The Benefit Of The Doubt

On Saturday afternoon, four games into the start of the 2014 season, with the Padres on a three game losing streak that would increase to four before being snapped by Ian Kennedy and Alexi Amarista on Sunday, a tweet appeared on my Twitter feed that took me a little by surprise:

Four minutes later, I tweeted out this:

This led to a quick conversation with the one and only Ducksnorts, who I respect and admire as a writer and baseball thinker.

Geoff is absolutely right, and a similar Twitter conversation with the other Geoff of Padres Public, Left Coast Bias, led to basically the same conclusion. Yes, at the moment we were less than one week into the regular season, and that is far too early to reach any conclusions about the 2014 season. I totally get that. However, this first week came on the heels of three full years of lousy baseball, and six seasons all together of low payrolls, mediocre teams, and musical chairs in both the ownership box and the front office.

It really came down to this:

And that’s where I sit as I type this, with the Padres sitting at 2-4 and headed to my adopted home town of Cleveland for a three game set that will likely include a Monday rain out and a double-header Tuesday (I’m planning to be in attendance Wednesday). We, the fans, deserve better, we have every right to expect it this year, and if it doesn’t happen this year, we should be clamoring for major changes to be made.

While you aren’t out of line to be sharpening your pitchforks now, there are some who still deserve the benefit of the doubt. Josh Byrnes doesn’t. The Ron Fowler led ownership group, that got a lot of mileage this off-season by raising payroll over $20 million, doesn’t, seeing as the estimated percentage of revenue being spent on payroll is still very low, raising only to 42% in 2014 from 37% in 2013.

As a reference, the Baltimore Orioles are spending¬†over 56% of their revenues on payroll this season, and the Detroit Tigers are spending over 62% of their revenues on payroll. Yes, the Padres owners are spending more money, but they should still be spending quite a bit more, at least $20 million more, if they really want to compete. They don’t get any benefit of the doubt until they earn it.

That said, Padres President Mike Dee is earning it. Being 2300 miles away, I don’t get to enjoy any of the fruit of his labors, but based on the early reviews of the improvements made throughout Petco Park, it looks like he’s doing really good things in terms of improving the ballpark experience. Add that to the win of Fox Sports SD now being carried on 100% of San Diego cable providers, and the Padres fan experience, not including the on-field product, is probably better than it has ever been.

Most of the players also deserve the benefit of the doubt. The tweet that started this post was just one of many criticizing Chase Headley. It seems that at least half of the fan base has no idea how good he has been as a Padre throughout his career. Yes, he’s started slowly this year, but so have Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, Will Venable, and others. Why so much hate for Headley? It’s unwarranted, undeserved, and misdirected.

Players like Gyorko, Venable, Tyson Ross, Eric Stults, and others who weren’t awesome in the first week deserve the benefit of the doubt as well. They’ve all proven what they are capable of in the past and deserve time to show their worth. After all, it’s only been a week.

What about Padres skipper Bud Black? I have no idea whether he deserves the benefit of the doubt or not. I may be continually annoyed with his insistence on sticking Alexi Amarista in CF, but it’s probable that he’s no better or worse than almost any other manager. Add that to the fact that he’s been stuck with low payrolls and lousy rosters for most of his managerial career, and it’s nearly impossible to say how good he is at his job.

It’s a long season, but we deserve better. Maybe we’ll get it this year and maybe we won’t. What we shouldn’t be is complacent or apathetic. If you’ve made it this far in this post, you care about this team enough not to accept the status quo. It’s up to us to put pressure on the franchise to do more and be better. I think I’m up for the task, and I hope you’ll be with me.

The Vocal Minority posts on Mondays. If you happen to be in Cleveland this week for the games, hit me up on Twitter and maybe we can meet up Wednesday either at the game or at a bar after. I promise not to be a jerk.

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  • I totally agree with you on my “Sermon on the mound”, in my Italian Page i’ve written same thing. Too men left on base. We’re in the beginning , in Italy we say, “if a good morning starts with a bad dawn” or something like this.

  • Robby Deming

    I don’t see it as complacency ad much as I see it as being a realist. I’ve learned long ago that it’s pointless to tell other people how to spend their money and operate in a fashion that may (or may not) result in a loss–no matter how happy it might make me.

    The Padres are a small to mid market team. They have precious little room for error and they need a lot of things to go right to be successful. Given the current economics of baseball, I find it hard to be enraged. Even the free spending Giants finished with the same number of wins we did last year.

    I love this team and want them to do well. I don’t think anyone in the front office feels any differently.

  • Billy Lybarger

    Another $20MM in P/R and Carlos Beltran could patrol RF and bat 4th.

    • Jacob Guerriero

      But what does that do to make the team better? I would much rather see Rymer Liriano, or further down the road, Hunter Renfroe patrolling right field. Teams like the Padres don’t need to be spending on outfielders on the wrong side of 35 whose defense and offense is in decline. They need to be drafting smartly, developing talent in the farm system, and extending their young players, like Gyrko and Cashner.

      • Billy Lybarger

        And Headley. Oh, wait.
        Don’t give the Padres a pass saying they don’t need to spend money because maybe one day, if everything goes right, a borderline prospect makes it to the majors. Beltran (or anyone else, I just used him as an example) could have been signed for 2 years. Liriano won’t be ready for two years. If ever. And Renfroe is at least 3 seasons away. In the mean time, a solid middle of the order bat can do some damage and make this team competitive.

      • Robby Deming

        I might be wrong about this, but didn’t we score a fair amount of runs last season? If I remember right, we were about middle of the pack offensively, which is impressive for a team that plays 81 games at Petco.

        The big problem last year was pitching, both starting and relief. The team went out and tried to address both of those this off season. Those were the holes we needed to plug most.

        Given the level of offensive production last season, it would have been somewhat superfluous to acquire a big bat (TM). The problem through the first week is that players who hit last season aren’t hitting yet. Venable, Gyorko, Alonso, and Headley are all off to pretty pedestrian starts. But it’s unlikely they produce at this level all season. It’s a confluence of crap performances by the offense all at once. It sucks, but it’s fairly likely to improve.

        I think the Padres addressed the right problems in the off season. There’s not much they can do about guys performing significantly below their career lines in the first week.

      • Change the Padres

        Wrong. The Padres were 12th in the NL in runs. Below-average in ballpark-adjusted OPS (OPS+),

      • Robby Deming

        I was wrong about the runs (my bad, though I mentioned I might have been). Looked up OPS+ and they were ranked sixth in the NL last year. They ranked 14th in ERA+. So my statement that the pitching, and not the offense, was the problem, seems to be supported by those rankings.

      • GoldenBoy

        Liriano could be ready by Aug/Sep of this year. And he looked really great this spring training, btw.

        To further Jacob’s argument, the Padres system currently lacks much impact offensive talent. At least this year, we need that #1 draft pick to acquire that potential impact offensive talent. Losing a #1 pick in order to sign a guy like Beltran, Cruz or Morales is not very sound strategy for the Padres. If we are going to lose that #1 pick, the free agent we sign would have to be pretty extraordinary.

      • Change the Padres

        Or they could sign many of those guys and spread the loss out. There are also ways around losing that draft pick.

      • Robby Deming

        Serious question: How could they sign one of the aforementioned people and not lose a draft pick? That seems to be a fairly cut and dried thing in the CBA, right?

      • GoldenBoy

        The only picks that are protected are the Top 10 picks. And there were no loopholes for the Padres to utilize here. They would have lost their pick if they signed one of those F.A.’s.

        Hey Change the Padres, you need to recognize that currently free agency is thin pickins. This isn’t the free agency world of 5 or 10 years ago. This will ebb & flow. That’s why you saw teams like the Padres, A’s & Ray spend good F.A. money on relievers. Relief Pitchers aren’t signing extensions with clubs, and they don’t have draft pick loss connected with their signings.

        Same with Josh Johnson. There was no draft pick loss, so the Padres took the gamble.

  • GoldenBoy

    Regardless of how the team does this season, I see & expect the ownership to continue to raise payroll in 2015, even if we don’t sign Headley. With Wisler, Hedges & Liriano all possibly being part of the team then, they might make a trade for a higher cost impact player. And if they don’t, extensions of at least Cashner & Gyorko seem inevitable. You think fans are impatient now? Imagine how impatient they’ll be next season, especially if this team doesn’t make the playoffs.

  • Lonnie Brownell

    Too early to draw conclusions or sharpen pitchforks (well, sharpening is OK, using them in anger is not).

    Here’s a list of all the other teams who have the same or worse winning percentage as the Padres, along with their opening day payroll and payroll rank:

    BOS $162.8 4
    LAA $155.7 6
    ARI $112.7 11
    CIN $112.4 12
    BAL $107.4 15
    SD $90.1 21
    NYM $89.1 22
    CHC $89.0 23

    My guess is many of those will shift over the next couple of weeks. Some of those high-payroll teams fans will absolutely be setting fire to management’s hair if their teams continue to suck. Us lower-rent teams? Eh, probably not as much. How many games did everyone project we’d win?

    And we’re only 2.5 games out of first! And the Dogers ™ are not in first! Crazy!

    Padres payroll has been increasing, and will continue to do so. Win big now? If everything goes well (our spending gaffes have been on high-risk players who haven’t fully panned out). Win big in the next few years? Definitely, if we draft well, develop well, and spend wisely. And there’s where management’s processes need to be spot-on.

    • Sac Bunt Chris

      If I’m a fan in Anaheim it might be time to sharpen some pitchforks. They’ve lost about 10 percentage points off their playoff chances already.

  • Len Gutman

    This is the first season in many I felt down about the Padres chances as early as March. I think it’s starting to wear on me. When the best free agent you sign is an injury-plagued risk (Johnson) and you don’t address the 800 pound gorilla on the team (how are they going to score runs) it leaves you less than optimistic about the season.

    They couldn’t have gone out and signed one decent hitter? Nelson Cruz was just sitting out there. Kendrys Morales still is. What pitcher is going to be concerned about this lineup? For crying out loud Jed Gyorko is batting cleanup. Even if Quentin is healthy he’s no guarantee to have any pop left in his bat and Maybin is terrible. The whole Venable/Denorfia experiment is getting so old. In some ways I’d prefer losing for a couple of years as long as I knew there was a plan to get better. Hell, the Astros stink but you get the feeling they are going to be very good in a couple of years.

    Who is going to hit the ball besides Gyorko?

    • VivaJackMurphy

      Agreed here. I understand it’s a long season but these Padres have looked painfully similar to the Padres of the past three years for there not to be a reaction – no power, can’t bring runners home. Chase looks terrible. Alonso stinks. I just feel like they’ve waited way too long on some of these guys…it’s just not happening. Get a bat in there!

    • Geoff Young

      The lineup is solid, as usual. Petco Park disguises this fact, but other than Amarista, Rivera, and maybe Nady, there aren’t any easy outs here. The problem is always the pitching, which the Padres seem to have improved this year, Johnson’s predictable injury notwithstanding.

      Cruz and Morales would have been great ideas if the Padres played in a league that uses a DH. Neither can field a position. Quentin has hit .268/.368/.498 since coming to the Padres. Inability to destroy baseballs isn’t the problem, inability to stay healthy enough to do so is.

      Despite the poor start, there’s a lot to like here. It’s just extremely hard to say anything meaningful with any degree of confidence based on what happens in six games.

      • Change the Padres

        Solid is an exaggeration. “As usual” is an extreme exaggeration.

        The Padres had a sub-100 OPS+, which is adjusted for PETCO (favorably so for last season, I might add, given the new dimensions), in 2013.

        Sub-100 in 2012.
        Sub-100 in 2011.
        Sub-100 in 2010.
        Sub-100 in 2009.
        Sub-100 in 2008.
        Sub-100 in 2007.
        Sub-100 in 2006.
        Sub-100 in 2005.

        The Padres have been a below-average offensive team, according to OPS+, in every season they’ve been in PETCO Park except for their inaugural season.

        I’m actually optimistic on their offense this season, compared to the projections, and still describe them as “average”.

  • Is Just A Guy

    I am curious why Dee gets a pass and Fowler doesn’t. First off, Fowler hired Dee. If Dee is doing a good job, Fowler deserves some of that credit. You also praise Dee for doing improvement to the ballpark and criticize Fowler for not spending money in back to back paragraphs. Dee obviously isn’t paying for improvements out of his own pocket. Newly built concession stands, a new PA system, and all the other changes aren’t free. Fowler isn’t just increasing payroll, he is investing in the entire organization.

    It seems like a lot people are just reacting to the charisma of the team’s leaders. People like Dee and Garfinkel because they are charismatic guys who knew how to communicate. Fowler and Moorad are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Do any of us honestly know how the workload gets split between the guys at the top? Or do we simply attribute the things we like to the guy we like and the failures to the guys who rub us the wrong way?

    • Robby Deming

      Great comment, especially about the money being invested off the field. I thought it was odd that Dee got a pass while Fowler didn’t. Not really sure you can assess anything about ownership for at least 3-5 years.

      • Keep in mind, Dee has only been on the job since August. If you’re going to give ownership a 3-5 year pass, what would be the President/CEO’s range?
        As for Byrnes, I think this year is his test. If the Padres don’t improve, he should be replaced.

      • Robby Deming

        Oh absolutely. Dee should also get three years at a minimum. I’m generally for giving people more time, though. Especially in those positions. There’s a lot of organizational inertia that can be tough to overcome in a year or two.

  • ballybunion

    It’s a bit early, and the Padres have faced much-above average pitching so far (and they’ll see Verlander and Scherzer when they get home!). Still, the last “good” start was in 2010, the 90 win season, and as I recall, they started 3-6 before going on an 8 game win streak. It would be nice to start with a 13-5 stretch like the Rockies last year, but look where they ended up. The Zonies won seven of their first ten and were in first place by 2-1/2 games on June 1 at 31-24, but ended up at even .500. The Dodgers started out at 6-3 but were in last place on June 1, only to go on to win 92 games. Maybe those quick starts aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.