Hunter Renfroe is Still Useful

Hunter Renfroe has never been a fantasy star. In his best offensive season (2018) he had a .338 wOBA which FanGraphs would call “Above Average” making him the 43rd best OF with 400+ PA that year. He added 26 HR in just 117 games, which is pretty good, but there wasn’t much else. From an ottoneu points perspective, he was worth 4.9 points per game, but was worth 5.13 P/G if you leave out 17 games as a PH and the almost 62 points he created in those games. That would have been the 38th best OF by P/G with 50+ games that year. He was solid.

Last year, he dropped to 4.4 P/G and removing his PH appearances raised that to 4.9, dropping him from “solid” to “usable.” This year…well, this year is ugly. He’s at 3.1 P/G as of Thursday morning and only 3.4 after removing two games where he PH and PR and scored three total points. Which is why he is getting cut (roster % down 8.8% in the last 30 days) and which is why I wanted to see what went wrong.

It’s still early this year, but with 89 PA under his belt, Renfroe is at the point where K-rate stabilizes and getting close to that point for walk rate, so we will start there. In that solid 2018, Renfroe had a 6.8% BB-rate and a 24.7% K-rate. In 2018, he actually improved the walk rate – up to 9.3%! – but the K-rate spiked, too – up to 31.2%! And those changes seem weird when you look at his plate discipline. Yes, he chased less (32.6% to 31.9%) and swung less in general (46.8% to 45.9%), but his contact rate was up a touch (71.0% to 71.4%) and his swinging strike rate dropped from 13.5% to 13.1%. None of those are massive changes, but they look like a guy who should walk more and strike out…maybe less? maybe the same? maybe even a little more since he is being more patient? But not a massive jump. Regression down from that 31.2% seems likely.

And in 2020, he has seen clear improvement. His swinging strike rate has plummeted to 10.7% and he is being even more selective – his O-Swing% is down to 29.0% – while making more contact – 74.5%. From a plate discipline standpoint, this is the best Renfroe we have ever seen, and it shows up in his 9.0% BB-rate and 24.7% K-rate. This is Renfroe combining his acceptable 2018 strike outs with his improved 2019 walks. It’s a really good sign! And given that the walk rate is stable dating back to 2019 and that K-rate begins to stabilize and only 60 PA, there is good reason to think this is legit.

Renfroe is also hitting more fly balls than he did in 2018 (44.1% vs. 42.8%), though fewer than in 2019 (47.9%), but his HR/FB rate is down – 20.3% in 2018, 23.6% last year and 19.2% this year. It is worth noting that FB rate doesn’t stabilize before 80 balls in play (Renfroe is at 59 batted ball events) and HR/FB rate requires 50 fly balls (26). Plus, that 19.2% HR/FB rate would be 20% with one fewer fly ball or 23% with one more HR. He’s basically right where he has always been.

The problem for Renfroe is his BABIP. He’s not a high BABIP guy – .258 for his career and .271 in that 2018 season – but after dropping to .239 last year he is at .148 this year. That won’t continue. It can’t.

There are valid concerns in his batted ball profile. He average exit velocity is 88.6 after being 89.9 both of the last two years. His barrel rate is down to 8.5% after being 12%+ the last two years. His hard hit rate is down, as well, and as a result his xwOBA, while far better than his .265 wOBA, is still really bad (.307).

Giving Renfroe a 9% BB-rate and 25% K-rate going forward, roughly where he is today, with a 45% FB rate and a 20% HR/FB rate, along with a .250 BABIP (lower than his career numbers given the lower Statcast data, but still much higher than so far) gives you a line over the next 100 PA of something like this: .231/.300/.500 with 6 HR, which looks an awful lot like 2018 Renfroe. Give him five doubles vs. his 6 HR and 9 singles, and you get 124.5 FanGraphs Points, which at 4.2 PA per game started works out to 5.23 points per start. Basically, the best year of his career from that perspective.

There’s one other aspect to the Renfroe story – he has always had significant platoon splits. In that impressive 2018, he had a 112 wRC+ against RHP, but was at 64 the year before and 88 the year after. Against LHP, he was at 117 in 2018, but 175 the year before and 127 the year after.

This year? Against RHP he is at 81, which is low, but not surprising given his overall struggles. Against LHP, though, he has a 54 wRC+. Against LHP, he has a .056 BABIP. Against RHP, he has a comparatively robust .194. Otherwise, nothing jumps out of his splits. This suggests that most of his struggles are really, REALLY bad luck against LHP and merely really bad luck vs. RHP. He has consistently mashed LHP and I am confident he will again.

How much do I want to pay for Renfroe? Not a ton. The 5.23 points per start is fine, but it is probably more like 5.5 vs. LHP and 5.0 vs. RHP, making him a very useful player about a third of the time and a guy you can plug in as needed, but no more, the rest of the time.

The thing is, he is probably basically free right now. As noted above, he is being cut in a number of leagues. He is still rostered in 87% of leagues, but that number is dropping and there are plenty of managers who are fed up with him but not ready to drop. You can probably acquire him for almost nothing, maybe as a throw-in in a larger deal. The payoff won’t be huge, but for a contender looking to deepen their OF, Renfroe could be a really useful addition.

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