Venable’s Winning Defense

A quick glance of the FanGraphs page for last night’s Padres-Cubs game suggests that Chris Young, not Will Venable, was the most important contributor for the Padres. Young pitched five shutout innings (still on a pitch count) and allowed only five baserunners while striking out six Cubs hitters, good for +.254 WPA. Venable, meanwhile, was 1-4 with a bases-empty single in the third inning and a stolen base. That drab performance only left him with -.011 WPA on the night. But one of the limitations of WPA as implemented by FanGraphs is the fact that immediate evaluation of defense is subjective and therefore nearly impossible to include in a live updating win probability chart.

 Simply looking at the win probability graph misses two fantastic defensive plays made by the Padres center fielder. The first play came as Alfonso Soriano led off the top of the second for Chicago. Soriano’s blast went deep to center field. The picture (and the video) tells the rest of the story.

Venable’s catch robbed Soriano of at least a double and possibly a home run. According to the WPA Enquirer at The Hardball Times, that means the play checks in at somewhere between +.093 and +.146. Not only should that be credited (at least mostly) to Venable, but that amount should be debited from Young, who was the beneficiary of this fantastic defensive play.

The Padres once again called on Venable to make a play in the top of the third inning. At this point, the Padres had taken a one run lead on a Chase Headley RBI single. With two outs in the inning and a runner on base, Aramis Ramirez hit a ball to deep left center field. Once again, a picture is worth a thousand words (and who knows how many the video is worth).

I feel safe in saying that this one would clearly have been a home run if not for Venable’s catch. The difference in the two situations – top of the 3rd, two outs, nobody on and a one run lead for the Cubs against the beginning of the bottom of the third and a one run lead for the Padres – comes out to +.289 WPA for Venable (and again, -.289 WPA for Young).

The two catches for Venable add up to between +.382 and +.435 WPA. Regardless, Venable becomes the clear MVP of the game for the Padres and Young becomes a goat who received worlds of support from his center fielder. With the 3-0 win, San Diego kept pace with the Giants and Braves, who both notched victories last night. The Padres still control their own destiny, as they will play one of the most intense and important final series of the season this weekend against the Giants. Good defense has been a hallmark of the Padres unlikely contention this season. Last night, it was good defense that effectively saved their playoff lives.

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13 Responses to “Venable’s Winning Defense”

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  1. GaryW says:

    The Soriano ball wasn’t going out, so your math needs some adjustment imo. Still, interesting take.

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    • Jack Moore says:

      The low end on the first one assumes that the ball would’ve been a double. With nobody out, it’s not as big of a difference between a double and a homer as one might think.

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  2. Rich says:

    “but that amount should be debited from Young,”

    Should it really though? Or should the amount of WPA for a typical fly ball be subtracted? Or the performance of an average cf?

    While Venable’s plays looked great, its really not possible to tell whether they were great plays, or plays that looked great on tv.

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  3. bill says:

    Uh oh, we’re veering dangerously close to actually watching games here. I don’t want anybody thinking that fangraphs writers and readers actually might watch a baseball game!

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  4. Matt says:

    Thanks for this piece. I enjoyed the game from the right field bleachers, where it was pretty obvious who the star of the night was.

    It’s no secret that Chris Young is a fly ball pitcher and gives up a big blast or two, most games. Venable really bailed him out.

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  5. MadMonk says:

    Those two plays were excellent and thanks for recapping the situation and the plays here. A lot of time, looking at fangraphs only is missing the details, a misplay here, an error there, etc.

    This is also the first game Venable since he’s off for a couple of games due to his back flaring.

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  6. Travis says:

    There are some SSS warnings, but here are Carlos Gonzalez’s and Venable’s road triple slashes/ISO/BB%/K%/wOBA/wRC+:


    2008: .240/.282/.325/.084/5.5%/24.7%/.269/63
    2009: .263/.344/.467/.204/10.1%/31.4%/.350/107
    2010: .293/.327/.459/.106/5.0%/28.3%/.343/107


    2008: .246/.329/.410/.164/11.4%/23.0%/.323/105
    2009: .299/.353/.514/.215/6.3%/27.1%/.372/138
    2010: .273/.354/.444/.172/10.9%/32.3%/.350/128

    Think the Padres would move AGonz and Venable for CarGo?

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  7. MetsFan says:

    Reading the first sentence made me chuckle — I remember watching both of these guys play basketball for Princeton, though their careers didn’t quite overlap due to Young leaving after soph year.

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  8. algionfriddo says:

    Venable really has improved in every facet of the game. He is still weak against LHP, but for somebody who picked up the game late in his athletic life he’s pretty amazing. K’s are a real problem, but less so recently. It’s hard to predict what he can do but he sure is athletic. His arm is just average but man he can fly (29-7 sb’s). His .781ops vsRHP would rank him 8th or so as a NL CF’er. Not bad considering his mid-season slump and the fact he plays half his games at Petco. Gwynn may be better defensively but Venable is far better all-round. I hope the Pads put Venable in CF and leave him there for 2011. Then they can get some hitters to fill the corners.

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