Former first-round draft pick Hunter Renfroe is frequently stereotyped as an “all-or-nothing” or “two-outcome” hitter. Basically, someone who’s expected to either strike out or hit a homer in a given at bat. It’s hard to argue with this sentiment, as Renfroe has finished with a strikeout rate below 25 percent just once during his four-year tenure as a big leaguer. Coincidentally, that year, 2018, was also the only year he finished with a wRC+ over 100. Renfroe’s success at the plate typically correlates with his ability to limit strikeouts and make more contact. And when he makes contact, the ball typically goes far.
After Renfroe finished 2020 with a .156 batting average, the Rays designated him for assignment in the offseason, allowing him to hit free agency and allowing the Sox to take a flier on him this year. It wasn’t too hard to get on board with adding Renfroe, as the deal was cheap at $3 million for one year and, even if his bat isn’t at its best, he provides excellent defense in the outfield. Defense was one of the team’s biggest issues last year, and Renfroe was just one year removed from his season with the Padres in which he accumulated a spectacular 19 defensive runs saved.
Now, a little over 60 games into the season, Renfroe leads all Red Sox players with 5 defensive runs saved and has made a number of impressive plays in right field. But his stellar defense is something we knew about and expected. The real surprise has been the emergence of Renfroe’s bat.
Hunter Renfroe has been absolutely mashing since May 21st, with a wRC+ of 189 and an OPS over 1.000 during this stretch. He struggled quite a bit to start the year, but this recent hot streak has helped his season’s wRC+ to get over 100 for the first time since the aforementioned 2018 season. A major factor in this has been Renfroe’s lowered strikeout rate and increased contact rate. The former is finally below 25% for the first time since 2018, and his contact rate has risen almost five percentage points from last year’s mark to a career-high 76 percent.
Sure, Renfroe’s BABIP is 50 points above his career mark, but I don’t think that’s cause for concern at all. His average exit velocity sits at a career-high 91.5 mph, over three miles per hour higher than the league average, and his hard-hit rate is at its highest point since — you guessed it! — 2018. When you hit the ball that hard, more hits are going to drop in. If Renfroe is able to maintain this level of hard contact, there’s no reason to think his hot streak won’t continue.
Boston’s core four hitters – Alex Verdugo, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers – have been phenomenal thus far in 2021, but it’s unrealistic to expect them to carry the load each and every day. For the Sox to keep up their winning ways, they need guys in the bottom half of the order to step up when their core guys are slumping, and Hunter Renfroe has been doing just that. When you factor Renfroe’s exceptional defense into the equation, it sure looks like the Red Sox got a bargain this past offseason.