A Tale of Two Players

Not to get all “30 for 30” on you but, what if I told you that Chase Headley and Will Venable have had similar careers with vastly different perceptions by the public?

True? False? Let’s spend your Friday morning figuring that out.

First, a few caveats. Venable is nearly two years older than Headley. Obviously, they play different positions so it’s a bit difficult to make a straight one-to-one comparison defensively. Headley also has 1000 more at-bats. Finally, we will be looking at seasons in which they had at or near 300 ABs. This means ’09-’13 for Venable and ’08-’13 for Headley.

Ok, got that out of the way.

Will Venable has turned a breakout season into an extension and into the Padres future conversations. Chase Headley took his breakout season, double downed, and so far is busting in 2013. Busting being a strong word perhaps, because he is still an above average player. And I’d still sign him to an extension. However, that’s a chat for another time. But he’s probably not David Wright, even though he played like him in 2012.

Still, the perception has always been that Chase Headley is the far superior player to Venable. Venable, for his part, has been the guy who had all the potential in the world and appeared to have all of the tools but simply couldn’t put them all together. Sure, he’d put them all together for two weeks or so. But then he’d come crashing back down to Earth. Until 2013.

That’s been the perception of two players that are quickly becoming the elder statesmen in the Padres increasingly younger clubhouse. But, is it the reality?

Finally, before we get started, it’s worth mentioning that this idea was brought to me via Twitter. So, hat tip sir.

Career Numbers

We’ll start with some traditional stats. Keep in mind that these numbers are pre-Thursday’s game.

All stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Batting Average

Chase Headley: .268

Will Venable: .257

Takeaway: Not nearly as far apart as I would have thought before looking. Not surprisingly Headley has an 11 point edge and has done so in 1000 more ABs which makes that number (potentially) look even better. Though keep in mind as well that while Headley receives regular at-bats in a season Venable’s came much more infrequently comparatively.

On-Base Percentage

Chase Headley: .348

Will Venable: .323

Takeaway: Not surprisingly, Headley has a more commanding lead in this category. Headley is buyoed by two outstanding seasons in this category (’11 = .374; ’12 = .376) whereas Venable has never gone above .335 in any qualifying season. Even in Venable’s breakout 2013 his OBP remains at .315 compared to Headley’s .333. Chase can get on base. Even when it doesn’t appear that he’s getting on base.

Slugging

Chase Headley: .412

Will Venable: .433

Takeaway: This is where thing perhaps deviate from public perception. Keep in mind these numbers include Headley’s outstanding 2012 in which he reached career highs in nearly every offensive category including all power numbers, Venable still has him beat for a career. In the way this stat is calculated you have to mention that Venable’s 1000 fewer at-bats clearly help.

OPS

Chase Headley: .760

Will Venable: .755

Takeaway: Well, as you could have probably guessed, with Headley clearly ahead of Venable in OBP and Venable ahead in SLG, a stat combining the two was going to be close to equal. And here you go.

SO%

Chase Headley: 22.8%

Will Venable: 23.7%

Takeaway: Less than 1% difference. Now, after Headley’s 2013 that perhaps doesn’t surprise you. But think back to the past 5 years. Over that time I think it’s fair to say that the perception did not match this above stat. But the full career number doesn’t tell the whole story. From Fangraphs, a graph. Naturally.

What you’ll see in the event you didn’t click on that link is that while Chase Headley’s strikeouts are relatively similar year to year (his first year notwithstanding) Will Venable has severely decreased he’s strikeout rate to the point that he has a lower K% over the past two seasons compared to Headley. Will Venable strikes out less than Chase Headley. You heard that right. Perhaps not shocking for this season. But this was true last year as well.

Now for an advanced stat. Again, as it’s difficult to compare the two players defensively, I kept it to strictly and offensive metric.

oWAR

Chase Headley: 16.0

Will Venable: 8.7

Takeaway: Ok, a clear distinction here where Headley has a commanding lead…or does he? Break it down by season and you’ll not only note that Headley has one extra season in which to compile oWAR but his 2012 is a clear peak in an otherwise consistent career.

Headley by the seasons: 1.2, 1.8. 2.4, 2.6, 6.3, 1.8 

Obviously the 6.3 sticks out like a sore thumb. Meanwhile, Venable by the seasons.

Venable by the seasons: 0.7, 1.1, 1.3, 2.0, 3.0 

The numbers are closer together, other than the obvious outlier. And while Headley’s numbers have more peaks and valleys Venable’s are on a consistent and steady rise.

What does any of this mean? I’m not sure I know. You can parse this a million different ways. Venable has more stolen bases, arguably Headley is a better defender (and a switch hitter). Venable can play each OF position. I guess the primary point is this. Offensively, Headley has an edge. But that’s all he has. An edge. However, keep in mind the value you are getting. Will Venable just took his breakout year and turned that into a 2-yr contract extension worth $8.5 million.

$4.25 million a year.

Estimate for a Chase Headley contract: $10 million/yr. Maybe more.

Is Chase Headley $6 million a year more valuable than Will Venable? That question takes more nuances than we’ve covered today. Who would play third? Gyorko? Then who plays second? Dean Anna? You get the idea. Again, I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a straight apples to apples comparison.

But like in 2012 with Headley, Venable has had a 2013 season that we’ve all believed he COULD have but few believed he WOULD have at this point. Is it real or is it more mirage like the 2012 Headley season? I don’t know those answers yet.

But I do know that the difference offensively between Headley and Venable is less than public perception or perceived monetary value would have you believe.

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  • SDPads1

    Keep in mind Venable was a platoon player up until this year. He played in strictly “favorable” matchups for himself, while Headley is out there every day regardless of who is on the mound. That’s a HUGE factor when comparing numbers between the two.

    • Geoff Hancock

      Fair. By the same token Chase was receiving consistent ABs whereas Venable was not. Tougher to get into any kind of rhythm as a hitter with inconsistent plate appearances.

      I certainly am not implying that Venable is better or even as good as Headley. Hopefully it doesn’t read that way. Only that while one was “the Savior” the other has been a punching bag. And their numbers don’t match that perception.

      • Lonnie Brownell

        If you think Chase is good at the switch hitting thing (his career numbers show he’s a bit better vs. RHP), then he’s also only seeing favorable match-ups.

      • Geoff Hancock

        If its a mirage. As with Headley, I’m not sure we know what is real with either of them. I’m more confident that this Venable is real than I am that the 2012 Headley is real.

      • Geoff Young

        Out of curiosity, why are you more confident about Venable? Before the last seven weeks or so, he was doing what he always does. He didn’t get his OPS above 700 for good until July 23. Last year, Headley’s never dipped below that mark after the season’s fourth game.

      • Geoff Hancock

        Venable’s jump in pEAR is less severe than Headley’s from ’11-’12. To me that shows consistent improvementvs a clear outlier.

      • Geoff Young

        Here’s my concern with Venable:

        First 2050 PA, .249/.317/.415
        Last 182 PA, .341/.385/.635

      • Geoff Hancock

        No question. Again, I’m not suggesting that Venable is better or even equal to the player that Headley is. I’m simply saying that Venable has made more controlled, consistent progress over the years from an offensive standpoint. Is he going to repeat he’s August of this year? The BABIP of .432 would suggest no. But, is he providing similar offensive production at less than half the projected cost. I’d say at this point that he is.

      • Chase gets more favorable match-ups because of a skill that he developed as a young baseball player (switch hitting). He has created the favorable situation whereas Venable’s favorable match-ups are courtesy of Bud Black.

        There’s a huge difference. And also, “That’s Baseball.”

      • Lonnie Brownell

        Chase’s switch hitting? It might be a huge difference, or it might not. Things change, sometimes for identifiable reasons, or reasons we can speculate upon, or just because “that’s baseball”.

        Below are some numbers for these two Padres: their slash lines over the last three years by pitcher-handedness, followed by PAs and percentage of PAs.

        After 2011 people might have said “Chase is OK from the left side, but maybe he should consider batting right-handed all the time. Look at those numbers!” For Will…yeah, better keep him away from RHP. Fortunately, as you can see from everyday player Chase, the vast majority are RHP, so Will should get a good number of optimized opportunities.

        Then, in 2012, Chase’s average from the right side dropped almost .100 points, while his from-the-left went up .030 and his slugging improved from both sides–but from the left it went through the roof. Will had a shortened season due in part to being sent back to the minors to work on his baseballishness; nevertheless, he improved across the board.

        Which brings us to the present. Chase, as we all know too damn well, is struggling, down in all categories vs. the previous two years except for a slight bump in OBP vs. lefties. Will, however, is showing a lot of improvement (except for OBP, which is a bit troubling), getting more hits from both sides of the plate and more bases per hit. And his ABs from both sides are approaching Chase’s ratios.

        So…is Will finally putting it all together, or is this just his latest and largest flash in the pan? He seems to be trending in a good way, as Mr. Left Coast points out, so…KTF?

        Has Chase regressed past the mean and will come back next year? If so, to what? To the 2011 version, where we’ll wonder why he bothers batting from the left side, or the 2012 version, but maybe will less pop? Or somewhere in between? Or, as Monty Python would say, “And now for something completely different?”

        You know what that is? That’s baseball. PADRES baseball, damn it.

        Chase Headley
        2011
        vs L .352/.415/.476 105 28%
        vs R .264/.359/.370 276 72%
        2012
        vs L .265/.320/.481 185 31%
        vs R .296/.400/.506 419 69%
        2013
        vs L .245/.325/.439 139 30%
        vs R .242/.339/.369 331 70%

        Will Venable
        2011
        vs L .174/.240/.196 46 12%
        vs R .256/.319/.423 324 88%
        2012
        vs L .231/.315/.369 59 32%
        vs R .270/.339/.440 128 68%
        2013
        vs L .268/.297/.515 97 22%
        vs R .271/.319/.491 340 78%

    • This is exactly what my comment was going to be as I read. Thanks for saving me some time, Rick.

  • usmc53

    The biggest takeaway for me is that Venable’s steadily improving numbers over the past several seasons give me reason to believe that his 2014 is not a mirage. If he gets consistent, every-day ABs as our full-time RF or CF in ’14, I have some hope that he’ll continue to produce. Go Pads.

    • usmc53

      I mean “that his 2013 is not a mirage.”

  • SDPubmix

    Let’s not get caught up in the overall numbers. They can be deceiving. Venable cannot hit lefties very well, which is why he has been relegated to platoon duty in the OF. He has had his chances to play his way into an everyday role. Up until now, he hasn’t taken advantage of it..

    There is great value in a guy who can play all three OF spots well, provide occasional punch, and has speed. But Chase plays 3B, which has historically been a black hole for the Padres. He’s a switch-hitter, who has been successful from both sides of the plate until now. He has also won a Gold Glove, and lead the NL in RBI’s last season. He runs the bases well. He has more VALUE.

    His 2013 season was derailed by his broken thumb suffered during spring training. Let’s see how he does after being able to completely rest & rehab. His disappointing season may have saved the team millions if & when contract talks are resumed. Venable, if he continues to perform like he has this season, is a better BARGAIN. This being based solely on his contract, & flexibility of playing all three OF spots.

    SDPubmix

    • Geoff Hancock

      This all assumes that 2012 Headley is closer to reality than 2011 or 2013. I’m not sure that’s the case though obviously I’m hoping so.

    • Yet Venable has shown an ability to hit LHP as his opportunities have increased this year. If his ability to hit LHP is for real than he’s a fantastic bargain and could have value as an every day player moving forward.