The Good, the Bold, and the Ugly

There are two things you can do when you write a silly bold predictions piece, like the one I did just prior to the 2014 season: (1) try to forget about it and hope others do the same or (2) revisit it after the season and examine just how crazy you are. I’ve chosen option No. 2.

The Padres will win 77 games and finish tied for third-place in the NL West (with the Diamondbacks)

Oh, hey, that’s a surprisingly nice start. This prediction wasn’t so much bold in the traditional sense; any reasonable win total projection for the Padres in the offseason likely fell somewhere between 75 and 85 wins. (And, heck, they had won 76 games two years running). It was only bold in the specificity, and if you ignore the little part about tying the D’backs for third-place in the division, we nailed it right on the number.

Things I missed:

  • The collapses of Jedd Gyorko (more on him later), Everth Cabrera (him too), and Cameron Maybin at the plate. In fairness, this was pretty tough to catch, but perhaps the inconsistency of Cabrera, the fragility of Maybin, and the likely regression of Gyorko should have been clues that there were major flaws with this “intriguing collection of up-the-middle talent.” There’s still plenty of intrigue here, but Cabrera and Maybin are pushing the limits with which they can be relied upon to contribute positively to next year’s team.
  • Tyson Ross‘ breakout. I pegged Andrew Cashner as the Padres pitcher with the greatest chance of turning into a staff ace (and that still might be true … if he can ever stay healthy), but it was Ross who emerged in 2014 as something more than mid-rotation filler. Ross does almost everything well as a pitcher, racking up strikeouts, keeping the walks in check, and getting a healthy dose of ground balls (which, subsequently, limits his home runs allowed). Big things might be on the horizon for the young(ish) right hander if the late-season shutdown wasn’t anything more than a precautionary measure.
  • Seth Smith‘s breakout. Smith had only cracked an .800 OPS twice in five seasons in Colorado, and he did it in 2014, despite moving from the league’s hitter-friendliest park to its most pitcher-friendly dwelling. His 133 wRC+ ranked 26th in all of baseball and he also destroyed his previous career best in walk-to-strikeout ratio and pitched in with adequate defensive numbers in the outfield. Smith’s second-half .243/.340/.346 line might suggest a more pedestrian 2015 season is oncoming — and I wasn’t a big fan of his mid-season extension, anyway —  but two years and $13 million could still prove a bargain.

Things I sort of hit on:

  • The injuries. The Padres have had two problems on the injury front. They’ve acquired players — like Josh Johnson, Carlos Quentin, and Cameron Maybin — with significant injury track records, and those players have predictably spent a lot of time on the disabled list. They’ve also experienced a seemingly disproportionate number of injuries to their young players. How good could the Padres have been in 2014 if Jedd Gyorko, Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, Everth Cabrera, Chase Headley, Andrew Cashner, and Yonder Alonso hadn’t battled injuries all season (and that’s ignoring a whole host of prospects that have dealt with serious injuries, not to mention Cory Luebke and his two Tommy John surgeries)? Probably pretty good, but injuries are a part of the game, especially when you go searching for them.

Boldness Score: 1/1

Jedd Gyorko will hit 30 home runs

There’s an unavoidable excitement that comes when a young prospect bursts onto the major league scene and lives up to (or surpasses) expectations. Jedd Gyorko posted a 113 OPS+, hammered 23 home runs, and accumulated 2.2 rWAR in just 525 plate appearances as a rookie in 2013. We might have thought last year, “If he was that good as a rookie, imagine how good he’s going to be next year or when he hits his peak at age-27 or 28?”

The traditional aging curve looks something like this (from a Beyond the Boxscore article):

agingcurve

There are a couple of problems with just extrapolating the aging curve above onto any young player:

  1. The player’s performance in his rookie season may not exemplify his true talent level. For instance, Gyorko’s .745 2013 OPS may have been inflated by good fortune and randomness, and his observed performance that season doesn’t necessarily fully explain what kind of player he was. His past minor league performance, scouting attributes, and overall body of work (along with, of course, his 2013 numbers) would provide a better framework with which to project his future performance.
  2. Individual players don’t necessarily follow the aging curve of all players in the aggregate. Take any group of individuals — let’s take the top five all-time Padres position players by career WAR — and you’ll see that they all don’t fit neatly into our general conception of the aging curve. Here’s that graph:

agingcurve2

Okay, you can still see the general trend there, but the ebbs and flows are now evident. And if you took a less specific group of players, especially a group that all didn’t go on to have successful careers, those ebbs and flows would probably be even more obvious.

If there’s a silver lining for the poor season — Gyorko hit .210/.280/.333 and popped only 10 homers — it’s that plantar fasciitis, which cost Gyorko 45 games in 2014, can at least be used to excuse some of the downfall. Further, Gyorko’s peripherals actually improved in 2014. His walk rate jumped from 6.3 percent to 8.1 percent and his strikeout rate dropped from 23.4 percent to 22.6 percent. Of course, those are just small, incremental improvements, especially with the strikeouts, but they are positives in a season where everything else went wrong. Gyorko’s .253 BABiP almost has to improve next year and while 30 home runs would be too bold of a prediction for 2015, he remains a solid bet to rebound.

Boldness Score: 1/2

Chase Headley will be traded at the deadline

This one ranks pretty low in boldness; in fact, a more bold prediction may have been offered had I said that the Padres were to hold onto Headley for all of 2014. Unless San Diego emerged as a legitimate contender by the trade deadline, it probably made the most sense for them to deal Headley and recoup whatever value they could out of him.

Of course, that plan didn’t involve Headley missing early season action with injury and, when on the field, posting a batting average that seemed frightened to stay above the Mendoza Line. Headley’s batting average reached .200 eight different times from April through June only to fall back into the .190s, finally staying above the .200 mark for good after a 2-4 night against Arizona on June 27th.

Both injury concerns and lacking performance, not to mention pending free agency, sapped most of what was left from Headley’s trade value by the time the deadline approached, and the Padres ended up flipping him to the New York Yankees for utility infielder Yangervis Solarte and minor league pitcher Rafael De Paula. While I didn’t like the trade at the time — and, really, still don’t — it’s only to fair to note that Solarte held his own in his Padres debut, hitting .267/.336/.355 in 246 plate appearances and matching his 103 OPS+ from New York. Solarte isn’t the defender Headley is and the bat is still somewhat of a question mark, but he’s still just 27 years old, he’s cheap, and there’s a decent chance he remains useful for the next few seasons. For what it’s worth, Rafael De Paula’s ERA ballooned to 6.54 in 42 and 2/3s innings of work in the hitter-friendly Cal League, but his strikeout and walk numbers at least offer some hope for a 2015 turnaround.

Headley, for his part, did pretty well for himself in the Bronx. He hit .272/.371/.398 in 224 plate appearances with the Yanks, popping just 14 extra base hits but also walking 29 times and playing excellent defense. While he’s not in for the payday he might have anticipated after his 2012 breakout, Headley can now market himself as an elite defender at third base with an above average bat. In a thin free agent market, with big spenders like the Yankees, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, and (less so) both LA teams potentially looking for upgrades at third, Headley could be set to sign a hefty contract.

Boldness Score: 2/3

The Padres will sign both Everth Cabrera and Jedd Gyorko to long-term deals

The Padres did sign Jedd Gyorko to a six-year, $35 million deal in early April. So we get at least a half a point.

Thankfully, they didn’t sign Cabrera to one. Cabrera’s had one the most enigmatic careers of any recent Padre. Plucked out of the Colorado Rockies organization in the Rule 5 draft, Cabrera went from Single-A Ashville in 2008 to major league San Diego in 2009. And he didn’t just not embarrass himself in the bigs, he was actually productive that year, posting near league average offensive stats while holding his own defensively. If we could extrapolate his career right then — and we surely did –he looked liked the second coming of Rafael Furcal.

Then reality set in. Cabrera essentially lost all of 2010 and 2011 to injuries and poor performance. He bounced back in 2012, but still hit just .246/.324/.324 while providing below average defense at short. (He did go 44-48 on stolen bases). The bat came all the way around in 2013, though, as Cabrera had his finest offensive season yet with a .283/.355/.381 line and he, for the most part, remained healthy for another season. He cut his strikeout rate to a career-low 15.9 percent and also posted his best defensive season via UZR (-1.1 runs).

2014 was another reality check. Cabrera hit just .232/.272/.300 last year and he got caught eight times on the bases in 26 attempts. The improved strikeout rate from 2013 completely vanished, as Cabrera k’ed in 22 percent of his plate appearances.  The defense ticked down to -4.8 UZR runs, which is fine for an offensively capable shortstop but doesn’t cut it when the OPS creeps below .600. Further, Cabrera battled injuries all season and, to cap things off, was arrested with suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana in early September.

Silver lining here? Cabrera still has two seasons of arbitration left (he was a super-two) and he shouldn’t expect much of a raise on his $2.45 million salary from 2014. As he’s shown before, there’s a decent chance he can bounce back from the depths of an awful season, but it becomes increasingly hard to entrust a position to a player who is chronically unreliable, especially when that position is shortstop. Trouble with the law only provides additional impetus for the Padres to finally give up on the Cabrera Project.

Boldness Score: 2.5/4

Carlos Quentin will play at least 100 games

I wrote those words last offseason as if they were fact. “Is this bold enough,” I wondered, after I typed them. “Of course, Carlos Quentin is going to play 100 games, that’s only 62 percent of the season!”

I was thoroughly ridiculed in the comments:

quentin

 

Fair enough. That made me question my initial confidence somewhat, but I wasn’t totally rattled. I had 62 games of DL to work with!

Quentin didn’t not only reach 100 games in 2014, he played in a career-low 50 games. Knee issues were again the culprit in 2014, as Quentin missed significant time early in the season with knee soreness and was placed on the DL again in late July and never returned to action. Quentin’s Baseball Prospectus injury history runs the gamut on baseball injuries and includes everything from Tommy John surgery, labrum and rotator cuff surgery, plantar fasciitis, knee surgery, and a whole lot of soreness.

To make matters worse, Quentin’s production finally cratered in 2014, after two injury-riddled yet offensively impressive seasons in which the left fielder amassed a 145 OPS+ and 3.7 rWAR. He hit just .177/.284/.315 in 155 plate appearances in 2014, popping only four home runs.

Carlos Quentin’s career OPS+ ranks 37th among active players, ahead of guys like Nelson Cruz, Paul Konerko, and Adrian Beltre and just behind players like Adam Dunn, Carlos Beltran, and Justin Upton. That’s pretty elite company, and it’s unfortunate that his career is likely going to be dampered by the constant presence of his next DL trip. Quentin is set to make $8 million next year, which is a lot for the Padres when you consider what you can expect out of him at this point. He has a $16 $10 million (mutual) option in 2016 and a $3 million buyout that triggers if he plays 320 games from 2013 to 2015 (which is, at this point, impossible). That means 2015 will likely be Quentin’s last year in San Diego and here’s hoping he’s able to put together a healthy and productive year before he heads elsewhere or hangs up the spikes.

Boldness Score: 2.5/5 

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  • Patrick R.

    Great read! Thanks for this! One thing I’m a little unclear on: you say Quentin has a $16 million option. Is that a team option or a player option?

    • Dustin

      Doh! I don’t even know where I got that $16 million figure from — looks like it’s a $10 million option with a $3 million buyout with the 320 games from ’13-’15. Per Cot’s Contracts, it’s a mutual option meaning both sides would have to agree to it. Unless something changes in 2015 — like Quentin stays completely healthy/productive — I’m guessing the Padres will decline their side of that option and move on.

      Thanks for the comment and for helping me catch that error!

  • Geoff Young

    Good stuff, Dustin. I’ll have more to say about Smith later this week, but here’s a fun Gyorko tidbit: his OPS after the All-Star break was… yep, you guessed it, 745. I think that’s a good baseline for him going forward assuming no further complications with the foot (or other injuries). I’m still not totally sold on the home-run power, but he’ll do enough other things at the plate to be an asset.

    • Dustin

      Thanks, Geoff. And yeah, it was definitely encouraging to see Gyorko’s bat come around with the injury issues behind him. If he stays healthy going forward, like you say, I can see that mid-700s OPS range as a good starting point for a 2015 projection. With playable defense and a reasonable contract, there’s still plenty of value here.