As we continue to travel up the National League West, our next stop is in San Diego to take a look at the 2009 season. There is good news and bad news for San Diego fans. First, the bad news. The Padres were outscored by 131 runs. That was by far the worst in the major leagues. But the good news is that despite that ugly fact, the Padres won twelve more games than they did the year before. The Padres went 32-23 in August and September. They even played .500 baseball in April and May. If you could find a way to throw out June and July, they would have right there. All the stats say that they played over their ability. The team's Pythagorean Win-Loss rating comes in at 67-95. In other words, they found a way to win eight more games than they should have.
Poring down at the Padres' 2009 statistics, it seems that this team isn't well built for their stadium. Petco is rated as a pitcher's park and in fact rates a miserly 89 on a 100 point scale for ball park factors. Despite this ball park, the Padres have not loaded their lineup with high on base guys. You can understand why the Padres would come in dead last in the majors in slugging percentage. But that being the case, it's doubly difficult when you come in 13th out of 16 National League teams in OBP. Adrian Gonzalez walked 116 times, but that is because pitchers worked around him because there is nobody there to protect him. Besides Gonzalez, Chase Headley is the only other full time starter on the Padres who finished higher than 100 OPS+. Kevin Kouzmanoff in particular shows promise as a hitter but walked only 27 times in 573 plate appearances. He really needs to improve that performance or he is destined to be another Francoeur.
Two things give hope to the line up. First, four-star prospect, Kyle Banks, got some playing time toward the end of the year and got in 172 plate appearances. His ten homers and .868 OPS during that time are very promising. Promising also is Will Venable who doubled Banks' plate appearances and finished with an 110 OPS+. If Venable can be a bit more patient at the plate and improve his ability to take a walk once in a while, he can be a very nice player for them. Tony Gwynn, Jr. had a .350 OBP in 451 plate appearances and might be a decent producer batting leadoff in the future.
The Padres' starting pitching was really, really bad in June and July. Peavy went down with an injury and guys like Walter Silva, Josh Blanks, Josh Geer and Edward Mujica (who did much better in relief) really killed them. For a team in a pitchers' park that ended up with an 85 ERA+ is telling.
But again, the news is brighter there too. When the Padres traded Peavy, they got Clayton Richard, who really pitched well. Top prospect, Mat Latos (not a misspelling), got ten starts and held his own. Wade LeBlanc got nine starts and went 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA. Kevin Correia and Tim Stauffer gave the team 47 starts of league average pitching. So a rotation of Correia, Latos, LeBlanc, Stauffer and perhaps Chris Young can be pretty decent and perhaps better than that if everything gels correctly.
The bullpen showed some bright spots. Heath Bell was awesome as the closer. He was as successful as Trevor Hoffman, and yet brings more power to the table. Luke Gregorson was great in relief as was Joe Thatcher and between those three pitchers, they struck out 237 batters in a little under 199 innings. That's blowing people away! Mujica seemed to find a home in the bullpen as well.
Off the field, the Kevin Towers era is over as the GM was fired at the end of the year. With the GM gone, it will remain to be seen if Bud Black will remain as the manager. The new ownership group knows baseball, more so than any ownership group ever in San Diego and that should help the Padres grow.
The Padres will have to decide if they keep their one legit superstar in Adrian Gonzalez. But consider that Gonzalez had a horrible slump in June and July. There isn't much coincidence that they had awful months as a team during that time. Taking him out of that line up and out of that city would devastate the Padres' offense and that just doesn't seem worth saving a few bucks over. Hey, Tony Gwynn was a Hall of Famer that the Padres kept around through some terrible years, only to see that pay off when the Padres finally did make it to the post season.
Off season moves? The Padres don't seem to be expected to be free agent hunters unless it is the low money, low risk category. They could use a second baseman. Eckstein may be a "gamer" but he isn't much of a player anymore. Hopefully the Brian Giles era will be over. Both of the team's catchers don't hit much, so perhaps that is an area of improvement. But there is little out there that could help.
All in all, the Padres showed some promise toward the end of the year. Perhaps they played over their heads. But just perhaps, they may have turned the corner on those lean years.