Early in the season, it looked like one of Chaim Bloom’s first moves of the offseason was headed toward a dismal season in Boston. That would be Hunter Renfroe, who was signed to a small one-year deal last winter after being non-tendered by the Rays earlier in the offseason. And to start the season, it was not hard to understand why Tampa didn’t want him even at his relatively small arbitration tag. The outfielder got off to a miserable start in his Red Sox career, slashing just .167/.235/.250 on the season through one month of play.
That’s not just getting off to a slow start. That’s putting yourself in the conversation to be benched early in the season, a conversation fellow outfielder Franchy Cordero took to its natural end. Much like the case now, the Red Sox lineup in that early portion of the season was very much a haves versus have nots situation, and Renfroe was in the have nots section without any doubt.
In the grand scheme of things, not all that much time has passed since then, with Renfroe playing in only 49 games since the end of April. But it’s been enough time for the narrative to change. Monday was certainly a highlight of the year for the outfielder, as he smacked two homers to lead the team to yet another come-from-behind victory. But really it was just the continuation of a stark turnaround over the last two seasons, that not only has put him firmly in the haves camp as the core of the lineup has upped its membership to five, but is also putting him on a somewhat realistic path to an All-Star bid.
Now, we should say right up front that as of this writing here on Tuesday the 29th of June, Renfroe is not an All-Star. Full stop. The first month of the season still counts, and it was bad enough to drag his overall line down. But over these past two months, he’s certainly been All-Star caliber and finds himself with some well-regarded company. Since the star of May over those aforementioned 49 games, Renfroe has hit .307/.359/.547, good for a 143 wRC+. In other words, in that span he’s been 43 percent better than the league-average hitter, good for a tie for 27th best in the game in that span (minimum 150 plate appearances), finding himself in the company of Ronald Acuña Jr., Andrew McCutchen, and some guy named Mookie Betts.
Now, as I said, the month of April still counts for All-Star consideration, and it does make the case much more fraught for Renfroe. But it’s still worth looking at the case, for no other reason to see how close he’s gotten, even if it’s not all the way there. With this big two months at the plate, his overall line is up to a 115 wRC+, which puts him at number 14 among qualified American League outfielders. For some context, over the last three seasons with an All-Star Game, the American League side has averaged seven outfielders on their roster. Renfroe finds himself well outside that mark, entirely due to that poor month of April.
That said, overall batting lines are not the only consideration for an All-Star bid. Teams are supposed to be built from putting together a roster of the best overall players, and Renfroe’s case is helped significantly if you look at the defense. I should say at the top that we are dealing with three-month samples with defensive metrics that are unreliable even in full-season samples, but even if we were to go by our eyes you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t believe Renfroe is at least a plus defensively, if not among the best in the league for corner outfielders.
The metrics do largely agree with that as well, for whatever that’s worth. FanGraphs leaderboards give us data using both Defensive Runs Saved as well as Ultimate Zone Rating. By both metrics, including UZR on a rate basis, Renfroe is fifth among American League outfielders. Of the four ahead of him, two are well behind offensively, one (Kyle Tucker) is significantly ahead while the other (Randy Arozarena) is roughly equal.
Is that defense, along with the narrative bump he gets for playing on what is right now division-leading club, enough to put him over the hump and make this a real case for him? Probably not. There are still a good number of better hitters ahead of him on the list, and his defense in right field is almost certainly not enough to make up that gap. But it is a case worth monitoring, especially if he can carry his Monday performance over for the rest of the week. Given the pace at which he’s currently playing and the fact that there are usually at least a few injury replacements before the game is actually played, Renfroe is closer to an All-Star bid than anyone would have guessed he’d be after his April, even if he’s not quite at that level just yet.