This week, Padres ace Andrew Cashner described this man as “the most underrated player in the National League.”
He was referring to his Padres teammate, outfielder Chris Denorfia.
Denorfia is the kind of player that managers love to have on their team. He is not a superstar with a large ego, he is not a fringe player who demands extra playing time, he is not a troublemaker in the clubhouse. No, Deno is a role player, an all-out-effort guy, a “team-first” kind of player. Denorfia has spent the majority of his tenure with the Padres in a Right Field platoon situation, playing primarily against left-handed pitchers. And he has excelled in that role.
He is the hitter who bunts well. He is the outfielder who hits the cutoff man. He is the baserunner who goes from first-to-third on a single to center. He is the batter who hits the ball to the right side to advance the runner to third base.
He is the teammate who does the unglamorous things, who sacrifices his own statistics to help his team score runs.
He is the player who helps his team win.
The best part is, that’s only part of his game. He also hits for a solid average, has a little bit of power, steals some bases, and throws out runners from the outfield.
As the right-handed hitter in a lefty-righty platoon with Will Venable, Denorfia gets most of his starts against left-handed pitching. And since there are more right-handed starters than lefties, Denorfia ends up with less playing time than Venable. Despite this situation, Denorfia has consistently produced.
How good has Denorfia been? Here are some of his career numbers:
- He has the highest career batting average on the team, at .281.
- He hits equally well at home (.281) and on the road (.282), a rarity among Padres hitters.
- He hits particularly well against left-handed pitching, racking up a stellar .308 career BA.
- He hits .368 in extra innings.
- He is a career .400 hitter with the bases loaded (12-for-30).
- He tied for 3rd in the NL in outfield assists last year, with 13.
- He hit an inside-the-park home run on a ball that bounced about three feet in front of home plate.
That kind of play epitomizes Denorfia’s career. Not the prettiest play you’ve ever seen, but effective.
Denorfia and manager Bud Black seem to be perfect for each other. Black communicates very effectively with his team, letting them know very clearly what their role is and what is expected of them. Denorfia is the consummate role player, striving to do everything he can within that role to help the team win. It is a combination that has produced excellent results during their time together.
Denorfia’s platoon situation with fellow Right Fielder Venable has the potential to create unrest for Denorfia and the team. Denorfia plays less than Venable, but fairly consistently outhits him, even against right-handed pitchers, with Denorfia hitting .262 against righties to Venable’s .261. Against lefties, Deno is far superior, hitting .308 and slugging .458 to Venable’s .234 and .353. A different man might demand more playing time, or ask to be traded to a team that plays him full time. But Venable is the more athletic of the two. He has better speed and a little more power, especially against righties. And so the Padres have a slightly better chance of winning against righties with Venable in the lineup. And Denorfia wants to win. So he plays his role, and plays it just as well as he is able. And he roots for Venable to succeed.
This week’s games gave us an excellent example of the type of value Denorfia brings to the team on the field. He seemed to be in the middle of every rally and scoring opportunity the Padres had.
On Tuesday, with the team down 3-2 in the 9th, Denorfia came up with one out and nobody on and roped a single, getting the tying run on base. The next hitter ended the game hitting into a double play, but that was a failure of the other player. Denorfia did exactly what was needed in a clutch situation.
On Wednesday, in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game, Deno came to the plate with men on first and third and two out. After a passed ball brought home the first run, Chris drove a double down the right-field line, making the score 3-1. Later, he came up in the bottom of the seventh, again with two outs and a man on third. On a team that has struggled mightily getting runners home in this situation this year, Deno delivered the run-scoring base hit, making it a 4-1 game.
It was after Wednesday’s game that Cashner bestowed the “most underrated” tag on Denorfia.
On Thursday, he went 2-for-4, getting a 2-out infield single after hustling down the line to beat a strong throw, advancing Everth Cabrera to third and keeping the Padres alive in that inning. Later in the game, in another clutch situation with the team down 3-1 in the ninth inning, he led off with a base hit. Again, the offense failed to rally, but Denorfia did his part.
In Friday’s pitching duel, he laced a one-out first inning triple, scoring on a passed ball. That was the only run of the game until the eighth inning, and it allowed Tyson Ross to pitch with a lead for the entire game. Final, 2-1 Padres.
Saturday: Pinch-hitting with a runner on third and one out in the eigth inning of a 2-1 game, Denorfia laid down a successful suicide squeeze bunt, bringing home a key insurance run in a 3-1 victory for the Padres. It was Venable who scored on the play.
The squeeze play caused Padres TV broadcaster Dick Enberg to say:
That is the versatility of the talented Chris Denorfia. He’s not great at any one thing, but he’s really good at a lot of baseball skills.
I think Andrew Cashner would agree with you, Dick.