a guy you need to break your back to get. But at his current cost, he does stand out as a player with considerable upside.

Going back to his collegiate days at Rice, Rendon has always been an elite hitter. He flashed that a few years ago when he was among the best in the league before injuries and some rough luck turned things down. He's about to enter his prime, and we know the talent is still lurking.

You can add a tremendous surrounding situation on top of all this. The Nationals' lineup could be phenomenal this year, and Rendon is in line to drive in a boatload of runs. You want to find ways to get a piece of that, and given the relative costs of Harper, Turner, and Daniel Murphy, it's hard to pass on Rendon.

Because Rendon has been around for a while now, he doesn't seem likely to experience a cost bump at any time between now and the start of the season. As long as things stay as they are, it's clear he's a player we want to target once we get past the first few rounds of the draft.