The Padres Best Position Player This Season: Hunter Renfroe

After opening the 2019 campaign with an undesirable .210/.269/.500 batting line with four home runs in his first 67 trips to the plate, Hunter Renfroe finds himself in the midst of a torrid run. Dating back to April 26th, Renfroe has hit .268/.326/.675, also launching 19 home runs (which is the most in baseball over that time). His staggering .403 ISO is second to only Charlie Blackmon (during that time frame). Here’s where Renfroe ranks amongst his teammates on the year:

  • HR: 23 (1st)
  • ISO: .374 (1st)
  • SLG: .626 (1st)
  • wRC+: 137 (2nd to only Fernando Tatis Jr.)
  • fWAR: 2.1 (1st)

Renfroe has accumulated more wins above replacement this season than in 2018 (1.6 fWAR), despite having played 48 fewer games. He’s progressed his offensive game by a substantial margin in 2019…

20182019
PA/HR18.410.4
OPS.805.935
wOBA.338.379
BB%6.87.9

Additionally, Hunter Renfroe has become a much more capable defender in both right field (2018 UZR [FanGraphs] in 379 innings played: -0.4; 2019 UZR in 153.2 innings played: 4.3) and left field (2018 DRS [FanGraphs] in 476 innings played: 2; 2019 DRS in 326.1 innings played: 3), as conveyed below (graphs via Baseball Savant)…

Hunter Renfroe’s Responsible Plays for 2018
Hunter Renfroe’s Responsible Plays for 2019

The biggest difference for Renfroe has been the fact that he has caught practically every ball he should catch (1 and 2 star grabs) in 2019. His fielding numbers, as mentioned earlier, have subsequently improved. Here are Hunter Renfroe’s Statcast Catch Probability Numbers, which serve as further documentation of the huge defensive strides Renfroe has made this season…

20182019
1 Star (91-95%) 84.6100.0
2 Star (76-90%)81.091.7

At this point, we will now redirect our attention to the changes/progress Renfroe has made offensively. Let’s compare his approach this year to that of last year (videos below courtesy of Baseball Savant)…

2018 HR off of Rockies RHP Jon Gray
2019 HR off of Marlins RHP Jeff Brigham

If we’re looking at it from a results-oriented perspective, both swings produced home runs; however, the swing Renfroe is implementing in 2019 better suits himself. First and foremost, he is starting this year’s swing with his hands and bat raised much higher. His elbow is also in a more upright position, and he is leaving a little bit of room at the front of the bat (he’s got his hands higher up on the bat).

Renfroe is also utilizing a bigger leg kick in 2019, which is presumably why he has been generating harder contact, as conveyed below…

Statcast Batting Info20182019
Avg. Exit Velocity (mph)89.991.0
Barrel %12.414.7

Here’s a look at where things stand when Renfroe’s front foot is completely grounded (after his leg-kick)…

Renfroe is more balanced this season (his feet are well aligned), and it seems as though his timing is spot-on (he is likely starting his swing earlier [do take into consideration that Brigham threw him a heater, while Gray tossed an off-speed offering]; this way, he can have an easier time catching up to fastballs and still can stay back on the slow stuff). This idea is backed up by data (per FanGraphs), which demonstrates the following…

  • 2018: -2.3 Fastball Runs Below Average
  • 2019: 10.9 Fastball Runs Above Average

It also explains why Renfroe has been able to pull the ball at a higher frequency (according to FanGraphs)…

  • 2018: 48.8%
  • 2019: 57.7%

Pulling the ball is pivotal for Renfroe, who does minimal damage on pitches he hits the other way. When he has hit the ball to left field in 2019, his batting average is a whopping .389, whereas his batting average on balls hit the other way is just .176.

Renfroe’s HR Spray Chart (via Baseball Savant)

Furthermore, Renfroe has slugged 79 career home runs and just three of them have gone straight down the line in RF. The vast majority are balls he crushes to the pull side.

The Padres are 38-38 (.500 record), yet they trail the second WC by just 2.0 games. Emerging ace Chris Paddack’s innings are being closely monitored, and there is a chance the Padres move their star closer Kirby Yates (as well as Hunter Renfroe), so their playoff odds could take a turn for the worse. With that being said, if they find a way to crawl into a wild card spot, you can bet that Hunter Renfroe will have been a big reason why.

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