2014: A Year of Hope and Extra Beer Gardens

It’s been a rough few seasons for Padres fans. Since Cinderella’s shoe slipped off late in 2010 San Diego has posted win totals of 71, 76 and 76 to retain their position in the meaty part of the league’s bell curve. Away from contention, but too respectable to be called a rebuilding effort.

Another stronger-than-expected finish to the season isn’t fooling most Padres fans who see more mediocrity ahead. But funny thing about that, the 2014 team is projecting to be pretty good.

Pitching

The Padres’ 2013 pitching performance can best be described as “ughhhhhhh.” Through the first few months of the season there wasn’t a single bright spot until the incredible second halves of Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross.

The likes of Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard, Anthony Bass, Burch Smith and Jason Marquis combined to pitch a whopping 391 innings while posting a debilitating 155 ERA-.* That’s bad. That’s historically bad.  To put it in a more tangible way, Joe Blanton – who couldn’t even stick on the pitching starved Angels – posted a 155 ERA- in his 132.2 innings of work in 2013.

Replace those innings with even the most conservative ZiPS Projections and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. In 2014, give Ian Kennedy an additional 133.1 innings with a 97 ERA-, Josh Johnson 114.2 at a 100 ERA- and Smith 92.1 at a 106 ERA- and you’ve just totaled 339 innings of 101 ERA-.**

The rest of the bullpen should be in better shape as well as the Padres’ most valuable 2013 relief arm – Nick Vincent – will be available for a full season of work and Joaquin Benoit picks up where Luke Gregerson left off.

Hitting

The 2013 offense featured a few more bright spots as Chris Denorfia, Will Venable, Everth Cabrera and Jedd Gyorko all had breakout campaigns, but the likes of Kyle Blanks, Jesus Guzman, Logan Forsythe and Ronny Cedeño disappointed.

The latter quartet combined for a .294 wOBA in 1,002 at bats for the Padres…or the equivalent of Jimmy Rollins in 2013 who was worth -9.1 runs on offense per Fangraphs.

Around half a season of production from Yasmani Grandal (once healthy) will provide a boost in addition to the return of Cameron Maybin from a lost season and Cabrera from suspension.

All of a sudden you’re looking at a roster that lacks the superstar names of division rivals, but features a player capable of at least average production at ever position.  Extremely valuable…but maybe not the best marketing slogan.

But, as the Athletics just proved, this is an extremely viable strategy.

Depth Chart (via Padres.com)

Padres Depth Chart

(click to enlarge)

After three frustrating seasons it finally appears the Padres once again have the depth and talent to remain competitive in the National League. PECOTA agrees with a projection of 81 wins, but that is naturally on the conservative side as analytics-based projection systems tend to be. Mid-to-high 80s feels plausible, so lets take the median point and say 83 wins for 2014. That team would have been in Wild Card contention until the last week or two of the 2013 season, which certainly feels like a successful season.

The Padres Public group is currently projecting somewhere between 83-90 wins, while Vegas currently has the Padres pegged at 76.5.

No matter what happens it’s pretty easy to agree that this season offers something not felt for a few years – legitimate hope. Or maybe that’s just the news of a second beer garden talking.

*ERA- is a statistic used to place ERA on the same scale as OPS+. It is both league and park adjusted and 100 is average. An ERA- of 155 means the pitchers listed threw 391 innings with an ERA 55% worse than league average.

**Please don’t think too hard about this math. It is by no means meant to be scientifically sound or logical. Simply a quick thought experiment to show the vast opportunity for improvement.

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