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Chris Denorfia, Seth Smith, and the power of playing time

Two Padres outfielders were expected to be only fill-ins in the preseason, but when you fill in for oft-injured guys, you fill in A LOT.

Denis Poroy

With his eyesight and health both on the serious decline, I end up driving my dad around a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Like, I had to beg off of driving the 45 minutes each way to pick him up to go shopping this afternoon because I needed to write this piece, and I felt genuinely bad for leaving him hanging. Maybe it's groceries or maybe it's a doctor's appointment, but my dad needs lots of chauffeuring.

I mean, it's not a big deal. He's my dad, he drove me around for 16 years, I can do it once every week or so if need be. And he's a huge baseball fan like me, so there's a guaranteed conversation topic (sandwiched around him saying "Oh, I like this song!" for every new track on the Pandora Ernest Tubb station I created just for the drives) the entire time. Even though my dad doesn't play fantasy, he likes to hear about my leagues and my rosters - or, at least, he humors me while I talk about them. Pretty much the same thing.

I told my dad different versions of the same story about one of my teams a few different times during spring training - not intentionally, but I talk a lot, you know? - and I included the same funny comment every time. See, I'm part of the Fake Teams Dynasty League, which is in its inaugural season right now. It's a 20-team league with 30-man big-league rosters and a minor-league system as well. If you aren't owned in that league, you are probably Izzy Alcantara, and I think there's a rabid free-agent bidding process for him right now.

"And in that draft," I repeatedly told my dad, "I ended up with three Padres outfielders, and none of them is named Will Venable or Carlos Quentin!"

It was a shorthand way of saying this was a crazy deep league, and guys like Seth Smith and Chris Denorfia (and Cameron Maybin, but don't get me started on him, it makes me too sad) were viable, useful pieces who would go in the later rounds. I also had/have Austin Jackson, Leonys Martin, and Peter Bourjos (and Maybin, sigh) in my outfield, so Smith and Denorfia were just depth pieces, but ones I thought might have some value, since Quentin (and Maybin, sigh) are not exactly paragons of health.

(Lest you think "Dude, you have to start either Bourjos or a Padres backup on a fantasy team" with pity - which would be totally legit, don't get me wrong - I got Dee Gordon in Round 20 and Mark Buehrle Of The 0.86 ERA [his full name] in Round 27, so other things went well. I will not be mentioning Tanner Scheppers, Phil Hughes, or Felipe Paulino again, however.)

It's not that Denorfia or Smith were worthless a year ago, or ever, really. Denorfia put up a .279/.337/.395 slash line in 2013, with 10 home runs and 11 steals. No, he won't be rivaling Andrew McCutchen or Mike Trout, but as a super-late draft pick, someone who goes (or can go) 10-and-10 is nice. Meanwhile, Smith, in less regular playing time, hit .253/.329/.391. And they plied their 2013 trades in San Diego and Oakland, respectively, so we can at least say they weren't helped by their ballparks (though that problem has not abated in 2014, so we can't really boost their projections; it's still nice to acknowledge).

(Another parentheses here, as I just realized that I wrote about Luke Gregerson Wednesday and Smith today, and the two were traded for one another in the offseason. It was unintentional. But hey, I did what I did.)

I've written several times about finding value in super-deep leagues just by finding at bats. You want solid rate stats when possible, sure, but, unlike counting stats, your rates in deeper leagues will be lower than in shallow leagues, and therefore, guys merely getting at bats are more valuable. It was why I promoted Juan Francisco late last year, and why I thought (and think) Abraham Almonte could be useful this season.

The same is true of Denorfia and Smith. In 16 Padres games in 2014, Denorfia has played in 15, and started in nine, including six of the last eight. Smith, meanwhile, had played in every San Diego game on the young season before Wednesday, starting in all but the season opener. He was benched Wednesday and Thursday because the team faced a lefty opposing starter, and he's ... not great against southpaws (.583 career OPS against lefties versus .845 against righties).

The main point there is that Denorfia and Smith are, today, more "full-time" than we expected in the preseason. Yes, neither Maybin (sigh) nor Quentin has played yet, and both are moving toward their respective healthy returns, but in a combined 17 big-league seasons (eight for Maybin, nine for Quentin), those two have qualified for a batting title a total of four times and played more than 137 games in a season once. Let's just say I wouldn't be shocked if the Smith/Venable/Denorfia outfield was the team's most common one in 2014.

(Another parentheses I DIDN'T PLAN TO DO THIS THIS MUCH: One of my favorite all-time dumb jokes between my dad and me was about Chris Denorfia: Several years ago, one of the baseball broadcasts mentioned that Denorfia is the only major leaguer to have gone to the same high school as John F. Kennedy. My dad told me that, and I said "Denorfia is from New England? I guess that means his real name is actually Denorfi-er." You probably think that joke is dumb, because that joke is dumb, but I still giggle every time I think of it, because much of my family is from the northeast and I guarantee they all would pronounce it Denorfi-er.)

Right now, Seth Smith is hitting .262/.367/.476 with two homers. Denorfia is at .275/.293/.375 and has stolen three bases. If you're in a 10- or 12-team league, feel free to basically ignore them, or at least to only use them in desperate situations. I get it, and I don't blame you; I don't own either guy in my shallower leagues, either.

But once you get in deeper leagues, it's easy, but short-sighted, to look at Smith and say "Pssh, pinch-hitter against righties, not valuable enough." Or to see Denorfia and be hard-pressed to see how he gets significant playing time with the Venables, Quentins, Maybins, and, heck, Xavier Nady-types there to take his plate appearances. Remember, in the deepest leagues, a guy who comes to the plate 500 times is way more valuable than a guy who hits 20 points higher in half the at bats.

Now, if you'll excuse me, Pandora has just started playing Jim Reeves, and dad insists that I turn it up.