The San Diego Padres won 75 games in 2014, in a division which included the World Champion Giants and the new spending leading Dodgers. There was little evidence of a contending team, as they were 10 games behind by game 50 (and never got closer than that the rest of the way). They were 4th in the division for half a season, then third for the second half. They should apparently be building for the future, and made some “headway” by trading long-time third baseman Chase Headley to the Yankees in midseason, getting cheaper, younger and worse. Actually, they played better in the second half, going 41-40 over their final 81 games.
But they had a shocking offseason, in which they turned over most of their roster (they remind you of playing 2K4, a video game in which we often take a new team and trade ALL of its players the first year. They are clearly trying to win NOW, which is not what you would have expected, and so makes them an intriguing target for analysis.
Of the 8 players who Baseball-Reference lists as the Padres regulars in 2014, only two had an OPS+ over 100: Catcher Rene Rivera (117) and left fielder Seth Smith (135). The only other acceptable major league hitters were first baseman Yonder Alonso (97) and third baseman Chase Headley (90). Somewhat notable was utility man Yasmani Grandal (112 in 128 PA) off the bench. Of these five “acceptable” hitters from 2014, only Alonso I still on the roster!
The Padres acquired Justin Upton from the Braves to play left field, Wil Myers from the Rays to man center, and Matt Kemp from the Dodgers to play right. Wil Middlebrooks (from the Red Sox) and Yangervis Solarte (from the Yankees) will share third base, Alexi Amarista (25 years old, 148 PAs in 2014 with OPS+ 76) will be at short, Jedd Gyorko (25 years old, OPS+ 79 in 2014) will return at second base, and Alonso will man first. Derek Norris (A’s) will catch, backed up by Tim Federowicz (Dodgers). So the Padres replaced their entire outfield, their third baseman and catcher, while banking on two light-hitting young middle infielders, and a bounce-back season from their still-in-his-prime first baseman.
Steamer projects that this isn’t going to work, at all. The Padres project to rank 25th of the 30 MLB teams in position player WAR, hardly the stuff championships are made of. Part of the reason for this is defense: amazingly, the ONLY Padre projected starter who Steamer has as an above average defender is holdover first baseman Alonso. ALL of the others project to be below average, and this includes the young DP combination who should be good in the field because 1) they are young and 2) they can’t really hit. Matt Kemp is a pretty terrible outfielder (so bad that he was replaced for a while by perennial statue Andre Ethier in center!) and Wil Myers was an average corner outfielder who will be stretched in center.
suffice it to say that unless the Padres really know a LOT that we don’t, their roster turnover did not, in fact, bring them a championship caliber lineup. And, of course, the canyon that they call a home park will not help the numbers. That lineup could in fact be really ugly in statistical terms, especially using traditional metrics. They didn’t score enough last year, and they won’t sore enough this year, either.
Seven pitchers started at least 11 games for the Padres in 2014, of which three (Kennedy, Ross and Stults) did not miss a start all year, accounting between them for 96 of the 162 games. The Padres ballpark helps pitchers, so the ERAs look more impressive than they really were, but ERA+ shows three above average: Cashner (131 in 19 starts), Ross (119 in 31) and Hahn (109 in 12), with Odrisamer Despaigne (what a great name!) exactly average (100 in 16). The others are Kennedy (92 in 33), Stults (78 in 32), and Erlin (67 in 11).
The Padres didn’t turn over their rotation like their lineup, as their current projected starters are (according to Steamer): Kennedy (188 IP) Cashner (169), Ross (162), Despaigne (139) and their two “big” free agent signings: Brandon Morrow (113) and Josh Johnson (89). Erlin is still there (and still young, only 24) but this is an uninspiring bunch to say the least.
While the Padres seem done on the position player front, I suppose they could finish their “all in” offseason by offering way too much money to Shields or Shertzer, or emptying what is left of the farm for Cole Hamels. If they do not, however, their pitchers will have apparently decent ERAs while actually not being very good.
The Padres 2014 bullpen, even after park adjustments, was pretty good. Huston Street was actually fantastic (ERA+ 310 but only pitched 33 innings), and Thayer (143 in 65) and Quackenbush (135 in 65) were very solid. Remember, though, that 135 (35% above league average, park adjusted) is not at all off the charts: most relievers are above average, while most starters are below in this metric). Street is gone, and steamer is unkind to the rest of the Padres pen, big-time: Juaquin Benoit projects for 1.0 fWAR, and the rest of the pen projects to -01 COMBINED! Steamer sees the Padres as essentially having a replacement-level bullpen, somewhat masked by the ballpark.
Overall Steamer has the Padres pitching as ALSO ranking 25th of 30 teams, at 8.0 WAR. Ugh.
I agree with Steamer that their pitching is no good – they really need BOTH Shields and Shertzer in order to compete in the NL West, and that might not do it.
I also agree that the defense will be atrocious, and so the bWAR of the pitchers will suffer (fWAR, more fielding independent, will hold up better).
But I think they may well surprise us in run production. Matt Kemp should be a DH, but he CAN hit. Justin Upton and Wil Myers can both hit, too, and I think Alonso will do better. And I suspect that the Padres are not so foolish as to spend all that money on the outfield, if the young middle infielders can neither field nor hit: I DO think they might know more than we do about this.
finally, I suspect that they hope to not be quite done, and that they expect to upgrade their pitching over the next few weeks. It has been an interesting offseason in San Diego, and a story worth watching in 2015.