The best pitch in baseball is strike one. This is especially true when facing the Padres, whose hitters self-destruct after a first-pitch strike.

As I mentioned during our bloggers roundtable discussion at last weekend’s SABR meeting, my research into the Padres’ offensive struggles this season has uncovered a few problems. One is the hitters’ extreme groundball tendencies that we examined back in June.

Another is their .175/.212/.270 line after an 0-1 count (all stats are through August 13, 2014). That’s a little worse than Jason Marquis’ career line of .196/.214/.278.

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“What’s the fish today?” he asks. Call him Joel. We’re in the dining car, south of San Luis Obispo.

The Padres fired their GM, Josh Byrnes, a few weeks ago. The new owners inherited Byrnes from the old owners, who never actually owned the team. Ergo, adios.

“Tilapia,” says the attendant. Joel orders the steak, as does his wife.

The team hasn’t found a new GM yet. That hasn’t stopped anyone from cleaning house.

“Ti-LA-pia!” Joel chews the word, spits it on the table, like Lasorda saying “Be-VA-cqua!”

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It’s no news that the Padres are getting nothing out of their second basemen this year, but did you know they could make history? Here’s something you don’t see every decade:

Sub-500 OPS by Position for Entire Team Since 1938*

Team Pos Year PA BA OBP SLG OPS
SF SS 1968 594 .193 .215 .222 436
SD 2B 2014 356 .151 .207 .238 444
Det SS 1977 539 .177 .219 .227 447
Hou SS 1963 619 .192 .225 .235 460
Det SS 1968 605 .163 .233 .227 461
Bal SS 1958 490 .181 .238 .232 470
NYA SS 1977 610 .189 .244 .234 478
NYA SS 1975 533 .183 .248 .229 478
Oak SS 1977 580 .207 .237 .256 492
Phi SS 1973 642 .210 .242 .250 492
NYN C 1967 583 .204 .237 .255 493
Tex 2B 1972 602 .193 .244 .252 496
Min C 1967 578 .190 .263 .233 497
Tex SS 1982 560 .205 .245 .252 497
NYN SS 1968 672 .205 .259 .239 498

*1938 is the first year such data are available; it could be even earlier.

This speaks for itself, but feel free to add your own commentary. If you’re at a loss for words, start with “damn” and go from there.

Books evoke a time and place, although sometimes this can be misleading. For example, when I traveled to Seattle in June for the Vedder Cup, I bought a copy of Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon. It’s a fascinating read that reminds me not of France or Earth’s satellite (neither of which I’ve visited), but of Bainbridge Island, where I bought the book.

Eagle Harbor Book Co. is a good old-fashioned bookstore, the likes of which once adorned San Diego–Burgett, Safari, Wahrenbrock’s, etc.–before yielding to an immense Seattle-based international online warehouse. On this day, a dog guarded the store (or at least the “used” section, which is accessed separately from the street-level “new” section) by sleeping in the hallway that leads downstairs.

Around the corner is a place to read rich words over rich clam chowder and local beer (3-T Rye Tripel, Troll Porter), with a serene view of the coast should you need a break from words, food, or drink. Harbour Public House even has a men’s restroom with signs on the wall like “We don’t serve women here, you have to bring your own.”

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The Padres are a mess. Not all of the problem is perceptual, but part of it is. Padres Trail mentioned “the allure of expectation” in his discussion of GM Josh Byrnes’ recent firing, and it’s a concern.

If false hope cost Byrnes his job–and with the current ownership group, who knows what the real motivation was–then maybe a key going forward is to set more realistic expectations and communicate those to the buying public via the mystical, magical discipline of marketing.

I thought about this for, oh, a good five minutes and came up with a few suggestions. By the time you finish reading, it will be obvious why I never went into marketing. Honesty may be a good policy, but there are some places it just doesn’t belong.

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Our heroes die, and a part of us goes with them. When Jerry Coleman died in January, I couldn’t find it in myself to write about the great man. The words simply weren’t there, so I let his actions and the words of others speak for me while I grieved.

Coleman was 89 years old. Though his death left us all with an unfillable void, we could at least comfort ourselves knowing that he’d lived a longer and richer life than most. Any death is tragic, but people that age will die. We can make some sense of it in the way our minds try to make sense of things we don’t understand.

When Tony Gwynn died on Monday after a long battle with cancer, he was 54. This makes no sense.

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When we were talking about the Padres offensive woes, I noted that the Padres hit more groundballs than any team in baseball. This seems weird to me.

Hitting coach Phil Plantier had an extreme uppercut swing that generated few grounders. Not that every hitter will emulate his coach, but it’s counterintuitive to expect this from Plantier’s charges.

Worse, it’s counterproductive. Here are results for different types of batted balls in 2013:

Split PA BA OBP SLG
LD 30,452 .674 .668 .978
FB 40,391 .182 .178 .523
GB 58,359 .240 .240 .259

Including plate appearances may seem gratuitous, but it’s important to see that this is a large sample. It’s also important to see that, with a few exceptions, you don’t want to be hitting a lot of grounders. This isn’t a one-year effect:

Year OPS
LD FB GB
2011 1691 788 493
2012 1693 831 496
2013 1646 701 499
2014* 1668 632 509

*Through games of June 11.

Line drives are awesome, fly balls are decent (some of them leave the yard), grounders stink. Which brings me to my next point: Through June 11, the Padres are the only MLB team to hit more grounders than fly balls (1.06 GB/FB); they are tied with the Kansas City Royals for lowest line-drive percentage (21%).

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The Padres took Johnny Manziel, a football player of some renown, with their 28th-round pick in the 2014 first-year player draft. It’s a publicity stunt that had some fans wishing the team would pick a baseball player who might, you know, help on the field.

Problem is, 28th-round picks generally don’t. Paul Molitor is in the Hall of Fame, but he didn’t sign when the Cardinals drafted him in 1974.

Here are the best signed players ever drafted in the 28th round, listed in descending order by rWAR:

  1. Woody Williams, 1988, 30.9
  2. Dave Roberts, 1994, 9.0
  3. Sergio Romo, 2005, 7.9
  4. Luke Gregerson, 2006, 5.0
  5. Shane Spencer, 1990, 4.9

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There’s a perception in some circles that the Padres lack offensive talent. This is revisionist history based on the fact that they aren’t hitting. Hey, we’re all susceptible to hindsight bias. There’s no shame in that as long as we recognize it.

Less philosophically, here are the Padres starting eight. For each, I’ve listed age, current OPS (a crude but effective proxy for more precise metrics), pre-2014 career OPS, and several projected OPSs.

Player Age OPS
2014* pre-2014 PECOTA Steamer Oliver ZiPS
Yasmani Grandal 25 645 809 746 749 738 720
Yonder Alonso 27 581 741 732 771 729 727
Jedd Gyorko 25 482 745 758 754 748 731
Everth Cabrera 27 618 672 665 673 696 658
Chase Headley 30 621 765 747 750 723 750
Seth Smith 31 951 798 735 735 702 723
Will Venable 31 576 753 728 765 774 728
Chris Denorfia 33 681 750 704 704 720 707

*Through games of June 4, 2014

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Thanks to johlac66, I got to see my second Padres game of 2014 on Saturday night. Mrs. Ducksnorts and I hung with him and Gaslamp Ball‘s jbox for the evening in a packed Petco Park.

We caught the tail end of Padres batting practice. Dave Roberts was pitching. Andrew Cashner and Cameron Maybin chatted with fans. Maybin, who would later make a ridiculous catch in right-center during the game to rob Junior Lake of extra bases, looks like he’s having fun even in warmups.

Then the Cubs batted. Lake and Mike Olt put on serious power displays. Former Padres first baseman Anthony Rizzo worked on hitting the ball to left field, then took some grounders at shortstop for fun. Manager Rick Renteria got a nice round of applause from those who remember his days as a Padres coach and perhaps even as skipper of the Lake Elsinore Storm.

Food: Tri-tip sandwich. Drink: Alesemith Speedway Stout, served on tap at Ryan Bros. Coffee stand. That a 12% ABV beer is poured at Petco Park borders on irresponsible, but I’m not complaining.

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