Is Right Field A Black Hole?

One of the persistent recent complaints about the Padres – other than (a) griping about ownership and (b) CUT YASMANI GRANDAL NOW  – centers on our right fielders and their overall play.  At Fan Fest, during the Q&A with Bud Black and AJ Hinch, one fan asked why the team didn’t try and upgrade RF during the off-season.  Before I was encased in carbonite for 4 months, I planned to take a look at Will Venable and Chris Denorfia to see if their play supported their lousy reputation in the fan base.

I’m back, and there’s no time like the present.

To set the stage for this post, and because Black platoons these two, I looked only at what Venable did against RHP and Denorfia against LHP last season.  Since their defense is independent of who’s pitching, I looked at both and tried to assess how they did.

Here are Venable’s and Denorfia’s 2012 lines against RHP and LHP, respectively.

  • Venable:  .270/.339/.440; 394 PA (350 AB), 8 HR, 38 RBI, 22 2B, 7 3B.
  • Denorfia:  .337/.390/.500; 197 PA (178 AB), 4 HR, 22 RBI, 11 2B, 3 3B.

By themselves they are mediocre at best.  Combine their numbers together and they morph into VENARFIA:

.292/.356/.460, 591 PA (530 AB), 12 HR, 60 RBI, 33 2B, 10 3B.

Not a lot of HR power, but 33 doubles would have trailed only Yonder Alonso for the Padres team lead.  As an aside, it will be interesting to see how many more HR Venable hits with the fences brought in in RF/RC.  Ten triples would have led the majors.  The closest actual right-fielder to most of those numbers?  David DeJesus.  More on that comp later on.

Let’s take a look at their defensive prowess.  For this, I used the Dewan’s Fielding Bible Plus/Minus* and Runs Saved** defensive metrics.

Venable:  using Runs Saved, he saved 1 run (18th in the league).  He was +9 overall, but lost 4 points for arm strength and another four due to making more defensive misplay errors than good fielding plays, again based on Dewan’s analysis of his 2012 effort.  Breaking it down a little further, Plus/Minus gives us an idea on how he reacts to various fly ball types.  Venable is good (+2) on shallow balls, average on medium ones, and phenomenal (+13) going back for deep balls (+15 overall).

Denorfia:  using Runs Saved, he also saved 1 run (19th in the league; why with the same result he’s rated behind Venable I’m not sure).  His breakdown was different; he was -2 overall, but gets a point back for arm strength and 2 more for making more good plays than miscues.  Most of us would argue Deno is not as good defensively as Venable, and Plus/Minus bears this out; he’s +5 on shallow fly balls, but -3 on medium and -4 on deep (-2 overall).  Slightly below average.

Individually, using these metrics Venable was ranked the fifth best defensive RF in baseball by Plus/Minus.  Norf doesn’t appear anywhere on that list.  Combining them together into our super right fielder DENONABLE (in case you didn’t like VENARFIA), just for the heck of it, even with the Norf-half dragging the guy down he’d still be the seventh best defensive RF in baseball.

So what does it all mean?  Is RF really a black hole as currently manned?  Not in my opinion.  I would like to see more power from this corner outfield positon, that’s true.  However, consider this:   DeJesus (remember him) in 2012 effort was worth 1.7 fWAR.  Denonable put up better offensive numbers AND was a better defender, so they were worth at least 1.7 fWAR (more likely 2 to 2.5 WAR, considering ‘he’ can play defense).  That gets them into Cody Ross/Jay Bruce/Justin Upton territory.  Interesting.

It also makes them a bargain.  Based on his fWAR DeJesus was worth $7.5M in 2012.  Venarfia was paid $2.64M.  In 2013 he will be paid $4.675M.  Assuming they play roughly as well, they are still a bargain.  And competent.

All we need now is a T-Shirt with ‘Venarfia’ or ‘Denonable’ on it.

*Plus/Minus:  You get a Plus if you make a play that some other RF missed, and a minus if you miss a play that every other RF made.

**Runs Saved:  Captures a players total defensive value.  Basically it’s a measure of how much a player helped or hurt his team at that position when compared to the average player at that position.

UPDATE 2/12/13 9:21pm:  Added ‘defensive’ to the paragraph discussing baseball rankings, to clarify what that paragraph was trying to say.

You are encouraged to comment using an exisitng Twitter, Facebook, or Google account. Upvote comments you find helpful, and only downvote comments that do not belong. The downvote is not a 'disagree' button.

  • VM David

    Venorfia (oooh!) shirsey should be the world’s next big project. Great stuff!

  • Chill Venorfia

  • GarageSale

    I’m not entirely sure about combining platoons’ numbers

    It might look well on paper at the end of the season, but you can only play ONE rightfielder.

    You cannot play TWO rightfielders at the same time in the same position.

    Adding their separate productions and calling them a whole gets away from the fact that there is only one right field position, and only one of VENARFIA will get to play each time.

    Added up they might morph into VENARFIA.

    But put them separately, one’s a mediocre starter, and the other is a decent bench player.

    Of course, Carlos Quentin will end up getting hurt and miss quite a few games, so we will have to have either Denorfia or Venable play left field.

    That is going to be disaster.

    • GarageSale

      when kershaw’s up on the mound, he’s not throwing to VENARFIA, a switch-hitter, he’s throwing to either Denorfia or Venable.

      • RichardBWade

        He’d most likely be throwing to Denorfia who hit .337/390/.500 against lefties like Kershaw. That’s actually better than the .292/.356/.460 line of platoon combined.

        I feel like you’re completely missing the point. Maybe pick up Weaver On Strategy.

      • GarageSale

        if that is the case then why add two players and try to form an imaginary player with bumped up stats against both LHP and RHP?

        yea i get the point about denorfia vs. LHP and venable vs. RHP, and it does make sense to some degree.

        but Denorfia is a bench player and Venable is the starter at this point.

        all this does is making venable with significantly lower stats look better

        we need a better STARTING right fielder, and Denorfia can fill in as that is his role in the team.

        What if CQ goes down? what happens then? the advantages of having the platoon breaks down instantly

      • The two players form the production in RF. You’re right, you don’t get some super-player and you’re still using two roster spots to fill one position. You do however get average or slightly above-average production defensively and below-average power (Venable in particular was killed by RF), good speed (37 steals between the two), and a late-innings defensive replacement, a pitch-runner, and a pinch-hitter for both sides of the plate. For two roster spots and $4.675 million, you are getting a slightly-above average RFer and a ton of late-game flexibility in all three phases of the game. In that context, you should see the value and success of the Venable and Denorfia.

      • Tom Waits

        Agree. Weaver won, and won consistently, platooning multiple positions.

        The whole “What if Quentin goes down?” complaint is separate. That’s on Byrnes, for devoting the money and a roster spot to a player with serious health issues. You don’t downgrade Venarfia because “he” can’t provide starter-level production for two positions; he’s not supposed to.

        Our entire outfield could be improved, but compared to the rotation it’s Strong Like Bull.

        Let’s all hope we never see an OF of Denorfia / Amarista / Forsythe just because there’s a lefty on the mound.

    • GarageSale

      this logic is so shady that it looks like something that the Padres front office may have thought of in an attempt to sell a weak position to its fans.

      when you can really somehow genetically morph Venable and Denorfia into a single player, then say our right field is secured.

      because, as I said below, when the opposing pitcher is up throwing to our right fielder, it’s not going to be Venarfia with season record of .292/.356/.460 in 530 ABs.

      It’s either going to be Venable or Denorfia.

      • VM David

        There’s a difference between advocating and saying “hey, it’s not a massive black hole, after all!”

      • GarageSale

        It’s not a massive black hole.

        I like Venable’s defense (offense ehh) and Denorfia (he is one of my favorites)

        But the analysis goes far as to say they are this and that in all of baseball.

        I think the analysis itself is taking it too far

    • Met

      GS – you absolutely have to take into account each player’s offensive contribution when evaluating the production out of right field. I would bet money the Padres did exactly this. This is why teams platoon; they use two otherwise flawed players in the optimum way possible for maximum benefit to the team.

      Combining the two together defensively to get a super-RF is flimsy analysis, at best, and I admitted as much in the post. That said Venable is by far the superior defender. This is why Black almost always subs Venable in for Norf late in games the Padres are either leading or are tied.

      Quentin’s injury history is definitely cause for concern, and something the team must manage. However that has no bearing on this analysis. If Quentin hits the DL I’m sure Norf will see his share of time in left, but the team has other options (Amarista, Kotsay, even Forsythe from what I’ve heard recently) as well.

      • GarageSale

        My point is that Venable is mediocre starter and Denorfia is a good backup

        Combining those two and saying that our RF is ranked highly in all baseball is quite a “flimsy” analysis to me.

        Venable is good defender, and we need a good defender on the right field.

        But his offensive production is inconsistant and frustrating sometimes.

        What is wrong with saying that our RF is a hole? Every team has a hole on its team.

        The whole point of this analysis is to prove that our RF is secured.

        But when one of the our outfielders go down (we didn’t have CQ for even half the season last year), the whole team’s offensive production goes down.

        And Venable will have to face LHP anyway (Amarista, Kotsay, Forsythe they are all just fill-ins and I don’t think they are not solutions to the problem)

      • Met

        You seem hung up on the ‘7th best in baseball’ statement. That was based on defensive ratings only with no regard to their offensive production. To remove that confusion I’ve added ‘defensive’ to that sentence. Offensively VENARFIA is spectacularly average; maybe slightly above average. The whole ‘combined player’ is also average to slightly above average.

        Everything else you mention I’ve already addressed in my earlier comment.

        Most teams do have holes. The Padres have legitimate holes on their roster. Depending on where
        Forsythe lands the team needs either a shortstop or a second baseman.
        The current starting rotation needs help. RF is currently not a hole in the roster. People agonizing
        over RF should spend their energy worrying about something else.

  • Denorable

    • I would be comfortable with Chill Denorable.

    • Met

      Nice. Wish I’d thought of that.

  • One thing that needs to be taken into consideration is the cost of the roster spot that the Padres are burning by going with a platoon in right field.

    I don’t actually know how to do that but surely someone does.

    • Right. It’s costing the Padres that starting pitcher that they misread the market on in the offseason.

    • Met

      Good point. Let me ask that a different way: is Denorfia a reasonable option as a RH pinch-hitter/spot starter? If yes then the roster spot is his regardless at the moment.

      • A quick look at his splits shows that Norf has a career 95 wRC+ versus right-handed pitching in 732 plate appearances. So I guess my answer is “Yeah, I guess.”

  • Axion

    this is a good post thank you and namaste

  • Love this, BTW. Great stuff.

    • Met

      Thanks Corey! That means a lot.