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.

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