Why the Padres Need Seth Smith

When the Padres traded reliever Luke Gregerson to the A’s for outfielder Seth Smith last week, it raised many questions. The chief one was, “Why would the Padres do this?”

The answer is Carlos Quentin, a great hitter who can’t stay healthy. When he goes down, you need a replacement, preferably someone who is good at baseball.

Last season Quentin logged 41 percent of the Padres’ plate appearances in left field. The other 59 percent came from eight guys who stunk worse than Mission Bay after a heavy rain. Here’s a comparison of Quentin (as a left fielder), the Malodorous Eight, and 1984 Dick Schofield:

Carlos Quentin 2013 288 .285 .375 .504 11 29 48
Malodorous Eight 2013 411 .197 .262 .268 5 28 92
Dick Schofield 1984 452 .193 .264 .263 4 33 79

If you don’t remember Schofield, he was sort of like Brendan Ryan, but not really. The important point is that you wouldn’t want to let him play left field for you three games out of five, which is what the Padres did last year.

One can and should question the wisdom of investing so heavily (by Padres standards) in Quentin, a defensive liability who struggles to reach 400 plate appearances, but this is who they have. And as long as the unmoving and unmovable left fielder remains in San Diego, the Padres need a better backup plan than the Malodorous Eight.

Smith is that plan. Exciting? Not even a little. But he is a solid fourth outfielder who can start against righties without Schofielding the offense.

Was Gregerson too steep a price to pay for that? Maybe, maybe not. He leads all of MLB with 363 appearances since 2009 and is one of only six pitchers to work 60 or more games in each of the last five seasons. That’s durability. That’s also a heavy workload for someone whose success depends on an elbow-taxing slider.

Gregerson’s larger problem is that he doesn’t play left field or hit. Smith does.

Neither is All-Star material. Regardless of your preferred flavor of WAR(P), their contributions over the last three years are modest:

Luke Gregerson 1.8 2.6 2.3
Seth Smith 3.6 2.8 4.6

All versions favor Smith, but we’re arguing about which of two pennies is shinier.

Looking at the big picture, it’s easier to find someone who does 80 percent of Gregerson’s job than someone who does 80 percent of Quentin’s job. The Padres have Brad Boxberger, Kevin Quackenbush, and Nick Vincent ready to take the next step forward in their careers. Will they be as good as Gregerson? Doubtful (hence the club’s reported interest in Joaquin Benoit), although you never know. But the gap between Gregerson and one of those guys will be less than the gap between Smith and 1984 Dick Schofield.

Every team has holes. The idea is to minimize their impact, which is what the Padres did. They filled a gaping hole by creating a smaller hole. The next time Quentin falls, Smith will be there.

It’s an unglamorous role, but one that someone has to fill. Better Smith than the Malodorous Eight.

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  • Malodorous Eight – descriptive yet discreet.

  • USMC53

    Good post; thanks for the breakdown. I think by the end of the ’14 season, we’ll see that Gregerson isn’t what he once was, and this trade will look better than it may look now.

  • USMC53

    It seems to me, all other things being equal, that you’d want to load up on lefties in your outfield (with maybe three out of your 5 OF roster spots being lefties). Catchers, 2Bs, 3Bs, and SSs all need to be right handed, and considering that most pitchers are right handed, you need several left handed bats, which really can only come from the OF or 1B (not counting switch hitters, of course). With that it mind, I wouldn’t mind if they made a Maybin-for-Ackley type trade.

    • blahdu

      I’ve been thinking about that exact trade. I think we’d definitely have to throw in quite a bit of cash or at least a B+ prospect (or a couple of lottery tickets and less cash, etc) to get the deal done though as Maybin comes w major injury concerns and a backloaded $25M contract.

      I would love to see Ackley in a pads uniform for sure. He can play the outfield adequately and a new coaching staff and being away from the madness of Zdenjuric (sp?) and Co. as well as the easy sunny SD life could be a real refresh for him.

      I would love to see him take his vengance out on the Mariners in the Vedder Cup for years to come. The chance of a deal actually happens, ESPECIALLY w Maybin involved, is probably pretty low.

      I think in the end the asking price for Ackley will be too high. What is he, entering his final pre-arb year or going into his first arb year? That’s a lot of team control, and his arb years currently don’t stand to be TOO expensive considering his to-date anemic production in the Majors.

      The Mariners are going to play serious hard ball for Ackley as there are a number of teams that could use his defence at 2nd and versatility in the OF, regardless of his lack of consistent offensive production up to this point.

      In the end I am not a fortune teller, but I would be very happy to see him in a Pads uniform for a fair place.

      • ballybunion

        Other than salary, I’m having a hard time seeing Ackley as better than Maybin. He can play second as well as center, but the Padres have a better man at second already and other options there. Maybin is statistically better defensively, though he just had knee surgery, has the kind of base stealing ability Ackley lacks, and probably has more power potential. From a purely baseball standpoint, I wouldn’t make that trade straight up, let alone send a prospect with Maybin. Has Maybin’s “potential” tag worn thin with you?

    • pat

      Why wouldn’t you count switch hitters? The Padres have three of them at those four positions.

  • Brandon Cline

    Malodorous Eight sounds like planet I’d hear Captain Picard say.
    Picard: Set standard orbit around Malodorous 8. Prepare for an away team Number, One

    Anyway, were there really 8 guys who played LF last season and put up that slash line? Yeeeesh.

  • Lonnie Brownell

    Adequate One > Maolodorous Eight. Math, baby.

  • Eric

    Somewhat misleading because most of the Malodorous Eight happened to have their worst at bats when they were needed in LF. Guzman, Blanks, and Denorfia all hit much better while at other positions, and for no reason other than the randomness of slumps and streaks and stats. So the numbers they put up as left fielders last year doesn’t reflect what we could have expected from them next year.

    This diminishes but doesn’t dispute your overall point–great writeup as usual.

    • Geoff Hancock

      Though couldn’t you argue that the over-reliance on streaky (or in Blanks case, injury prone) in so many different OF spots further the point that the Padres are (were?) in need of better OF bench options? Also, was that the longest sentence you’ve ever read?

      • Eric

        Good point. And my sentence was even longer before I broke it up at “So”.

    • Geoff Young

      True. Another factor to consider is the OPS against RHP for each of those guys last year: Denorfia 663, Guzman 661, Blanks 596. Given that most pitchers are right-handed, this is a problem.

      • pat

        I would add that there is no randomness to Guzman’s poor defense, and I don’t want Blanks anywhere other than 1B or DH with his health issues. Smith is a much better guy to fill the 5th OF role than either of them.

  • john

    Are you expecting Smith to replace Q in the batting order #4, no way no how. A healthy Seth Smith bats in front of a catcher.

    • Geoff Young

      Wherever Smith bats in the order, he’s an upgrade over last year’s replacements.

    • pat

      I don’t think anyone is expecting that. I’m pretty sure everyone is expecting Q to miss extensive time and Smith to be a better bat and defender than the Malodorous Eight.

  • pat

    Dude, that’s outstanding! Seriously outstanding!