In a year of unlikely successes, Chris Denorfia might be the unlikeliest. A career minor leaguer*, Denorfia made his way to San Diego in mid-May when Scott Hairston went down, I can only imagine the team advised him to go ahead and buy an apartment. Since then, he’s been the second best hitter on the team with a wRC+ of 134. He’s hit nine home runs in a little more than 200 at-bats, and he’s done it with a BABIP-LD% of 12.9**. Come October, Denorfia will be in the starting lineup and he’ll have earned his place.
I just wish the team would stop putting him in center.
While not quite the second coming of Brady Clark, Denorfia’s highlight reel is a little shorter than the average centerfielder. According to UZR, he’s been below average this year, posting a -3.1. Dewan’s +/- is harder on Norf, placing him at -5 DRS (defensive runs saved). But with Anthony Junior out the rest of the regular season, it looks like Denorfia has little to worry about with his job security.
There are other options, though NL Manager of the Year-to be Bud Black has shown little interest in them. Over the course of his Padres career, Hairston has made 98 starts in center and has a +5.3 UZR*** in center. But with his regular scheduled second half slump (.490 OPS), S dot has found his playing time severely limited. Then there’s Luis Durango and the recently reacquired Jody Gerut, but neither of them are good enough to muscle their way into the starting lineup. That leaves us with one obvious option.
Will Venable is no stranger to centerfield, having made 42 starts at the position since 2008. But I’m not going to bother drawing any conclusions from those 300+ innings. Really, there’s very little evidence to draw any conclusions about Venable’s defense, but in sixteen hundred total innings, he’s saved 13.7 runs out there. He’s been tasked with Petco’s right field and he’s come out on top. At least, so far.
One troubling trend I’ve noticed as this season has gone on is the slow phasing out of the youngsters from the lineup. Of the Baby Pads who started the off this year, only Chase Headley sees regular playing time. Venable is next but a couple of hundred at-bats behind. In 2011 and beyond, this team is going to needs these youngsters to pick up where Adrian and co. leave off. Finding out if Venable is capable of delivering 20 home runs out of center is a good start.
Denorfia’s a great story, and he’ll remain one in left field. Let’s see if Venable’s ready to play.
*Denorfia 208 major league at-bats coming into 2010, compared to 2630 of the minor league variety.
**This means that only a little luck has been on his side.
***In 921 innings.