Everyone mind the gap as you climb aboard the Hunter Renfroe hype train.
The 24-year-old outfielder is a curious player, to me. I think we would all do well to pump the brakes a little on the unbridled enthusiasm. The last time the San Diego Padres had a home-grown prospect with this much expectation was Chase Headley. Fans thought he would make the big leagues and start collecting all-star appearances and MVP votes. Needless to say, things didn’t work out that way.
I’m not trying to go all “ice bucket challenge” here, but we need to keep a few things in mind with Renfroe.
Before I begin, I want to make it clear that he is a talent, there’s no denying this fact. I enjoy watching him play. His swing is minimum effort, which is encouraging for a few reasons including a reduction in violent torque in his midsection which could help prevent the oblique strains that plague some hitters. The ball sounds great off the bat, I heard plenty of it at spring training. He is hitting home runs and driving in base runners. Wonderful.
With that out-of-the-way, let’s hit the pause button and consider a few things.
First, he still strikes out way, way too much. You may not care about strikeouts while he hits home runs, but you should. On his way to winning the PCL MVP and crushing 30 home runs, the guy struck out 115 times against only 22 walks. That speaks to a really, really bad approach at the plate.
I’m a big believer in the K/BB ratio as a statistic. This shows a player’s ability to make contact, especially with two strikes. When you add walks to the mix it also speaks to the player’s ability to work from ahead in the count.
When you walk you, by rule, must have had a 3-ball count to work with. I don’t need to tell you that hitters have the advantage when they have a 3-ball count.
In Triple-A, Renfroe’s K/BB was 5.22. He is striking out five and 1/4th times for each and every walk he earns. Yikes.
Here are the closest qualifying MLB players to that number, with their triple slash:
The first two guys you likely never heard of, the last is Justin Upton having an unspectacular year.
What strikes me, immediately, is the fact all three guys have a remarkably consistent line. They all batted within three points of each other, and reached base within five points of each other. None of these stat lines make for all-stars or MVP votes.
Deliberately, I did not include the HR and RBI stats because they are inconsequential to the point. Elite hitters get on base, period. If you make enough contact, balls will find gaps and fly over the wall. When you look at the numbers above, none of these players is going to anchor the middle part of a lineup for years to come.
The other problem with the K/BB numbers for Renfroe is that fact he appears to be getting worse, not better.
Here are his K/BB numbers for the past three years (remember lower is better):
Simply put, he can not keep this up and expect to be a middle-of-the-order hitter. He’d be a great number seven hitter, but that’s not what Padre fans are hoping for.
Of course, you have to also consider who Renfroe is facing, here at the end of September.
His first homer came off Madison Bumgarner, which is great. Number two off Kenta Maeda, which is good. Then came one off Louis Coleman and one more off Jose De Leon. The last two guys are roster fillers.
When you face guys like Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke and Jeff Samardzija in the N.L. West you’re going to strike out, a lot, unless you develop the ability to fight off pitches and work ahead in the count. I don’t have faith Renfroe can do that on a consistent basis.
Fangraphs published projections for each of the Padres four call-ups. I wouldn’t read it if you’d like to continue being excited. But you should know the comps they have for Renfroe include Karim Garcia, Mike Peeples and Harvey Pullam. You can see the article here.
I don’t tell you these things to bum you out. I think Renfroe can be a solid big leaguer. I also think he will not continue to mash at this rate.
These are things that can be fixed. But, as I said after Jedd Gyorko’s rookie year when he hit home runs and thrilled fans. When you strike out a ton, pitchers will eventually figure out a way to get you out. We all saw that happened to Gyorko, he hasn’t matched the production from his rookie season. Although, to his credit, his strikeout numbers keep falling each year.
Let’s hope Renfroe can do the same so he can become the player we all hope he will.