Hunter Renfroe Brings More Than Just Powerful Bat to Brewers

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Just before the league-wide lockout, the Red Sox and Brewers completed one of the off-season’s biggest trades. Milwaukee acquired slugging right-fielder Hunter Renfroe in exchange for centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects, infielders Alex Binelas and David Hamilton.

When the move went down, many people saw it as a defense-for-offense trade. After all, Bradley Jr. is widely recognized as one of the best defenders in baseball, but his hitting has always been a question mark. In 2021, Bradley had the worst year of his career, slashing a miserable .163/.236/.261 with six homeruns in 134 games. Renfroe, meanwhile, hit .259/.315/.501 with 31 homeruns and 96 RBIs. The Mississippi native has never hit fewer than 26 homeruns in any full season.

The acquisition of Renfroe is certainly a nifty one for the Brewers, as their offense struggled mightily in 2021 and ultimately led to their early exit in the playoffs. But Renfroe is far from a one-dimensional player. He is vastly underrated as a defender and brings more than just a powerful bat to the 2022 edition of the Brew Crew.

Renfroe’s Canon of an Arm Will be a Major Asset in Milwaukee

Long before Renfroe made his MLB debut, scouts were already praising his strong outfield arm. Renfroe showed everyone why last season, racking up 16 outfield assists and tying with Adolis Garcia of the Texas Rangers for the major league lead. It wasn’t the first time Renfroe led the league in that category. The right-fielder threw out 13 baserunners with the Padres in 2019, tied with Bryce Harper for most in the National League. Put simply, you won’t find a stronger outfield arm than Renfroe’s in baseball today.

This not to say, of course, that Renfroe is a spectacular defender. He did commit 12 errors last year, the highest total in the majors. The advanced metrics—such as Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating—rate him as a solid but slightly below-average fielder. Still, his canon of an arm cannot be overlooked. At a time when outfield assists are a rarity—no one has thrown out 20 baserunners since Alex Gordon did in 2011—any outfield should be happy to have Renfroe in it.

Assessing Renfroe’s Place On The 2022 Brewers

When you combine his powerful arm with his powerful bat, it’s clear that Renfroe’s acquisition represents one of the smartest moves the Brewers could’ve made this offseason. He is a major offensive upgrade and is far from a defensive downgrade. While you can’t expect Jackie Bradley-like defense out of him, you can expect him to catch plenty of unsuspecting baserunners by surprise.

Renfroe also fills the hole left by right-fielder Avisail Garcia, who was dealt to the Miami Marlins earlier this offseason. Garcia is a very similar player to Renfroe—their seasons were almost carbon copies of each other’s. Garcia slashed .262/.330/.490 with 29 homeruns and 86 RBIs and posted a nearly identical strikeout-to-walk rate. What’s more, Garcia is also known for his powerful arm. He led the American League in outfield assists in 2015 and 2017. Renfroe may have big shoes to fill, but the good news is that they are shoes just like his.

For 2022, Renfroe joins an outfield that consists of former gold glove winner Lorenzo Cain and former NL MVP Christian Yelich. Neither Cain nor Yelich lived up to their usual level of production last season. Yelich has battled back injuries for a couple years now and Cain, while still an excellent defender, is heading into his age 36-season. Taking these factors into account, Hunter Renfroe’s presence in Milwaukee feels essential. He may not be the flashiest acquisition from this star-studded offseason, but then again, baseball is not a game determined by superstars alone—just ask last year’s world champion Atlanta Braves. Oftentimes, it’s players like Renfroe who prove to be the difference between a pennant and an October spent watching the postseason on TV.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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