What Made Hunter Renfroe Expendable?

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In a shocking move to some, the Boston Red Sox shipped right-fielder Hunter Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Jackie Bradley Jr., and prospects David Hamilton and Alex Binelas. Renfroe is coming off a career year at the plate. He posted career highs in batting average, RBI, and on-base percentage, all while collecting a career-best 1.8 WAR.

Not only was Renfroe a legit threat at the plate, but he dazzled fans with highlight plays in right-field throughout the season. His canon for an arm was on full display. To quantify how effective his arm was this past season, he ranked ninth in all of baseball in ARM. ARM is a metric that gives outfielder’s credit depending on what runners do on a hit or a fly ball out. A fielder gets credit for throwing runners out and keeping runners from advancing extra bases.

That’s pretty impressive, and there’s no doubt that Renfroe’s bat and arm were one of the key reasons for the Red Sox’ resurgent 2021 season. So why would the organization seemingly give up on one of the game’s better offensive and defensive threats?

Defensive Upgrade

Doesn’t Renfroe have a rocket arm that few outfielders in the major leagues possess? Yes he does, but if you look past the ARM metric Renfroe actually graded out as a negative defender according to Statcast. When it came to range runs (RngR), error runs (ErrR), and UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating per 150 innings) Renfroe was a below-average defender.

On the other hand, Bradley has made his name on defense. Not only does he have the reputation, but he has the analytics to back it up as well. In 2021 Bradley was a plus defender in ARM, RngR, ErrR, and UZR/150. He will almost certainly be the starter in center field, while Enrique Hernandez takes his talents to second base or right field, while probably being called on to play center when Bradley is unable to.

“We feel that we have two of the best at that position,”. That was a quote from Chaim Bloom as he commented to reporters shortly after the trade was made. With Bradley, the Red Sox can now take advantage of Hernandez’ talent as a utility fielder more so than they could last season without a reliable backup in center.

2021 Advanced Fielding

Player ARM RngR ErrR UZR/150
Hunter Renfroe 1.7 -0.2 -3.0 -2.1
Jackie Bradley Jr. 1.4 8.2 1.0 16.9
ARM: Outfielder’s get credit (plus or minus) depending on what the runners do on a hit or a fly ball out. A runner can stay put, advance, or get thrown out. A fielder will get credit not only if he throws out more than his share of runners, but also if he keeps more than his share of runners from advancing extra bases.
RngR: The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity.
ErrR: The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by the number of errors he makes as compared to an average fielder at that position given the same distribution of balls in play.
UZR/150: The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games.

Sign of Things to Come?

Now that there is a potential vacancy in right field, could this be a sign that the front office has a move in mind? One of the biggest names linked with the Red Sox is top international prospect Seiya Suzuki. The 27-year old Japanese superstar racked up quite the resume during his nine-year career in Japan. A .309/.402/.541 slashline makes Suzuki a huge prize this offseason.

What makes Suzuki an even more intriguing prospect for the Sox is that in his scouting report, he is lauded for his power to left-field, and his ability to drive fastballs. This sounds like someone who would really enjoy Fenway Park and the green monster.

Not only has Suzuki shown to be elite at the plate, but much like Renfroe, he’s shown a canon in right field. He’s also garnered eight defensive runs saved in his last two seasons playing in right field. Keep an eye on Suzuki once the lockout ends. The Red Sox are in prime position to land him.

Besides Suzuki, the Sox could tap back into the free-agent market. Notable right-fielders such as Michael Conforto and Jorge Soler are still available. This is of course contingent on how they plan to use Bradley, and if they see Hernandez as a viable option in right.

Seiya Suzuki 2021 Batting Stats (Hiroshima Toyo Carp)

Games PA Hits HR Total Bases RBI BB SO AVG. SLG. OBP.
132 533 138 38 278 88 87 88 .317 .639 .433

The Chaim Way

It should be said that trading someone in Renfroe’s situation is not foreign to Bloom. The Red Sox signed Renfroe to a 1-year $3.1 million contract before the 2021 season (the Red Sox controlled him for up to three seasons). This is coming off of a less than stellar 2020 campaign for Renfroe when he produced a slashline of .156/.252/.393. The Red Sox bought low in hopes that Renfroe would rejuvenate himself in 2021 (which he did) and increase his market value.

So Renfroe went from being someone designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays to being dealt for a top-notch defender and two of the Brewers’ top 30 prospects. So Bloom improved the team’s defense and farm system depth by betting on Renfroe in 2021.

Main Photo:

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Players Mentioned:

Hunter Renfroe, Jackie Bradley Jr.David HamiltonAlex Binelas, Enrique Hernandez, Seiya Suzuki, Michael Conforto, Jorge Soler