The story of San Diego Padres outfielder Hunter Renfroe is a tale of two halves.
A small fraction of San Diego Padres fans were quick to cast off outfielder Hunter Renfroe at the beginning of 2018. He had a rough start to the season and could not seem to get in a rhythm offensively. During the first half of the year, Renfroe platooned with Jose Pirela, as well as Travis Jankowski in either left or right field. With playing time hard to come by, Renfroe continued to struggle throughout April and May.
Over the course of the season, everything seemed to improve for Renfroe.
Renfroe’s arm strength has always been an asset to the Padres, however, that arm has not always been the most accurate. Over the course of the season, Renfroe was able to work on his accuracy, and committed fewer throwing errors this season compared to last season. His advanced defensive metrics back this up. In 2017, he posted 1 Defensive Runs Saved and a -5.6 Ultimate Zone Rating. He improved on both of those metrics in 2018, recording 5 DRS and a -0.8 UZR.
Consistent starts helped improve all parts of Renfroe’s game. The 26-year-old played increasingly more once injuries took its toll on the Padres’ outfield, including a Wil Myers oblique strain (and subsequent position change) and Franchy Cordero‘s elbow surgery.
During the month of June, Renfroe started earning everyday at-bats. He began exhibiting more consistent play at the plate, improving his average and on-base-percentage. Through the end of June, he hit .252 with a .327 OBP, but then he went into a slump during July. He struggled mightily at the plate and his average fell to .231 for the year, down 21 percentage points from the end of June.
The resurgence of Hunter Renfroe.
Despite hitting just seven home runs in his first 57 games before the break, Renfroe did nothing but mash over the second-half of the season. During the months of August and September Renfroe hit 18 home runs, good for third-most in Major League Baseball behind Christian Yelich and Khris Davis. One could argue he and Franmil Reyes benefited the most from the Padres moving Myers to third base in August.
Renfroe’s power has never been in question, but during the second half of the season he seemed to be on another level. He crushed balls out of the yard so quickly that you would blink and it would already be in the seats. His average exit velocity increased two miles per hour from his rookie year, registering an average of 89.9 mph off the bat in 2018. Case and point September 7th versus Cincinnati.
Renfroe’s second-half resurgence helped raise his average from .231 at the end of July to .248 to end the season, up 17 percentage points. His teammates and coaches raved about the adjustments he made, and his hard work has finally come to fruition at the end of the 2018 season, highlighted by an 11-game hit streak from August 23rd-September 3rd.
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Renfroe has always been able to hit the long ball, but during the second half of the season, he was able to get on base more often. He cut down on his strikeouts while improving his on-base percentage to a career-high .297. While it may be the highest of his career, Renfroe along with the rest of the team, need to work on getting on base at a higher clip in the upcoming years, in order to give the Padres a greater chance to win close ball games. For longer than people can remember, this team has finished at or near the bottom of the league in OBP. It’s hard to win games when you don’t put runners on.
Renfroe evolved from a platoon outfielder on the 2019 roster, to a sure lock to start in either left or right field on opening day next year. If he is able to translate his second half of this season into next year, Renfroe will become a key figure for the Padres for the foreseeable future.
The former first-round pick of the San Diego Padres needed to show the team something this season and he did. After a season that left us with more questions than answers, we may have found the answer to the question of whether or not Renfroe is a reliable, everyday major leaguer.