San Diego Padres
What They Did: 76-86, 4th Place NL West.
Actual Runs: Scored 651 runs, Allowed 710.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 74.6 (1.4 below actual)
Restated: Scored 654 runs, Allowed 686.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 77.5 (1.5 above actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Padres, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 78 games.)
Like the San Francisco Giants, playing in a home park that suppresses scoring makes it hard to see just how promising an offense the San Diego Padres possessed last year. The Padres were 23rd in the majors in total runs scored but a more respectable 17th if you just look at all teams’ away games. The good news for San Diego is that coming into 2013, league-average looks like the floor for the team’s offensive potential. When healthy, the Padres have a projected lineup comprised entirely of 30-and-under talent and every one of them has already produced at an above-average level in the major leagues. Like no other projected lineup in the majors, this is an entire team poised for a breakout season.
“When healthy.” “Projected lineup.” For the second season in a row, those caveats threaten to mask the potential of the Padres offense.
In the National League, a full season roughly consists of eight position players getting 700 plate appearances. No team gets that, of course, but the Padres had more turnover than most. Last season, San Diego only had four players on its roster with at least 450 plate appearances and only nine with more than 300. The reason that’s so damaging for San Diego is that every one of those nine players performed at an above-average level. If they could only get them all 500 plate appearances instead of 300 . . . . well, that’s unattainable in 2013 as already sensational rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal has been suspended 50 games for a PED violation. 2012 breakout performer, third baseman Chase Headley broke his thumb in Spring Training and will miss at least the first month of the season. The badly undermanned pitcher staff will be lucky to get a half season worth of starts out of Cory Luebke and is holding its breath that future-ace Andrew Cashner is ready to start the season on the active roster.
Most under .500 teams missing key contributors like that would seem destined for a dismal start to the season but, believe it or not, on offense at least, the Padres are still well stocked with young talent to take their place. Grandal’s replacement, Nick Hundley, had the worst year of his career last year, hitting an atrocious .157/.219/.245 in 225 plate appearances. That contrasts sharply with his first 1,100 plate appearances of his career when he hit .255/.314/.420 – slightly above average for a catcher. Hundley was definitely hurt all year, as evidenced by the season-ending knee surgery he underwent last August. The Padres have reason to believe that was the cause of his dismal year. No one is going to replace Chase Headley and replicate his 31 home run season pace last year (not even Chase Headley, most likely) but his injury actually gives a chance for the Padres to promote highly-regarded rookie Jedd Gyorko – a potential April fantasy sleeper, especially if you’re in an NL-only league.
While there is plenty of upside on offense even with the absence of Grendal and Hedley, with Luebke, and possibly Cashner out of the pitching mix, the Padres sport a last-place-caliber starting rotation. In getting Edinson Volquez tossed in to the trade that netted them Grandal and first baseman Yonder Alonso last season, San Diego hoped that transferring Volquez out of Cincinnati and into Petco would mitigate his fly ball and resulting home-run tendencies. That actually worked but he’s still too wild to anchor a staff. At best he’s now a low 4.00 ERA pitcher with low 4.00 ERA stuff, and his skill set appears in decline. If the Padres had Cashner and Luebke making 30 starts each, Volquez could be a serviceable #3 or #4 starter but right now he’s the ace of the staff and that’s a real problem because it means the other four arms in the starting rotation have even bigger flaws.
During San Diego’s excellent 2012 second half last year (42-33), the starting pitching was actually worse than in the first half – materially worse (4.93 ERA after the All-Star break vs. 4.03 before) – as a whopping ten different pitchers started a game over the last 70 games of the season. They still won because the bullpen was fantastic, and manager Buddy Black recognized this by limiting the number of innings the starters threw. It’s always dangerous, and usually wrong, to expect consistent bullpen excellence year-over-year, but thanks to a weak first-half performance form the relievers, the Padres have very little mean regression factored in to the 2013 projection.
The problem for San Diego fans looking for a chance at meaningful September baseball is that even though 15 different pitchers started games for the Padres last year (MLB average: 10) and eight of them, had ERA’s over 5.00 – in 51 total starts (!) – believe it or not, there’s actually very little improvement expected due to the skill sets of the projected rotation. When you see the results of those 50 starts above, for a team like the Padres, free agent starting pitchers who had trouble finding a home like Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse, would appear to have a huge marginal benefit. I’m not going to fault San Diego’s management yet, however; they’ve done a fabulous job of putting together an exciting core of extremely talented offensive players. If they start the first-half of this year like they ended last year, there will be plenty of time to open the checkbook and pick up some solid starting pitching as the season progresses.
Oddsmakers’ expectations: Even though the Padres played .500 ball after the first two weeks of the season, including a 42-33 record after the All-Star break, San Diego is still flying far under the radar of both mainstream analysts and the Vegas oddsmakers. Their total wins market opened at 75, just a game-and-a-half higher than last year. While it’s true that four key players will miss material amounts of playing time, I believe that just removes any realistic shot of competing for the Wild Card. It still leaves plenty of room to clear their over/under hurdle. For the second year in a row, the Padres are one of the most attractive over bets available.
82-80 – Third in NL West
681 Runs Scored 676 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) publication currently available wherever books are sold. Here are three on-line booksellers you can currently choose from:
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