Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Scrum in the NL West: Padres

The owner of a southern California baseball team went through a divorce which threw the team into turmoil. Sounds like the Dodgers, right? Well, it's true that happened to the Dodgers. But it also happened to the San Diego Padres. John Moores, the majority owner of the Padres since he purchased the team from Tom Werner, was divorced from his wife in 2008. Those proceedings prompted him to sell the franchise to a group led by Jeff Moorad. The deal meant that Moorad and his group would make incremental payments to Moores until they owned the majority of the team. The transfer of the team has been messy and MLB tabled a vote to confirm the final purchase of the team by the Moorad group. Now Moorad has temporarily withdrawn that purchase request to help get a television deal done with Fox. Though the Padres' situation hasn't been in the news as much as the Dodgers and Mets' situation, this turmoil has affected the product on the field just as dramatically.

Two years ago, the San Diego Padres were the darlings of Major League Baseball. A surprise team from the start, the Padres held the top spot in the National League West until the very last day of the season when the San Francisco Giants killed their dream season and eventually went on to win it all. The Padres won 90 games in 2010. Coming so close to winning the division, did the Padres try to build on their success? If you can call trading their best player to the Red Sox for prospects and a perennial fifth outfielder, not really. The Padres won 71 games in 2011.

After the failed 2011 season, Jed Hoyer, the general manager, left the Padres to join Theo Epstein in Chicago and Josh Byrnes has taken over as the GM. One of the first moves was to trade arguably their best pitcher to the Reds for a top prospect first baseman who will take over for the top prospect first baseman the Padres received from Boston in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. The prospect first baseman the Padres received from Boston, Anthony Rizzo, fizzled in San Diego and was traded to Hoyer and the Cubs for Andrew Cashner. Other players are involved in all these deals and only time will tell their ultimate effectiveness. But the gist of the story is that in two successive off seasons, the Padres traded away their best positional player and their best pitcher. 

Gosh, this is going to be a long post. Feel free to bail if you need to. We still have a preview to get to here. But the preamble was necessary to get to where the team is today. If the Fox deal is approved by Bud Selig, a ton of money will be infused into the franchise and that will help moving forward. But for now, the team is assembled on the cheap.

When the Padres had their fun run in 2010, they scored 655 runs and allowed only 581. The offense wasn't great beyond Adrian Gonzalez and they were in the bottom third of the National League in offensive statistics. But that was prolific compared to the 2011 offense which cratered to 593 runs scored, 62 less runs scored than the season before. The team finished next to last in on-base percentage and dead last in the National League in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. Two of the players the Padres received from the Red Sox, Rizzo and Eric Patterson went on to bat .141 and .180 respectively. Ouch.

Ryan Ludwick led the team in homers and RBIs with 11 and 64. No Padres hit 30 doubles. Cameron Maybin led the team in runs scored with 82. This was a bad, bad offense. The pitching was remarkably similar to 2010. But the offense had to be addressed. Have the Padres done enough? Baseball Prospectus predicts the team will score 631 runs. That isn't as high as 2010 and only 38 more runs than 2011. So the answer has to be no. Since this post is already long, here is a list of the proposed starters for 2012 with some comments after:
  • First base: Yonder Alonso
  • Second base: Orlando Hudson
  • Shortstop: Jason Bartlett
  • Third base: Chase Headley
  • Left field: Carlos Quentin
  • Center Field: Cameron Maybin
  • Right Field: Will Venable
  • Catcher: Nick Hundley
  • Bench: John Baker, Mark Kotsay, Jesus Guzman, Andy Parrino and Chris Denorfia.

Raise your hand if you've never heard of two of the last three bench players (raising hand). Alonso was the big chip in the Mat Latos trade with the Reds. The Padres are convinced he will succeed where Rizzo failed. Some writers after the deal thought Rizzo had more upside than Alonso, but time will tell. Alonso made a major splash with the Reds after his call up last season. He should strike out less than Rizzo. Most projections put him in the .250/.320/.400 range but that seems pessimistic. Alonso should be an improvement.

Nick Hundley is a solid offensive catcher. He is rated poorly in framing pitches but good at blocking pitches in the dirt. Recent rankings of catchers based on new statistics rated him the fourteenth best catcher in baseball in 2011. So he is slightly above average overall.

Orlando Hudson has slipped defensively as he gets older and neither he nor his partner, Jason Bartlett are very good offensively. Chase Headley is better offensively, but rated worse as a fielder than the rest of his infield mates.

Cameron Maybin was just given a major extension and is top notch in the field in center. Maybin is also great on the base paths once he gets on base. He stole 40 bases last season in 48 attempts and is an excellent base runner in other ways too. The jury is still out on how good an offensive player he is though. Despite all the hoopla, his on-base percentage was only .323 last season and most projections list him ten points lower heading into 2012. 

Will Venable is a fine fielding outfielder who has never hit as well as expected. His Achilles heel is hitting against left-handed pitching. So expect him to platoon somewhat with Denorfia again in 2012.

Carlos Quentin was obtained from the White Sox in a December deal. Quentin will take over from Ludwick in left and should be an upgrade offensively. The key will be how he does at Petco as that is what seemed to defeat Ludwick. Ludwick was probably a better fielder than Quentin. A gut reaction is that this isn't much of an upgrade, but we'll have to see how it works out. 

The pitching rotation lost Mat Latos and Aaron Harang but picked up Edinson Volquez (obtained in the Reds deal). The thought here is that Volquez will have better success in Petco and become a quality pitcher again. It isn't beyond the realm of possibility that he could take up most of the Latos slack. The thought here is that Cory Luebke is primed for a breakout season and should be the next great young pitcher. There are also bullish thoughts about Tim Stauffer who seems far better than his stats have shown thus far. Clayton Richard and Dustin Moseley round out the rotation somewhat adequately. And perhaps Micah Owings can start a few games and hit a homer or two. One can always dream, right?

Huston Street replaces Heath Bell as closer and that seems a wash. Luke Gregerson is very good and Andrew Cashner can be electric. The bullpen has always been a Padres strength and that should be the case again in 2012.

Baseball Prospectus predicts the Padres will win 79 games and finish just ahead of the Dodgers. That seems optimistic after they won only 71 games in 2011. But consider that the Padres run differential in 2011 shows that the Padres had a Pythagorean won-loss projection of 79 wins a year ago, which sort of puts a black eye on Bud Black's managerial genius theory. If Quentin and Alonso hit and some mild surprise happen from the rest of the offense and if Luebke and Stauffer can be as good as is thought here and Volquez has a good season, then all of those things combined could push the Padres over .500. But all those things must happen to keep the Padres from sinking to last season's depths.

There is hope for the future though. The new television deal with infuse the Padres with more cash and Keith Law rates the Padres' farm system as the best in the big leagues. And perhaps someday, the ownership situation will be resolved and stability will come. 


Thomas Slocum said...

Yeah, but you can't beat the weather!

Anonymous said...

You left out why the Padres finished 8 games under their pythagorean: 2 starters lost to surgery after 18 and 20 starts, 3B Headley lost for 6 weeks with a broken finger, 2B Hudson lost a month and a half with 2 DL stints and rehab assignments, C Hundley lost a month to an oblique strain and another month to elbow surgery, Gregerson lost a month with an oblique strain, Lefty loogie Thatcher lost 4 months to shoulder strain (he pitched only 10 IP), and Hawpe put on the DL with a bad elbow in May, and was done for the year after surgery. That's 1B, 2B x2, 3B, C x2, 2 SPs and 2 RPs, all lost for significant time to injury.

San Diego

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Yes, that's why they had a disappointing season, but the run differential was still achieved by the players that did play and indicate they should have won more games.