By Eno Sarris //
Taking in a game at a new ballpark is one of those experiences that can take you back to being a kid again. Every corner is new, every angle needs to be explored, every dimension pored over. And that park will never be as vibrant, as exciting, and the grass will never seem as green again. It’s a great feeling.
Last night, I was lucky enough to visit Petco Park for the first time, and even luckier to take in a game between a division-leading Padres team and a surging second-place Giants team. The stadium held up to inspection, as the beach in the outfield, the Western Metal building, and the many different layers combined to make an excellent modern collage of game-going.
The players were mostly veterans in the midst of a pennant race, but an exciting young player with power and speed stepped to the plate in the third inning against Matt Cain, waited out a pitch or two, and then deposited a 93 MPH fastball down the middle over the deepest fence in the park. Hitting a ball 400 feet in Petco can make people remember your name.
Will Will Venable live up to the promise of that deep home run? His main flaw was still obvious in the limited one-game sample: he struck out in his other two plate appearances and is striking out in more a third of his at-bats on the year. In fact, had Venable accrued enough at-bats this year to qualify for the batting title, he would currently be sporting the third-worst strikeout rate in the league. That will continue to work against his batting average (now .224, despite a fairly neutral .295 batting average on balls in play) if he doesn’t improve.
We’ve seen some players with power and speed and a high strikeout rate succeed – Chris Young and Mike Cameron come to mind – but Venable isn’t locked in at those rates just yet. He didn’t really show this problem in the minor leagues – a 20.1% strikeout doesn’t seem to predict a 30% strikeout rate in the major leagues. If Venable can make the strides that Young made when he cut his rate from 30.7% in 2009 to 23.6% this year, he should make similar strides in batting average. On the other hand, Drew Stubbs provides a foil in this matter – he posted a 27.3% strikeout rates in the minor leagues and 30.9% so far in the majors.
Unfortunately, with age comes wisdom, and we have to be realistic about Venable’s power, even as we hope he can beef up the contact skills. His isolated slugging rate (slugging minus batting average) in the minor leagues was only .152 – just about average for the major leagues. He’s edged that higher recently, but he’s still only at .169 for his career. That’s about the level of Adam Jones (.163 ISO this year) and Stubbs (.169 ISO this year), and not really in Young’s neighborhood (.202 carer ISO). One thing in Venable’s favor is that he’s put up this ISO despite a tiny 59 park factor for home runs by lefties in his home park. In that way, Venable is a more valuable commodity for the Padres than for fantasy owners.
On the plus side for fantasy owners, though, Venable can definitely steal a base. He’s had an incredible 84.6% success rate on stolen bases in the major leagues, backed up by a similarly impressive 83.5% success rate in the minor leagues. He’s not a volume guy – he’s never stolen more than 21 in a given season – but he should continue to have success on the level of someone like Chase Utley, who has stolen 90 bases with an 87.3% success rate over 3600+ career at-bats.
Looking at Venable’s whole profile, we see a player who hasn’t necessarily shown the contact problems that Drew Stubbs has shown over his career, but does walk more (and strike out more) than Adam Jones and show similar power and speed. He does not really seem to have the power of Chris Young, and he has a power-sapping home park. He belongs in this group of young outfielders with power, speed and flaws.
If you’re in a keeper league, Venable and Stubbs are roughly in the same boat (even if you give Venable the higher likelihood of curbing the strikeouts): worthy adds for NL-only and deep mixed league formats, not worth the efforts in shallow mixed leagues or leagues that count on-base percentage and other, more sabermetrically-advanced offensive stats.