Cubs Add OF Chris Denorfia for $2.6 Million

When I hear that titular name, my mind automatically goes to Vincent D’onofrio, who is perhaps best know for his role as Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. The Cubs, however, are thinking platoon with Denorfia, a righty who will likely split time with Chris Coghlan in left.

For their money, the Cubs get a 9-year veteran who has played in 705 games with four different teams (Reds, A’s, Padres, and Mariners) and who has a career slash of .272/.331/.394.¬†Denorfia put up positive WAR in 7 of his first 8 seasons (only played 4 games in 2009) and compiled a 9.7* total from 2009-13.

If we were talking about that Denorfia, this signing would be a no-brainer. But the wheels fell off a bit last season, during which the veteran turned 34; in 121 games between the Padres and Mariners, Denorfia slashed only .230/.284/.318. His BB-rate and K-rate were, respectively, lower and higher than his career averages.

Some of that might be mitigated by power, but that’s not the case with the Cubs new bat. Denorfia hit only 3 home runs in 2014, has never hit more than 10 in a season in his career, throughout which he’s racked up only 38 longballs. But maybe the Cubs got him to hit lefties in place of the left-handed-hitting Coghlan.

Cogs, after all, hit only .247 against like-handed pitchers last year and carries a .243 career BA against that same group. And while the incumbent left fielder has a little more pop, relatively speaking, only 5 of his 30 career homers have come against lefties.

So does Denorfia strengthen the Cubs from that perspective? If we look only at last season, in which he batted .220 with 31 strikeouts in 130 AB’s, the answer is no. But the Cubs aren’t looking to extrapolate a down year. That’s because Denorfia carries a .294 lifetime average against lefties, 35 points higher than he’s put up against RHP.

In 304 fewer AB’s, Denorfia has exactly the same number of home runs (19) and walks (86) off lefties as he does righties. He’s got only two fewer doubles (45 to 47) and eight fewer RBI (85 to 93) as well. But even better, his BB%¬†(9.4 vs 7.0) and K% (13.2 vs. 18.7) are far better when facing left-handed pitching.

Also considered a good clubhouse guy, Denorfia should be able to slot it an any outfield spot but isn’t a threat to take anyone’s job. He’s a low-risk signing with the potential to recapture some of his performance from that stretch over the last few years.

Denorfia will turn 35 this year, so it’s unlikely that even a moderate return to form will see him in Chicago beyond the length of this one-year deal. But both he and the Cubs know that; this is a nice little puzzle-piece move, one that doesn’t look like much on the outside but helps to round out the roster with a guy who you know won’t be a problem.

WAR figures according to Baseball-Reference.com

Batting statistics via FanGraphs

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