In what has become an all-too-familiar tradition, by early September I began looking around at teams whose bandwagons I could jump on. Typically in making these picks I root for interesting stories, forlorn franchises, and players I particularly like to watch play. With an MLB.tv package and pointless Padres games, I found myself watching a lot of Blue Jays, Nationals, Cubs, Pirates Royals and Astros games. For the record, those remain the teams I’m most interested in watching succeed in October unless the Angels hang on to their Wild Card spot. Then go ahead and slide them in to that list if for no other reason than the fact that Mike Trout is always fun to watch and more fun to watch in October.
But this is about the Astros. In many ways I feel like I had found a kindred spirit in the Astros. A controversial and much talked about strip down a few years ago left the Astros with a pretty poor on-field product but an amazing Minor League system. The fruits of all of that losing and embarrassment started blooming in 2015, a year earlier than most expected. Until last night, the Astros had been in 1st or 2nd place in the AL West every day since April 18th. Until last night.
As I do most Mondays, I spent this morning reading Jonah Keri’s “The 30” on Grantland. It is probably the one baseball article (aside from PP content) that I make a point to read on a weekly basis. Within this morning’s article was a link to not one but TWO previous Grantland articles on the Padres inaction at the trade deadline. At this point I had read enough national media scribes to understand the feeling and opinions about A.J. Preller’s lack of trades come July 31 at 1:00pm. But I clicked anyway. Trade deadline winners and losers. A pointless exercise on par with grading drafts that nonetheless get churned out ad nasuem this time of year.
Not surprisingly the Padres were firmly in the “losers” category. Their reasoning:
And as the offseason’s biggest buyer went into the deadline with only a 3 percent chance at the playoffs (according to Baseball Prospectus) and a ton of veterans and free-agents-to-be on his roster, it was logical to assume that he’d make some moves.
Fair enough. Can’t quibble with that too much. Except, two paragraphs later, when explaining why the Marlins FANS (not the Marlins) were losers at the trade deadline, they said this:
So the Marlins, who currently sit 18 games below .500, did what they always do when they try to contend and it doesn’t immediately work: They sold the team off for parts. Latos and Mike Morse went to the Dodgers in a salary dump, while Dan Haren went to Chicago, even though the Dodgers were paying Haren’s $10 million salary anyway.
Again, this is criticism of the Marlins. Which leads to some confusing. The Padres are the laughingstock because they acquired a bunch of parts and didn’t contend immediately and then chose to not sell those parts off. The Marlins are criticized because they acquired a bunch of parts, didn’t contend immediately, and did sell off those parts.
I don’t know how to reconcile these two thoughts. So, instead of that exercise, I thought I’d try a nuanced reaction to the Padres trade deadline non-deals.
During this past offseason the Padres jettisoned two catchers, one coming off a career year, the other a highly coveted young player who’s ceiling had yet to be reached. To replace those losses, the Padres added a slugging catcher from Oakland and a defensive minded, though offensively stunted, catcher from Los Angeles in the Matt Kemp trade. With Derek Norris, Tim Federowicz, Austin Hedges and Wil Nieves, the depth at catching did not appear to be an area of much concern for the Padres.
Of course, that all changed in Spring Training when Federowicz suffered a substantial meniscal tear in his right knee. That injury has kept him out the entire season thus far and will likely keep him out through the All-Star Break. On the bright side, he appears to be progressing in his rehab, catching a bullpen session in Arizona just last week. On the downside, knee injuries to catchers are obviously not ideal.
Despite indications that AJ Preller was trying to fill the catching void from outside the organization, nothing materialized on that front and the Padres opened the season with Wil Nieves as the backup. I don’t need to remind you that Wil Nieves was an unmitigated disaster. Coupled with Norris’ hot start to the season (.313/.329/.463), Nieves was relegated to very spotty spot starts and Norris became the every day catcher. In April, the Padres played 23 games of which Norris started in 19 of them an appeared in 2 more. So 1 day off in the month of April. Admittedly, the Padres had little options at the time.
It is hard to argue that, through the month of May (and a bit of June) the Padres season has been disappointing. We can argue over the severity of that disappointment (put me in the mild category so far). But below .500 at this stage isn’t what many people had in mind. Despite the mediocre play of the team, however, the Padres remain 3 back of the wild card and 4.5 back in the West. One need only look as far back as one year ago to see a team below .500 at this same stage of the season that went on to make the playoffs. The Kansas City Royals, them of 90 ft from tying Game 7 fame, were 4 games below .500 on June 1 (26-30) and didn’t get back to .500 until June 10th thanks to a 10-game winning streak during that time frame. Even after that the Royals still dipped below .500 on July 20th before saying good-bye to mediocrity forever en route to a World Series appearance.
Are the Padres the Kansas City Royals? No. They are not.
Can the Padres put together a 19-10 month like the 2014 Royals did in August? Yes. Yes they can.
The idea behind this off-seasons major offensive overhaul was that the Padres had one area of strength upon which to build.
In 2014 the Padres pitching staff is almost entirely to credit with the team winning as many games as they did (which, admittedly, weren’t many but far more than a team that hit as poorly as they did should win). 10th in MLB in WAR, 6th in xFIP, an 8.6% HR/FB ratio. They were solid. And even accounting for some regression and the possibility of injuries, there was little reason to worry about the pitching staff.
Then they added James Shields and Craig Kimbrel. And suddenly the Padres appeared to be a case of the rich getting richer. But in 2015 that has not happened yet.
As of Tuesday’s game in Seattle, the Padres have given up more HRs then any other team in baseball. They are last in baseball as a staff by WAR. And their HR/FB ratio has doubled to 16.9% (as of Wednesday morning when I’m writing this).
The part of the team that saw the least amount of turnover and included the addition of James Shields has somehow severely regressed. An easy scapegoat thus far has been Derek Norris, which at this point is at least a reasonable question. The biggest change the pitching staff underwent was a new catcher. But can a catcher account for such a drop-off in results?
At the beginning of the season there were question marks for the Padres. Were they too right handed heavy? Could they play defense? Could their starting pitching stay healthy? For now, it’s far too early to say what the answer to any of these questions were.
But then there were the things no one questioned. The rock solid foundation upon which Preller’s grand experiment would be built. Amongst those unquestionable facts about the Padres was that the bullpen was top notch. A strength of the team before they added Kimbrel which, financial obligation aside, was viewed as the rich getting richer in that particular area.
Through 17 games however, the bullpen, while not necessarily a liability, has been far from the strength many believed it would be. Which isn’t to say it won’t be. So let’s pause here and give the disclaimer that should precede any article or post about statistical trends on April 23.
Small. Sample. Size.
Should these stats be ignored? Of course not. That’s absurd. Equally absurd, however, is assuming we can draw any long term conclusions from them at this point. At this stage, any statistical trend is more of a “hmm…interesting” and should be filed in the “let’s keep an eye that” file.
Alliteration! Who doesn’t love a nice dose of alliteration to start their weekend right?
Well, we’ve made everyone. We’re here. One weekend to go, a few colored eggs, a couple basketball games, and then BAM! Opening Day!
Or Night. Or whatever stupid way MLB chooses to do it. The point is. When this weekend ends games will have been played that actually count. By time you’re home from work on Monday night, the Padres will have Game 1 of 162 in the books. What will happen in that game? No idea. If they lose will people freak out? Possibly. Tis the effect of waiting 5 months for games to start; the first few games feel more important. They aren’t, of course. They are just 1 piece of a 162 piece puzzle. But for some reason, the first few games feel like edge pieces, instead of stupid middle pieces that probably just contain clouds and sky. Ok, the puzzle analogy has gotten away from me a bit. You get the point though.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun and make a few predictions, most of which are almost certainly doomed to be wrong. So, without further adieu, here are 10 things that WILL* happen in 2015.
*Guarantees not Guaranteed
You can sense it now, can’t you? How tantalizingly close we are to Opening Day; how in little more than a week games will be played that count. First pitch at Dodger Stadium on April 6 is scheduled for 1:10pm, a game that had plenty of storylines already before this weeks article describing locker room strife between the pitching rotation of San Diego and former Padre backstop Yasmani Grandal.
With the start of the season will come the end of discussing A.J. Preller’s grand experiment in the abstract. It will no longer matter what projection models say, it will only matter what actually occurs on the field. Speaking of those projections, the Padres are projected, depending on where you look, to be within a game or so of a Wild Card and finish 2nd in the NL West. Most of these projections rightfully have the Nationals and Dodgers as runaway favorites and plug in 3 NL Central teams into the playoffs. Looking at Fangraphs predictions, the Padres will miss the playoffs by 1 game to the Cubs, a team that will likely be without one of (if not the) best player on their roster for the first few weeks. It remains to be seen whether the Cubs will regret that decision though it is worth noting that the Cubs play 10 of their 22 April games against playoff teams from a year ago, plus 3 against the Padres and includes a week long road trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
All of this is to say that the Padres can ill afford to get off to a slow start to the season. Let me preface this by saying that it is a bit of a fallacy to put any more weight on April vs any other month. The fact of the matter is, one bad month, regardless of where it comes from, is a disaster. For example, the last time the Padres started off above .500 in the month of April was 2010 (15-8). That season they won 90 games which, with the new Wild Card rules and based on this years projections, would easily make the playoffs. They of course didn’t, thanks in part to a sub .500 September.
Nevertheless, winning consistently over 162 games begins in April. Winning can be contagious. It helps if you catch it early.
Amongst Padres fans, 2014, as a calendar year, was not one that any of us will likely want to remember. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with painful memories, it is also a year we are unlikely to ever forget.
Five days into the new year, mere hours after the Chargers had gone on the road to Cincinnati to win a playoff game, news came out of the passing of Jerry Coleman. At 89, the voice of the Padres for as long as anyone reading this can remember, had left us. Coleman’s death was a crushing blow to a team and a fanbase. What was unknown at the time was that it was merely a harbinger of things to come.
The on field product wasn’t much better. A 12-16 April began a season in which the Padres posted near historic offensive futility. Further injuries continued to mount. Casey Kelly returned to the 60 DL, Cashner hit the DL, Maybin, Gyorko, Alonso and so on and so on. And then came June 16th, 2014. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre, had succumbed to cancer. That he is no longer with us is a fact that I still find hard to believe.
Before we start, allow me to direct you to two important pieces that Sac Bunt Dustin has posted on this site in the last week or so. One, discusses the value of Yasmani Grandal somewhat in a vacuum (that is to say, before his name was so strongly tied to a team/player). The other, posted today, is directly related (and ultimately, not in favor of) trading Grandal to Los Angeles for Matt Kemp.
I’d recommend both of those before we continue. I’ll give you a few minutes.
Ok, welcome back. Well reasoned, well researched, logic arguments, right? Couldn’t agree more.
Except, I’m going to disagree. Despite my better judgment.
This morning, I tweeted the following (while citing too myself is not really an ideal strategy, it’s useful in this case as a jumping off point):
That’s the short version. Here’s the long version.