“I don’t know how much of the Padres chapter [in the Baseball Prospectus 2015 annual] is gonna survive. …The Padres chapter was all about, it was explicitly about, how the Padres just blend in and how they are, like, the boringest franchise.”
-Sam Miller, Effectively Wild episode 591, December 22, 2015.
Later in the episode, Sam says “that’s the narrative about the Padres that survived 3-and-a-half weeks,” but I would say that before December 18, 2014, it’s a narrative about the Padres that survived for about fifteen years.
The Padres exist in a box. It’s a brown box. It’s made of cardboard. It has six sides, eight corners, and four flaps on the top that you can open and hey, there’s a baseball team inside. There was little special about that baseball team, but there it was. The Padres have two World Series appearances that mostly bookend Tony Gwynn’s Hall of Fame career – but the post-Gwynn Padres have been a whole lot of “whatever” (in a box!). No truly identifiable franchise players, (Jake Peavy was always the subject of trade rumors, Adrian Gonzalez was traded in his prime, and Chase Headley being top-10 in bWAR in franchise history after 6 full seasons is just kind of weird), and outside of back-to-back division titles in 2005-2006 with only one playoff win in those seasons combined (marred by their 82 win regular season in 2005, making the playoffs by virtue of being the only team with an over .500 record in the NL West), the Padres have blended in with the background of Major League Baseball, coming out annually wearing hideous camouflage uniforms before retreating back into anonymity.
I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I think the Padres have led the league in “Oh, yeah!” moments over the last decade or so. Here’s this Typical Conversation amongst friends who slightly-more-than-casually enjoy baseball:
“Well of course the Dodgers are going to win the NL West.”
“Yeah and the Giants will probably contend for the Wild Card.”
“The Rockies probably finish last, sorry Mikey.”
“Diamondbacks might be a sleeper but it’s hard to tell.”
“We’re forgetting one team here.”
“Yeah, the Astros.”
“No, they’re in the _American League_ West.”
“D’oh, you’re right.”
“Wait, who are we forgetting? All the divisions have 5 teams now.”
“It’s the Padres!”
“OH YEAH, the Padres!”
But here comes AJ Preller, shouting “to hell with the post-Gwynn narrative, let’s get out of this damn box!” In his first offseason as GM, AJ Preller did his best to go Extreme Makeover: Baseball Edition on the Padres and had the most active offseason in the league, making a “whole bunch” of trades (it was mostly trades) to improve the big league roster, with the cherry on top being the free agent signing of SP James Shields in February. The Padres’ window of contention went from “maybe possibly being open at some point down the line,” to “open right now.”
Within 24 hours in December the Padres added Derek Norris, Will Myers, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton. Shields would sign as a free agent two months later. In the process they give up little in terms of impact minor league talent (retaining their top three prospects), and didn’t kill their payroll situation in 2015 or beyond.
Sure of course there are questions, but the Padres, for the first time in forever, are exciting! They’re a team that maybe could be going places (maybe)!
Probably safe to say Padres are the final winner in the Shields trade. Should be an exciting year in San Diego!
— Wil Myers (@wilmyers) February 11, 2015
How do they score runs? Are they notably home-run dependent? Notably light on power? Is their lineup predicated on depth, or on huge production from a few stars?
Last season the Padres finished third-to-last in home runs, and dead last in ALL THREE slash line categories. As a team, San Diego put up a whopping .226/.292/.342 slash line, good for a .634 team OPS. This makes the Padres’ offseason moves all the more important.
Offensively, the trades to bring in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers will certainly help an outfield that finished -1.3 wins above average in the outfield last season. Myers was known as a power hitter during his ascent through the minors (37 dingers in 2012 between AA and AAA will do that), but that power has not yet translated to the majors, in part due to a wrist injury. Upton (29 HR in 2014) and Kemp (25 HR) have provided some pop in their careers, but Petco is not friendly to power hitters (more below). As long as Derek Norris can get his first half/second half splits under control, he’s going to be a great addition.
The infield, meanwhile, leaves a lot to be desired. Alexi Amarista’s value is in his glove, but he had a .600 OPS (76 OPS+) last season, and per the Baseball Prospectus annual, 30 percent of his plate appearances came in the leadoff spot. Yangervis Solarte and Will Middlebrooks will be competing for playing time at third base. Jedd Gyorko at second base needs to show that he’s more 2013 (23 HR, 113 OPS+) than 2014 (10 HR, 79 OPS+). Yonder Alonso needs to stay healthy, but even then he doesn’t hit for as much power as you’d like out of someone playing first base (7 HR, .387 SLG in 3 seasons with the Padres).
What are the manager’s tendencies? Do they use pinch-hitters and platoons liberally? Does the team have the platoon advantage in an especially large or small percentage of their plate appearances? Does the manager call for steals and hit-and-runs often? Is the team aggressive in taking the extra base on hits and outs? Do they lay down sacrifice bunts with unusual regularity, or irregularity?
Hey did you know that Bruce Bochy used to manage the Padres? Yeah, three Giants World Series ago, that’s where he worked before going to San Francisco. Weird, isn’t it? After Bochy left for nor-Cal, the Padres hired Bud Black and have stuck with him ever since. The Padres ranked in the middle of the pack for sacrifice bunts and stolen bases last season (on some level that’s so Padres, on another level maybe the manager could stand to take some risks or find ways to “manufacture runs” when your team is probably just going to make a whole bunch of batting outs anyway). Coming up this season there probably aren’t many uses for platoons, with the exception of Solarte and Will Middlebrooks at third base. Black will have options in the outfield with Venable and Maybin being better defenders over the starters, and he will have to determine when to work them into the lineup, and which late-game situations will warrant pulling one of their starting outfielders.
Where are the pressure points? Who might need to be replaced? What will their optimal batting order be? Is it likely to be adhered to?
Any optimal lineup would involve Amarista batting 8th, but since almost one-third of his plate appearances came in the leadoff position in 2014 he might end up seeing time there again. There are a lot of fun ways to move around the middle of the order, though.
3B: Yangervis Solarte
CF: Wil Myers
LF: Justin Upton
RF: Matt Kemp
C: Derek Norris
1B: Yonder Alonso
2B: Jedd Gyorko
SS: Alexi Amarista
I’m not necessarily convinced that Middlebrooks will win the starting job over Solarte outright. Myers would be a better option for the leadoff spot when Middlebrooks draws a start, but it’ll probably be Amarista.
Yonder Alonso has spent much of the past two seasons on the DL, so Tommy Medica could spend considerable time at first. Medica hit 9 homers last season in part time duty, but is at the cusp of Majors/AAA (or quad-A if you will). When not getting time at third, Will Middlebrooks could see some starts at first as well.
Are park factors a large or small consideration? Does the team’s park favor a particular batter type or handedness?
Petco park makes hitting home runs very difficult. An extreme pitchers’ park, the Padres hit the third fewest homers in the Majors, but that works both ways, as they allowed the 4th fewest. Especially in the era of depressed offense, it will be even harder to hit homers in PetCo.
Fake Teams, the SB Nation website dedicated to fantasy sports analysis, did some research on Petco Park and its effect on right-handed power hitters, since the Padres added three to their outfield for 2015. Home runs in particular are suppressed by Petco:
The marine layer that settles in on San Diego on a nearly nightly basis may be to blame, but it’s not clear. We can all agree that home runs really get hurt by Petco, so I expect big power reductions from all of the new sluggers in their new home. I would reduce their homer projections by 10-20%, but be careful not to reduce their average or on-base numbers too much, since Petco isn’t nearly as hard on singles, doubles, and triples as it is on homers. Also, with all these good hitters in the same lineup, I would not be surprised to see run and RBI increases for all of these guys except Kemp, who was in an all-star heavy lineup last year.
[Aside: the Fake Teams follow-up to that post shows some not-insignificant day/night splits at Petco]
What is their balance between pitching and fielding? How is responsibility for keeping runs off the board apportioned?
It’s really pitching, fielding, and the park all working together to keep runs off the board.
The Padres had a ground ball-to-fly ball ratio about in line with the Major League average last season, and James Shields falls roughly in line with league average as well. The cavernous Petco park means that there won’t be as many home runs allowed, which helps on some level, but the outfielders will still have to get to the fly balls that don’t leave the yard. Even allowing a league average number of fly balls could be dangerous for the Padres as the outfield defense of Upton/Myers/Kemp could most nicely be described as “adventurous.”
John Dewan at Bill James online writes that the Padres defense saved 43 runs as a whole in 2014, including 15 runs saves by outfielders. The trio of Kemp, Myers and Upton saved…negative 30 runs. And one of them will be playing centerfield this year. Woof.
Is the starting rotation generally a flat one, or one dominated by one or two aces? Does the manager allow his starters (or some subset of them) to go especially deep into games? Do the starters share common characteristics, or are there any philosophies the team’s pitching coach seems to drill into each?
The projected 2015 Padres rotation, along with PECOTA projected WARP (via Baseball Prospectus 2015 annual):
- James Shields (1.8 WARP)
- Andrew Cashner (1.7 WARP)
- Tyson Ross (1.2 WARP)
- Ian Kennedy (1.0 WARP)
- Brandon Morrow (0.2 WARP)
Not bad here. If Cashner can stay healthy (he spent 3 months on the DL last season), and Ross can repeat his 2014, these numbers could all go up. Shields will be the workhorse of the bunch as he looks to cross 200 innings for the 9th straight season. Ian Kennedy had a bounceback year in 2014 working with pitching coach Darren Balsly. (fun quote from Tyson Ross on Balsly: “He’s been the biggest difference in my career…Coming to San Diego to work with Balls and having a manager who also pitched and understands what I’m going through, the growing pains, has been huge to me.” Haha, work with balls. I’m 12 years old btw.)
When the middle and late innings come, does the manager have a long or a quick hook? Does he often make multiple pitching changes during innings? Is he aggressive and aware of matchups? Is the bullpen strictly hierarchical? Is it dominated by a set-up man and closer, or are there a large number of usable, interchangeable arms?
Joaquin Benoit and Kevin Quackenbush (my favorite MLB name at the moment, probably; and his Baseball-Reference URL is “quackke”) sit atop the bullpen hierarchy, pitching mostly in the 7th and 8th innings (and the 9th inning, after the trade of Huston Street to the Angels in July). Behind them there’s a bunch of guys who could kind of fill in those other spots, including but not limited to Brandon Maurer (who is not the same as “‘Brandon Morrow’ said with a speech impediment”) Robbie Erlin, Nick Vincent (with a set of ROOGY splits), Frank Garces (future LOOGY), Shawn Kelley, and Alex Torres.
Does the team deploy a large number of infield, or even outfield, shifts? Do they turn double plays well? Does the outfield control runners on hits into the gaps and on flyouts? Are any players out of position? If so, is it strategic, or does the team overestimate the defensive abilities of those players? Are any players on the bench used as late-inning defensive replacements?
The Padres shifted 153 more times in 2014 than they did in 2013, typical of teams in the National League, who all shifted more often between ‘13-’14 (except the Cubs and Reds). The Padres shifted a mere 88 times in 2013, so that increase brought them to 241 shifts which puts them 8th in the NL…right smack in the middle of the National League. (say it with me again, That’s So Padres!)
The outfield will be a place for late inning defensive replacements. Upton has only played LF and RF in the majors (and exclusively LF in 2014); Kemp was 26 runs below average by UZR and 23 runs below average by DRS; Myers has a whopping 6 Major League starts in CF, and almost by default will be starting there. Essentially, the Padres went and acquired three corner outfielders and maybe expect one of them to be able to play center for 6-7 innings a night, until they can reasonably sub in Cameron Maybin or Will Venable without having to sacrifice a lot of run production.
Does the primary catcher frame pitches well? Does he control the running game? Does the backup complement him, either by being excellent all-around or by doing things the starter does poorly?
Derek Norris brings a lot to the table with his bat, but not as much with the glove. As we saw in the Wild Card game last season, he’s not the best at throwing out runners (7 SB allowed in that game alone) while during the season opposing runners had an 83 percent success rate on 72 attempts (per BP Annual). Tim Federowicz came over in the Kemp trade but as of Friday evening will be lost for 3-6 months after suffering a significant meniscus tear. Wil Nieves is the in-house option, but perhaps the Padres could look to the trade market (see below).
Does the team’s home park impact their ability to prevent runs in any unique way? Is the park factor drastic? Is the square footage of the outfield significantly off the MLB norm?
We’ve talked a lot about Petco already and its crazy home run suppression, and its status as one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball. Only the smallest outfield by square footage could make this starting outfield look like decent defenders.
Is the farm system well-stocked? Have any recent performances or additions changed the perceived standing of that system? Are there players on hand, in the upper levels of the minors, who are ready to take over roles with the parent team in the event of injury? Are there players who make especially good potential trade chips?
The Padres went into the 2014 season with the 11th ranked farm system in the game, per Baseball Prospectus, but fell to 16th in the pre-2015 rankings as much of the depth once in the system has been traded to make improvements to the big league club. Even without depth, the Padres boast three top-100 talents that keep their ranking afloat: Catcher Austin Hedges, outfielder Hunter Renfroe, and pitcher Matt Wisler. The problem is that there’s very little after that trio, and after forfeiting the 13th overall pick because of the Shields signing, they won’t have that opportunity to add a first round talent without a trade (or without an over-slot commitment).Those three guys would make good trade chips, but the Padres held on to them for a reason and probably won’t part with any of them unless it’s for a very significant big league player (Cole Hamels, perhaps?).
Speaking of injury, who is particularly fragile, or coming off off-season surgery that might impact their season? How deep is the team at the positions where they have injury-prone players?
Wil Myers and Andrew Cashner both spent significant time on the DL last season. Joaquin Benoit missed much of August. Yonder Alonso played fewer than 100 games for the second straight season. An injury is sidelining their backup catcher for half the season. Brandon Morrow is coming off surgery. Jedd Gyorko missed two months with plantar fasciitis. So yeah, the Padres have some health issues.
Middlebrooks and Medica should be able to fill in for Alonso at first if he is injured again. There’s also some insurance in the outfield if Myers continues to have issues, or if Matt Kemp can’t replicate his 150 game 2014 with Cameron Maybin and Will Venable.
Is the team currently trying to win? Are they rebuilding or shooting for contention right away? Is their current course the most advisable one? Do they have payroll flexibility, either to make another addition before the season begins or to supplement the roster as needed during the campaign?
The Padres are very much trying to win now, but they’ve retained considerable payroll flexibility for at least 2015. The Dodgers will be picking up a cool $18 million of Matt Kemp’s salary this season, while James Shields will make only $10 million in the first year of his deal. Starting next season, though, the Padres’ obligation to Kemp increases from $3 million to $18 million; and Shields will go up to $21 million for the remaining 3 years of his contract. The Padres will have to make decisions on Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy, both set for free agency after 2015. All that said, the Padres only have $56 million in contracts committed for 2016. They certainly have the room to make a move if they have to.
All contract info via Cot’s Contracts.
What move (or moves) should they make as soon as possible, in order to bring their long-term goals into focus (without setting them back in regard to their short-term ones)? Make a recommendation.
The Padres have been all over the Cole Hamels rumor mill, and probably have the top minor league talent to acquire him. For San Diego, Hamels’ $22.5 million per year contract is fairly reasonable considering their payroll obligations in 2016. Such a trade would wipe out their farm system, but if they truly believe their window is open now, Hamels is someone who could be had.
Two more expedient moves: First, trading for a backup catcher, which has moved up their list of priorities with Federowicz out for the next 3 months at least. MLB Trade Rumors compiled a list of possible targets including Austin Romine, Steve Clevenger, Wilin Rosario, and Welington Castillo.
Second, sign Hector Olivera. The Dodgers appear to be willing to blow the competition out of the water, offering at least $20 million MORE than the Padres and Marlins, but landing the 29-year-old Olivera would not only keep him away from a division rival, but also strengthen a currently weak infield (of course, this is assuming his UCL isn’t damaged).
What’s likely to happen? Will the composition of the team change? Will they compete? Will they win anything? Make a prediction or two, as specific or as vague as you would like, but make a prediction.
With so many moving parts, it becomes difficult to really lock down on where the Padres will finish. How will the new Padres’ production be affected by PetCo Park? Will major players lose significant playing time to injury? As it stands, I don’t think this team is better over a 162 game season than the Dodgers, but there’s a chance they could be as good as the Giants. Last season, the Padres finished 77-85 in third place.
In 2015, I’ll say the Padres finish 85-77, still in third place. However, with a little tinkering here and there (and after this offseason I certainly wouldn’t put that past Preller) and with a little bit of injury luck, that could easily be 86 or 87 wins, and with that win total San Diego would be right in the thick of the Wild Card race. As it is with any team, if the Padres can make it to the playoffs, then anything can happen. Who knows, maybe 2015 really is the year the Padres finally step out of the background for an extended period of time.
More on the Padres:
Jeff Quinton at Baseball Prospectus: How the Padres won the offseason
Zachary Levine of BP at Just a Bit Outside: Why the Padres can’t play it safe
By day Brandon Lee works at a nonprofit organization in Chicago, and by night he’s usually still working for that nonprofit organization in Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter at @bleeinternets where he mostly tweets about the MLB, NBA, and his dog.Next post: Attempting to Measure Smart Baserunning
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