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Aug 14

Should NL Contenders Fear the Padres?

Things have been so bad offensively for the San Diego Padres that they have actually given at-bats this year to Xavier Nady and Jeff Francoeur. These are the players you give at-bats to when your team bats a collective .225/.287/.346 because the Padres’ front office thinks, “Hey, why the heck not,” but I honestly had no idea Xavier Nady was still playing in the big leagues. When he got the call to play for the Padres do you think Nady was a little like Tom Berenger’s character Jake Taylor in Major League: “I’m hung over, my knees are killin’ me, and if you’re going to pull this shit at least you could’ve said you’re from the Yankees”? How did Josh Byrnes explain that phone charge to the ownership group?

To categorize the Padres’ offense this season as horrific is actually understating how bad they’ve been. In terms of batting average, it is the worst in franchise history and tied for 45th worst all-time with the 1872 Eckford of Brooklyn. Removing every team prior to 1910, the 2014 Padres average is eighth worst and the lowest average in the Major Leagues since 1972. Just to beat on a dead horse, the difference in their team batting average and the MLB average is -0.027, which is tied for 54th worst all-time in this rather cherry picked rate stat, and it is the worst seen in all of baseball since the 1981 Blue Jays and the worst in the NL since, ummm, the ’74 Padres. We are much smarter than to trust in batting average, however, so the Padres OPS is the fifth lowest in team history and their wRC+ is third worst.  Their OPS is the 47th worst since the end of the Dead-Ball era and one of only four teams from the aughts to appear in the Top 100 for worst OPS past 1919.

To all that I say, who cares? Does it matter that it took a hamstring cramp (is that even real?) to sit Everth Cabrera so that the Padres could actually improve upon his 66 OPS+ with Alexi Amarista’s 68? I don’t think so. They have the outfield roaming revelation otherwise known as Seth Smith, newly acquired Yangervis Solarte, and Tommy Medica and his clutch home runs. If you’re looking for more than this trio then now you’re just being greedy, and who do you think this team is, the ‘27 Yanks?

Something is happening in San Diego, though, because if you haven’t been paying attention lately these Padres are starting to win games. In August their 9-2 record is second only to the scorching hot Kansas City Royals, and since July they’re 21-15 and have outscored their opponents by 48 runs, which isn’t exactly a streak that evokes memories of the 114 win ‘98 Yankees, but for a team that was 10 games under .500 at the end of June and without one winning month up until August this is considered progress. It has to be the offense, right? Solarte arrived and solidified this team and with Chase Headley traded it was sort of addition by subtraction and . . . well, not really. While Medica is second in the Majors in OPS since the beginning of August the team is still scoring just 4.22 runs a game in August and 3.97 since July 1st. Those are way better numbers than the 2.98 runs a game prior to July and the 3.25 runs per overall (worst in the Majors by nearly half a run).

PadresScoringByMonth

That fancy blue line is the NL average for runs per game while the delicious chocolate line is the Padres. Scoring has improved! But, it’s not quite that simple is it? A club of regulars that collectively swings the bat like Andy LaRoche and ekes out runs doesn’t suddenly win games by adding an extra digit.

Not unless the pitching suddenly turns phenomenal. Or is phenomenal. Or knocks off more than ½ a run from their road ERA, 3.64 to 2.98, which would top even the mighty Mariners pitching staff if that was for the entire year. So if the Padres find themselves just six games back in the wild card race with series wins against the Cardinals, the Pirates, and a sweep of the Braves, maybe it’s because a team that finished the months of April, May, and June ranked seventh, fourth, and eighth in ERA suddenly jumped to number three in July (just behind the Rays for second) and first in August.

PadresERAYellow

Being too savvy for ERA, we can look at FIP and see a staff that is fourth in MLB in that category as well. K/9? Seventh. WHIP? Sixth. Average against? Third. HR/9? Fourth.1 fWAR? 21st. Wait, what? A staff pitching that well should be better represented, right?

The Padres have only three starters who’ve made 20+ starts on this season with Eric Stults somehow putting up a 4.76 ERA (4.80 FIP) and allowing 1.46 HR/9 while pitching half of his games in a park that could host a PGA tournament. Ian Kennedy, also in this group, is a perfectly fine pitcher, league average for the most part over his career and this year posting an ERA+ of 98. He’s far removed from 2011 when he posted an ERA+ of 137 and a career-low WHIP of 1.086, and he’s figured out how to pull off the almost impossible task of being a better pitcher outside of San Diego. That’s not to say he’s not to be included in the happenings and mound shenanigans from this past month plus. Batters hit a paltry .205/.310/.277 off of him in July as he went 3-0 with a 2.53 ERA. It doesn’t matter where you pitch when you’re dealing to a tune of 23 hits allowed in just 32 innings.

Notice there’s no Andrew Cashner? The tall flame-throwing righty has started just 12 games this year with various ailments, the latest putting him out since mid-June with a sore right shoulder. Rookie Jesse Hahn has pitched admirably to a tune of a 2.52 ERA, but he’s struggled with his command, walking nearly four per nine, and in his last two starts (in August, so those July numbers won’t be affected) he’s lasted just 5 2/3 and 5 innings respectively while allowing three earned runs in each. His first two months, however, were nothing short of spectacular as he compiled a 7-2 record and struck out slightly over a batter per inning. Opponents also batted just .182/.270/.246 against him, and in July those numbers were even better as batters “hit” .172/.263/.230. Hahn isn’t exactly following the typical model of throwing mitt-popping heat, but he’s inducing batters to swing at nearly 33% of pitches outside the strike zone. He mixes his pitches well, never relying too heavily on the not-quite a fastball and mixes in his cutter 30% of the time. He also befuddles batters on the road better than at home so far in his young career, meaning he’ll be a valuable trade chip in four years.

I’m saving my second favorite Padre pitcher (next to Cashner, of course) for last, and that’s Tyson Ross, the third year (in terms of service time) righty who in July seemingly took it personally when batters stepped into the box. Across six starts, he tossed 41 innings with an ERA of 1.10. In each of those six starts, he tossed at least six innings, struck out nine or more three times, and allowed one or fewer runs five times (he allowed two earned in the other start in Colorado). If you extend that out into August, he’s gone six innings in his two starts will allowing two earned runs in each, and those two came against the Braves and the Pirates, two teams the Padres are theoretically competing against for the wild card. Money pitcher! He was across the board good in July, evidenced by the table below:

Month IP K/9 BB/9 WHIP FIP ERA
March/April 36.2 7.85 3.68 1.42 4.11 3.68
May 39 8.77 3.23 1.15 2.93 2.08
June 32 9 3.66 1.25 3.76 3.94
July 41 10.54 2.2 0.93 1.91 1.10
August 12 7.5 3 1.25 4.05 3

Tyson Ross Monthly Splits

Against Ross, batters hit .194/.250/.250, but it’s tough to allow hits when you’re striking out over 30% of the batters you face. His previous high for the year was 23.9% in May, so you could say he dialed it in. In a return to sanity, Ross is much better at PetCo on the season as he allows a line of .196/.262/.269 at home while on the road it’s .265/.343/.400. Well, certainly that’s because he’s a fly ball pitcher and PetCo plays to “those kind” of hurlers. You’d be wrong again, straw man, as Ross’ career FB% of 26.7 indicates he’s anything but and this season it’s dropped to a career low 22.5. That’s also a good reason why his HR/9 rate of 0.62 is so low (don’t be too fooled by that. He’s allowing a microscopic 0.31 HR/9 at home while it jumps to 1 on the road).

Can these pitchers lead this team to one of the two wild card berths with an offense that’s historically awful? I wouldn’t bet my 2000 Amazin’ Mets Wheaties cereal box on it, not when they’d have to leapfrog five teams to do so, but they do have a four-game series with the Cardinals starting this Friday and there are seven games left against San Francisco, two of the teams currently above them in the standings. Two more of those teams, the Mets and the Marlins, really aren’t contenders, and the Braves haven’t played above .500 since the beginning of the season. That leaves Cincinnati, which still has 10 games against St. Louis and six against Pittsburgh. So, while those Central teams are laying waste and ruin upon one another, perhaps San Diego solves Arizona (3-6 against this season with 10 left to play) and Los Angeles (3-7 against with 9 left to play) and somehow plays meaningful ball into October.

Farfetched? Sure, but is it anymore farfetched than believing the Padres would be just six out after with the collection of underwhelm that manager Bud Black has penciled into the starting lineup each and every game? Maybe, with a hope and a prayer, we’ll have a Padres/Angels World Series, giving us a billion David vs. Goliath storylines or making it mandatory Sunday baseball is cancelled for pseudo-religious reasons.

  1. Playing in spacious (is it a requirement to always refer to PetCo as spacious? This seems to be the standard. I refuse to deviate from the norm here. At this point, wouldn’t it be more jarring to not have “spacious” included? If I wrote, “Playing in luscious, verdant PetCo,” you’d probably look for some hidden meaning in that, right?) PetCo park helps, but their 0.87 K/9 on the road would rank them middle of the pack if the luscious, verdant PetCo played similar to Citi Field.

2 comments

  1. gloccamorra

    Well, you can talk about horrible offense with aggregate numbers, but when the team hits .171 in the month of June, with the 1st baseman, 2nd baseman and shortstop all hobbled with injuries that put them on the DL, the aggregate numbers become meaningless. Mentioning Nady and Francoeur doesn’t mean anything either since they were released after 37 and 24 at-bats, respectively.

    Even comparing offense to the league average doesn’t tell you much, since the team is also near the top in fewest runs allowed, because the pitching and defense have been stellar all year. In fact, the run differential is now minus-ten, after dropping to a low of minus-sixty-six in the horrible month of June. Having the entire infield playing with nagging injuries has made for an up and down year offensively, but now that healthy younger players have taken over, the direction is up.

    It’s kind of like Chase Headley’s 2012 season. The aggregate was .286 with 31 homers and 115 RBIs, but after 4 months of 2012, he was hitting .268 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs (an 18 homer, 78 RBI pace), then hit .318 with 19 homers and 63 RBIs the last two months (a 57 homer, 189 RBI pace). Which Headley was the real one? The hard part about assessing a team over a six month, 162 game season is that teams go through stages that overall stats don’t capture, like the juggernaut Braves early in the season, compared to the sad-sack Braves of today.

    1. Scott Bline

      My first non-spam comment in the post. I have to admit; it’s a little weird not seeing an offer for cheap Jordans or sunglasses attached to it. This is a big day.
      You make some good points about using runs w/o providing more context, but the goal of the opening was more to present some of the more popular statistics used to paint the Padres as offensively feeble while leading into the dominance of the pitching staff. And, while it was a bit disingenuous to present Nady and Francoeur as mainstays (I didn’t mean to anyway), I thought it was a fair point to discuss the broader argument that teams w/ a sound lineup wouldn’t employ either.
      Discussing the ups and downs of the season also is a valid point you make. Watching a lot of the Nationals this year, I’ve seen stretches where the team looked like a budding juggernaut one month and the next looked horrid. Mostly you try not to read too much into small sample sizes like that, but it does make for easy presentation.

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