Hunter Renfroe, Destroyer of Baseballs
The Red Sox did not have a set starting outfield entering the season. Alex Verdugo was expected to play almost every day in either center or right, but other than him the team was expected to rotate between several players to fill the other two spots. J.D Martinez would probably play in the field from time to time, but he would mostly be the designated hitter, while Kike Hernandez can play center field, but was initially signed to be the everyday second baseman. Additionally, the Red Sox acquired Franchy Cordero in the Andrew Benintendi trade. He’s currently in Worcester after an awful start to the season, but the team had hoped that he would be a viable part of an outfield platoon. Chaim Bloom also signed Marwin Gonzalez, a versatile utility player who, like Hernandez, can play several positions, including some outfield.
Finally, the Red Sox signed Hunter Renfroe, hoping that he could play solid outfield defense and provide some power against lefties. He hit 33 home runs in 2019, so it seemed reasonable to expect him to have some pop. Unfortunately, Renfroe was a huge disappointment to start the season, looking absolutely lost at the plate.
In 19 April games, Renfroe slashed .167/.235/.250/.485 with only one home run and two doubles. He was hitting roughly as well as the aforementioned Cordero, and fans—and, presumably, members of the front office—were very disappointed. Since the calendar flipped to May, however, Renfroe has been on an absolute tear. He has played in 50 games since his horrendous start, and has posted a .308/.360/.544/.904 line with 10 homers and 13 doubles. Additionally, he has continued to be very solid in the field, posting a 5.9 UZR/150 with 6 defensive runs saved thus far.
Thanks to his hot streak, Renfroe is now hitting .273/.328/.471/.799 with 11 homers. That would be the highest batting average and OBP of his career, and is close to being a career-high slugging-percentage as well. Furthermore, he’s putting up these numbers in a way that seems to be sustainable. His BABIP is .309 this season, which is above average, but not so high that we should expect massive regression. His strikeout rate of 21.3% is the lowest of his career, illustrating the fact that Renfroe is making contact more frequently than he has in the past, and that contact is falling in for hits at a solid rate.
Additionally, Renfroe is currently posting career-highs in average exit-velocity (91.1 MPH), barrel% (12.7%), hard-hit% (43.9%), and line-drive% (21.2%). He is hitting the ball harder than he ever has and is making higher-quality contact than he has at any point in his career, so it is no wonder that his BABIP is .309. Line-drives have the highest expected-batting average of any batted-ball, and Renfroe has simply started hitting them in bunches.
According to Fangraphs, Renfroe’s expected-batting average is .273, identical to his actual batting average, demonstrating that his fantastic results are not due to an unsustainable spike in good luck. Furthermore, he has hit 30+ homers in a season before, so it is not surprising to see him hit homers at a high rate. He has been on a tear, and has given us no reason to believe that he cannot keep it up.
The Red Sox signed Renfroe to a one-year deal hoping to inject some power into their lineup. He has done that and so much more, far exceeding expectations thus far. He is under team control for two seasons after 2021 (both arbitration years), meaning he could be a key member of the Sox lineup through 2023. At the start of the season, Renfroe looked to be one of Bloom’s few mistakes. As we approach the end of June, however, the outfielder has completely flipped the script, and looks to be one of Boston’s best signings of the offseason.