“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence;
then success is sure. “
– Mark Twain
As I sit here and write this the Padres are exactly at .500, 3 games back of 1st, and are about to start a 4-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jason Marquis is starting and I’ll likely have to update this opening paragraph to account for whatever it is he does. But more on Marquis and his black magic later. (UPDATE: Jason Marquis threw another solid game tonight helping the Padres beat Los Angeles 6-3. His line: 6IP, 2ER, 1BB, 5SO. So an un-Marquis type performance with a very Marquis-like result. At least Marquis-like as of late.)
The Padres began the season with an Over/Under line of 74.5 wins. Which means that Vegas essentially was saying the Padres were roughly a 73-75 win team (the idea being that Vegas wants equal amount of bets on both sides of that line). Jonah Keri of Grantland.com predicted 72 wins and in his first “The 30” article of the season had the Padres as the 2nd worst team in baseball…behind Miami.
For awhile, these predictions seemed accurate. The Padres, as has been well documented, got off to a 5-15 start with no sign that they could pull out of that slide.
But then they did and here we are.
Which begs two questions for me? Have (and should) expectations changed for the 2013 Padres? How would we define success for this team as of today? The second question is difficult to answer as many people have many different definitions of “success.” So we’ll deal with that first.
Success (noun) –
favorable or desired outcome
That’s the actual definition. Which gets us no closer to answering the question of how we define success for the Padres. So I took to Twitter to get a sense of what fans think a successful season would be. Here are some responses:
@LeftCoastBias so maintaining the .500 pace and finishing 81-81 still a success. 85 seems to be my ceiling for them.
— Nathan Z (@Taterz1021) June 21, 2013
@LeftCoastBias I didn't expect a .500 team, so hitting that and beating the Dodgers in the standings would be ok with me
— Mike (@sdmike) June 21, 2013
— Daniel (@padrefan858) June 21, 2013
Or the more succinct answer.
— PadresTrail (@Padres_Trail) June 21, 2013
Pretty reasoned responses. I tend to agree. A .500 record would certainly exceed the preseason predictions and considering the health issues (Luebke and more recently Gyorko and Cabrera) would be a season that this organization could be proud of and utilize as a jumping off point for 2014 (which is widely considered to be the year the Padres and the influx of young talent will contend).
But I see more. I won’t consider failing to make the playoffs an unsuccessful year. The Padres (or anyone from the NL West) won’t win any of the Wild Card options (thanks NL Central) which leaves only one playoff spot and, at this point, all 5 NL West teams with a chance at it. Not the greatest of odds.
I won’t put a hard number on it but at this point I’d be disappointed if this team is not scoreboard watching in September – regardless of record or whether they ultimately fall short.
This leads us to expectations. The Padres have the curse, such as something like this can be a curse, of having raised expectations amongst the fan base. Yet those expectations remain lukewarm as the team is assembled today, as evidence yet again by Twitter.
@LeftCoastBias my expectations won't change until they add quality starting pitching. Still think they're a 75 win team.
— Oscar (@haha1721) June 21, 2013
@LeftCoastBias Elevated but still don't see a playoff team w/o addition of SP. Continue to develop young talent, add SP & make run in '14.
— GAVIN (@CT2SD) June 21, 2013
But it was this answer, from Mike in San Diego, that likely sums up what many Padre fans are feeling about this team:
@LeftCoastBias The team is playing better than expected, but the starting pitching is worse than I expected.
— Mike Clark (@MikeClark36) June 21, 2013
Good team. But boy, this pitching. It has been a common complaint since the end of last season. The Padres need starting pitching. They failed to pick any up in the off-season and then lost Casey Kelly in Spring Training and saw Cory Luebke‘s rehab hit more setbacks. This is all before we even discuss the artist formerly known as Reasonably Decent Clayton Richard.
So there it is. The general sense, amongst those that follow me on Twitter and bothered to answer, is that the team can be good if they get starting pitching. Put another way, the Padres have won to this point despite what is considered sub-par pitching. Let’s take a look at that.
A month ago I did a post on trying to figure out what the Padres are. It was pointed out in the comments of that post that the Padres starting staff was good for a combined -2.4 WAR and the worst K/BB ratio in the National League. Thirty days have passed since that post. So what has the Padres staff done in that 30 day period? They’ve posted a combined WAR of 1.5 (ahead of NL West foes LA and AZ and tied with SF), and xFIP of 3.64 (good for 6th in the NL). After being the only team in the NL with a negative WAR as of that post, they’ve improved (though admittedly these numbers still are not lighting the world on fire by any stretch). More over, they’ve done this despite having the highest BABIP over that same 30 day time frame, which would seem to indicate that with just a bit of luck these numbers could be even better. (NOTE: all of these numbers come from Fangraphs)
Let me stop you right now before you rush to exclaim SSS (small sample size). Of course it’s a SSS. It’s 30 days. But April to mid-June was a SSS as well. For the full season, the Padres remain a negative WAR for their starting staff (-1.2). So this isn’t exactly a rotation we’re going to be telling our grandkids about while bouncing on our knee. But they’ve been better of late and in return, the Padres have been better.
What I don’t know is if this can keep up. Certainly Clayton Richard’s days appear numbered which would seem to open the door to Robbie Erlin. Eric Stults at this point has been good for basically an entire season dating back to 2012. Stults seems legit. Cashner seems legit as well (though growing pains are bound to occur). Edinson Volquez? Who knows. When he’s good he’s really good. But when he’s bad…
And then there’s Jason Marquis. He gives up too many HRs (1.5 per game), walks too many, strikes out too few. Yet the Padres are 11-4 in games that he starts with 3 of those 4 losses coming in April. It helps that he gets nearly 2 runs more per game in support vs the Padres best pitcher, Stults (4.79 vs 3.05)*. Which is, I suppose, more evidence that pitchers W/L record is the worst stat in baseball. But the team wins when Marquis pitches. I don’t know why. And frankly, I don’t much care why either.
Can this pitching staff keep this up? I have no idea. Those who understand advanced stats will tell you that’s impossible. Yet here I am, watching it happen on a nearly daily basis.
These pitchers are what they are. Until they aren’t. And they “aren’t” yet. The Padres are a weird team. But, as Mark Twain said, all you need is ignorance and confidence. The team has confidence. I’m willing to supply a little bit of ignorance.
How do you define success for this season? Can this team contend? Break .500? Or is the pitching primed for a colossal failure? Leave a comment below or tweet at me on the good ole Twitter machine @LeftCoastBias. Long-winded diatribes that pose questions but fail to answer them can be found here every Friday morning.