It’s no surprise to anyone reading this that the Padres offense is historically bad. And while I continue to await a regression to the mean, the further into the season we go the more I’m concerned that this simply is the mean. These offensive woes are not being noticed only in our neck of the woods it turns out. Yesterday, Benjamin Hoffman of the New York Times contacted me for my thoughts on an article he was doing on the Padres woes. While he, naturally, didn’t use everything (I can be a bit verbose at times) I thought I’d provide the unedited version of our email interview here.
You can check out the NY Times article here.
1. Just for some background, how did you end up writing about the Padres? Are you from the area?
For the first 10 years of my life I lived in Oceanside (a north suburb of San Diego). As a kid playing Little League, you basically become the fan of the local team which, for me, was the Padres. I later moved to Tucson, AZ before the Diamondbacks existed which still made the Padres the closest team. By time the Diamondbacks came into existence I was full rooted in Padres fandom. As far as writing for them, it was something I just started to do for fun. I was going to school out in San Diego and always enjoyed writing (I have an utterly useless Creative Writing degree) and thought it’d be a fun hobby. It’s really grown from there.
2. The Padres, on offense, are one of the worst teams in major league history, if not the worst, when compared to the league average. Does it feel that bad? Or has the good pitching mitigated the desperation some?
I’ll answer the second question first since it might be a bit counter-intuitive. The good pitching makes the historically bad offense feel worst. Let me explain. The offense is painful to watch. No one can dispute that. The pitching, on the other hand, has been tremendous to watch. In fact, the pitching has been so good, that it makes you realize that even a mediocre offense would make this team a post-season contender. In some ways I wish the pitching was worst but instead fans are left in this situation of knowing that if the Padres were just below average offensively they’d be right in the post-season hunt.
But yes it feels every bit as bad as the stats are showing it is.
3. On a nightly basis, does it get harder and harder to watch as they struggle or is there any entertainment in the futility?
I wouldn’t say there’s entertainment in the futility. This is still my team and watching them play this poorly is not enjoyable. That said, I continue to watch. Mostly because I keep waiting for the regression to the mean to occur. When you look at the individual players on this team, they are almost across the board (Seth Smith being the most obvious exception) playing below their career average or projection. So it stands to reason that this offense is not as bad as they’ve been. Yet, here we are in the middle of July and that regression has failed to materialize. Perhaps I’m a hopeless optimist but I keep watching waiting for that regression. In the meantime, it doesn’t get harder to watch as my expectations now are pretty low.
4. Is there a camaraderie among Padres fans and bloggers in watching a team struggle like this? Has it been better or worse than in recent seasons where the team was more competitive?
This is an interesting phenomenon and I’d love to know if this happens with other fan bases but Padres fans, the more they lose, the more they don’t get along. Perhaps it’s my little Twitter bubble that I’m in, but the more the team struggles the more minutia is argued over. Uniform color, new scoreboards, past trades. In fairness, as a fan base, we’ve been through a lot in the past few years. Multiple owners, GMs, shady business dealings, star players being traded away, and a promise to a return to competitiveness that hasn’t occurred.
At the same time, these same arguments serve as sort of a group therapy. Again, speaking primarily for Twitter here, but there is a sense that we are all on this terrible ride together. This leads to snarkiness and sarcasm, sure, but you’ll see the same people live tweeting the next game and the game after. There’s a certain comfort in that.
5. Is the team likable even as they struggle? Do you find yourself feeling bad for them?
For me the team is always likable. I mean, they’re my team. That won’t change. I couldn’t change that if I wanted to. It’s as much a part of me as anything. I may fight with my wife or parents but that doesn’t ultimately change how I feel about them. It’s sort of the same thing. Right now, the team isn’t particularly likable. More specifically, the people in control of the team are not likable. A series of PR missteps (open auditions for the PA job, public negotiations with Chase Headley, etc) have not engendered this new ownership group to fans fresh off the disaster of an ownership tenure by Jeff Moorad and John Moores before him. As for the players, I wouldn’t say I feel bad for them. I will say I think they’re as confused (if not more) as we all are for why this team is underperforming offensively to the level they are.
6. When I say the name Jedd Gyorko, you think?
The Padres are a small-market team. They shouldn’t be by all economic accounts, but they act that way. And frankly, even if they weren’t, they’re competing against the Dodgers who basically print money (the Yankees of the West…had to get one Yankee jab in there!) so they will always be small-market by comparison. So, what do small-market teams do to compete with the pocketbooks of Los Angeles et al? They lock up young, promising players to team friendly extensions. Tampa Bay did it with Evan Longoria, more recently Houston made news by extending Jon Singleton. The Padres finally jumped on this trend with Jedd Gyorko after a very impressive 2013.Sadly, his 2014 has been far from impressive. I think the jury is still out on Gyorko and it’s still far too early to say he’s a bust. We’ve seen Gyorko have success at the Major League level for an entire season. So we know he can do it. So I have faith. But again, hopelessly optimistic.
7. One of the other contenders for worst hitting team ever was the 1963 Houston Colt 45s. That team was brutal but had two 19-year-olds who were future stars: Joe Morgan and Rusty Staub. When you look at the current team do you see any future stars or does it seem like a team heading nowhere?
Yes to both questions, if that’s possible. The “heading nowhere” part is hopefully temporary. The Padres are rudderless at the moment as they have no GM (with the trade deadline right around the corner no less). Depending on who comes in to handle this team, and what level of expectations the owner puts on them, this team could be heading somewhere sooner rather than later.
And there are some bright spots. The pitching is obvious. Tyson Ross was the Padres All-Star this season and continues he’s success from last season. Tommy Medica and Jake Goebbert have shown some potential in limited work. And a litany of players in the minor league season, many of which are returning from Tommy John surgery like Max Fried, Cory Luebke, Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes provide some glimmer of hope.
8. If the team trades some of its veterans, like Headley, Street, Smith, etc., do you think they will be harder to watch? Or would a commitment to winning in the future be satisfying to you?
A commitment to winning would satisfy me. Would it make 2014 a little harder to watch? Probably. Though it’s not exactly a joyride anyway. But I’m fully in favor in re-tooling. It’s time to trade the valuable pieces that aren’t part of the long-term solution. Is time to have some kind of plan in place that is more than grabbing stopgaps every winter that don’t solve the problem. Houston has been painful to watch up until recently. But they clearly have a plan. The Cubs appear to have a plan. The Padres need a long-term plan and the only way to obtain that is to abandon 2014 and maybe even 2015.
9. They pick you to be the new GM of the club. What’s your first move?
Trade Chase Headley. You’d have to be a Padres fan over the past few years to fully grasp the arguments over Chase Headley. After a stellar 2012, two distinct camps formed. Those that thought he should be traded, those that thought he should be extended. Neither happen. Then came comments from ownership that they’d offer Chase Headley the “largest contract in Padres history.” That may or may not have ever happened. But what it did do is annoy Headley, understandably.
Cut to 2014. Nearly two seasons removed from 2012 Headley has never returned to that form. He’s 2 years older now and the team is likely 2 years away from competing. He has value in the immediacy but the Padres are no longer looking at immediate solutions. He is perhaps one of the most valuable trade pieces they have and they have a built in replacement for him in Gyorko as 3rd base is his natural position.