Venable’s Terrible Night

Not often can one player account for 60% of his team’s runs batted in and still have a night that invokes more sympathy than props. Will Venable’s Saturday night has to qualify.

Everything started off ordinarily enough. In the second inning against Rockies’ starter Jason Hammel, Venable took the first pitch for a ball and then grounded the next offering to the shortstop for the third out. -.012 WPA.

Venable would get his second at-bat in the fourth inning. The bases would be loaded with one out. Once again, Venable would take the first pitch for a ball. He would work the count to 3-2 before hitting a ball to center which resulted in not a single, nor a double, but a triple. Effectively clearing the bases and putting the Padres up 3-2. +.256 WPA.

Venable would come up with a runner on in the sixth and promptly grounded into a double play. -.064 WPA.

In the eighth inning of a tied game, up would came Venable, again with the bags full of runners and two outs. The tough Rafael Betancourt on the mound would prevail in the end, striking Venable out and stranding the runners. -.146 WPA.

Onto the tenth inning, Venable up, runners on the corners, and Randy Flores is brought in to face him. Flores would do his job, as Venable would ground the ball right back to him, again ending the threat. -.148 WPA.

He’s nowhere near finished. Two innings later, Venable would come up with … get this, the bases loaded in a tied game. He would get ahead in the count 1-0 and then hit a roper into left field that the speedy Carlos Gonzalez ran down. -.182 WPA.

To call this game a battle of the benches and bullpens is an understatement. Bud Black and Jim Tracy managed like this was taking place a week earlier, and that they could mutually agree to end the affair whenever they pleased. The Padres’ bullpen shines as the most impressive part of the latter innings. Heath Bell allowed more baserunners than the other Padres relievers had combined.

Oh, but our friend Will Venable was not done and after the Pads grabbed the lead (the eventual winning run), he would step to the dish with a runner on third … and fly out. -.039 WPA.

For those keeping count, that’s a total of -.334 WPA by Venable despite a three RBI triple that gave his team the lead. That’s a really impressive set of misfortunate at-bats by Venable the rest of the night to rack up more than -.500 WPA in one game.

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WPA does a nice job of assessing a player’s contribution to winning. Ironically, I suspect that had he not cleared the bases with that triple, the WPAs associated with the later at bats would have been low enough that he would have had a better day – from a WPA perspective – without the triple and 3 RBIs.

But the liner that Gonzalez tracked down reminds me of a concern with WPA that suggests that it is still a work in progress, for several reasons.

WPA is credited only to the pitcher and the batter, which is overly simplistic. Clearly, there are many situations where the play’s outcome is affected by others: base coaches, base runners, and various fielders. Consider Izturis’s single on Friday, April 9 scoring Pie from first.

First, there is a probability, albeit quite low, that either Bautista or Wells might have made a catch on the play. If that had happened, the run would not have scored ending the inning. But Janssen would have credited with the WPA out and Isturis, despite stroking the ball with a high probability of being a single would get the WPA penalty.

Second, there is the decision by the third base coach to send Pie. Ideally, we need to compare four game states: (1) first and third with 2 outs, (2) second and third with two outs – as Izturis might have been able to take second on a throw to the plate, (3) Pie is safe a home, and (4) Pie is out, ending the inning. Clearly, the third base coach has influenced the win probability.

Third, there is the role of the three fielders on the play, given that the ball fell in. Wells throw to MacDonald (I think) who relayed it to Buck. MacDonald’s throw had been more accurate and cleanly handled by Buck, there’s an excellent chance that Pie would have been out. In my mind, MacDonald and Buck should share some responsibility for the run scoring.

The sabermetric community has made progress with some aspects of this, but it has not been applied to WPA. For example, UZR has assessed the probability that either Wells or Bautista could have fielded the hit, which has yet to be incorporated into WPA. But we still need to make progress assessing the impact of the throws made by the fielders, the catches of these throws by basemen and the actions of base runners and coaches.


There is the problem of “not enough data”. Do we have statistics on third base coaches (“WHP – wave home percentage”), or relay throws, etc? I agree that there should be a greater effort to include defense in WPA/separate it from pitching. I’m not sure, but are fielder errors penalized to the pitcher or the fielder?


I don’t see errors impacting the fielder’s WPA. But remember, most of the sabermetric community rejects errors as being subjective, which is why UZR is being used.