Projecting Chris Denorfia


It’s terribly easy to get lost in debates about the potentional outcome of the Anthony Rizzo trade.  It’s easy to discuss the production expectations of Yonder Alonso or the pitching possibilities for Andrew Cashner.  Offseason transactions are exciting, but they often cause us to forget about the players that were already here.  Players like Chris Denorfia.

Denorfia was given a one-year deal this offseason.  His performance in 2011 made it hard for the Padres to just watch him go.  So he’ll be back patrolling the outfield in 2011.  His level of contribution, playing time, and future possibilities will work themselves out, but for now, we can focus on what he’s done for San Diego and what we hope he will do.

I’ve found myself naturally comparing Denorfia to Steve Finley last season, so let’s start there.  How alike are they really?

We’ll focus first on fielding.  Finley was with the Padres for his age 30-33 seasons.  He won two gold gloves while with the Padres.  Yet, Gold Gloves do not tell the true story of a player’s defense.  Since, DRS and UZR did not exist and the numbers do not go back to Finley’s days with San Diego, we’ll focus on Total Zone Runs per year (Rtot/yr).  Rtot/yr is essentially the number of runs above or below a average a player was worth over the course of the season.  The stat is based on 135 games played since it is so infrequent that players play in 162 games.  In 1998, Finley had the following Rtot/yr:

Considering he won a Gold Glove in 1995 and 1996, it’s interesting to see the runs he may have cost the team.  I do believe Finley was an above average outfielder, and his overall numbers prove that.  Yet, during his time with the Padres, he was mediocre at best.  The statistic itself may not be the best judge of a player’s defensive ability considering Sammy Sosa was the league leader in this category in 1995.  That being said, below is Chris Denorfia’s Rtot/yr for comparison.  Denorfia has been with the Padres for his age 29 and 30 seasons and will be entering his age 31 season.

Denorfia actually put up better numbers than Finley, but most of his damage was done in right field.  Not centerfield where Finley spent the majority of his time.  This is important to remember because Denorfia figures to be the Padres everyday (or at least most common) right fielder.

We’ve covered defense, so how about some offense.  In 1995, Finley put up the following slash-line: .297/.366/.420.  He also hit 10 home runs.  Finley followed that up with perhaps his best season in San Diego.  He hit .298/.354/.531 with 30 home runs.  In all, Finley’s OPS+ was 112 in his four years with the Padres.*

*It’s important to note that Finley played his home games with the Padres at Qualcomm Stadium.  Qualcomm’s park factor in each of those years was 94, 98, 92, 90.  While the first reaction would be to think Qualcomm played a little better for hitters, the fact is the stadium played very similar to PETCO.  In Denorfia’s two seasons so far, PETCO’s park factor (for batting) was 95 and 92.  

Denorfia hit .271/.335/.433 with 9 home runs in 2010.  In 2011, he hit .277/.337/.381 with just five home runs.  However, Denorfia and his increased batting average and OBP, saw his K% decrease from 16.1% to 14.4% and his BAbip rise from .300 to .314.

In all Denorfia really isn’t all that similar to Steve Finley.  They were quick outfielders who played in essentially their same age seasons with the Padres (assuming Denorfia plays at least a total of four years).  However, Denorfia has shown a little more defensive prowess (surprisingly enough*) and a little less offensive pop.

*It’s important to remember the ever-changing nature of defensive statistics.  By and large, defense is the one area of baseball that still hasn’t been mined for all the data yet.  The eye test would have indicated that Finley was a better defender, while one statistic (Rtot/yr) indicates Denorfia was better.  Take this with a grain of salt.

As far as Denorfia’s projection for 2012, he will be fighting for playing time surely.  I still expect to see him in right more often than anyone else, but he will have Will Venable as competition.  Bill James predicts a continued decrease in K%, a regression toward the norm for BAbip, and a slash-line of .269/.330/.387.  Rotochamp, a fantasy baseball draft software site, projects a considerably better season for Denorfia.  They project a slash-line of .288/.352/.413.

So where will Denorfia end up?  Likely somewhere in between.  He should put up anywhere between 1.5-2.5 WAR.  He will be a productive player to the point of possibly receiving another one-year deal at the close of the 2012 season.  Playing more time in right field with Maybin as the everyday center fielder will be beneficial, and we should see Denorfia increase his defensive WAR quite a bit.