Friday, November 29, 2013

Team Postmortem: San Diego Padres

Record: 76-86, -82 Run Differential

Summary: In terms of the on-field product, it seems like the Padres were standing still this season. They finished with the exact same record as in 2012. However, the year should still be considered a step forward for the San Diego club, as they finally addressed their ownership issues in the preceding offseason and acquired a new CEO and GM, a pair that should hopefully be in place for a while going forward, giving the organization much needed stability. As such, while 2013 may be ultimately a lost year, the team will now have a full offseason to start building towards a new plan for the future.

Offensively, the Padres seemed to be a pretty poor team if you just look at Runs Scored, where they rank 24th with 618.  They also look pretty ugly if you look at a lot of the raw stats like BA (.245, 23rd), SLG (.378, 26th), and wOBA (.302, 25th). Much like with the Mets, that doesn't tell the whole story. The Padres play in one of the most extremely pitcher-friendly parks in the game. If you look at wRC+, which takes into account Park Effects, they fair a bit better with 94, 17th in baseball. It's certainly not great, but it isn't as disastrous as things looked at first glance. Their approach at the plate as a team definitely needs work as their BB/K of 0.36 ranks 23rd. On the bright side, they were one of the better baserunning teams with a BsR (Baserunning Runs Above Average, which is a combination of wSB, accounting for basestealing, and UBR, which covers other baserunning) of 5.1, good for 7th overall.

The biggest disappointment for the team came from third-baseman Chase Headly. After an incredible breakout season in 2012 where he hit .286/.376/.498  with a 145 wRC+ and 7.2 fWAR, Headley regressed significantly in 2013. He hit for a 113 wRC+ and 3.6 fWAR. The biggest changes were a drop in both power (31 to 13 HRs, .212. to .150 ISO) and BABIP (.378 to .330). Given his career averages are more in line with 2013, it may be that his 7.2 fWAR campaign was simply a career year and this is who Headley really is.  For the second straight season, Carlos Quentin played very well (143 wRC+, 146 in 2012) and for the second year in a row, he only got into under 90 games due to injuries. The Padres did have a fair number of promising young players in the lineup, the most impressive of whom may have been Jedd Gyorko. The rookie second baseman showed impressive power with 23 home runs and a .195 ISO in 125 games.  The Padres would still like him to work on his plate discipline as he walks rarely (6.3% of the time), and strikes out often (23.4%).  If he can improve on that aspect of his game he could end up being an elite player.

The pitching, however, was far more of a concern. They allowed the 10th most runs in baseball at 700. Despite playing in an extreme pitcher's park, the Padres ranked near the bottom in most metrics. Their FIP of 4.00 ranked 21st and their xFIP of 3.96 was 19th. Perhaps most alarming was their HR/FB rate of 10.8% was the 10th highest mark in the majors, despite playing in a park that suppresses home runs. For reference, the Yankees, playing in a park that aids home runs, were 9th with 11.5%. Using park/league adjusted numbers, brings the problems into stark releif as their FIP- of 112 was 29th (just ahead of the Astros' 119)  and their xFIP- of 105 was 24th. The good news is that Andrew Cashner finished the year extremely well. While his numbers to start the season were disappointing (6.07 K/9, 3.81 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 3.90 xFIP), he turned it around in the second half (7.26 K/9 2.14 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 3.26 xFIP). The big change seems to be that Cashner rediscovered his slider. In the first half (through the end of June), Cashner only threw his slider 2.97% of the time, as opposed to 18.69% in previous seasons. For the rest of the season, that number shot up to 20.52%. The rest of the rotation was often unpleasant. Edinson Volquez was terrible, pitching 27 games with a 6.01 ERA and 4.21 FIP.  Jason Marquis was, perhaps, even worse with a  4.05 ERA masking a 5.65 FIP. Clayton Richards started the year with a horrifying 7.01 ERA and 6.54 FIP before having his season ended, mercifully, due to shoulder surgery.

It was a bad season for the Padres and 2014 is unlikely to be significantly better. The good news is that the Padres have a top-flight farm system (seventh according to Bleacher Report's post-MiLB rankings, third in Baseball America's recent Near-Term Value rankings. They've already seen an influx of positional players in Jedd Gyorko, Everth Cabrera, Yonder Alondzo, and Yasmani Grandal. On the way is a promising stock of young pitchers--something San Diego sorely needs right now. There may be concerns of a steroid problem within the organization as the Padres have had more players suspended over the last two seasons than any other team, including Yasmani Grandal and Everth Cabrera. It's certainly not significant enough to jump to any conclusions yet, but it bears watching.  With the ownership and front office situation sorted out, now Padres fans can focus on the team on the field (as the prospects in the minors) and look towards a hopefully brighter future.

Team MVP: Chris Denorfia, 3.9 fWAR

Team LVP: Mark Kotsay, -1.7 fWAR

Down On The Farm: The Padres possess one of the better farm systems in the game. While no one player stands out as a future superstar, it is a deep system filled with multiple strong prospects. Particularly impressive is its stock of young pitchers, like Max Fried and Matthew Wisler.  Casey Kelly is another promising pitcher, who unfortunately has suffered several injury setbacks, most significantly undergoing Tommy John surgery this spring.

Austin Hedges is a 21-year-old catching prospect who is considered to be one of, if not the, best defensive player at the position in the entire minor leagues. Since being drafted in 2011, he's lived up to his defensive reputation, leaving his bat the only real question in his development. He had a surprisingly solid showing in High-A this season hitting .270/.343/.425 with a bit of gap power (.155 ISO). He struggled in 20 games after being promoted to AA, with a mere .224/.297/.269. He'll certainly open the 2014 season at AA and have another chance to continue to develop his hitting against that level of competition. With Yasmani Grandal on the major league roster, the Padres can afford to be patient with this young man and give him every chance to reach his potential.

Matthew Wisler is a promising 21-year-old right-handed pitcher. The pitcher's frame filled out a bit in the offseason, allowing him to add velocity to his four-seam fastball, which now sits around 93-95 mph.  He also possesses a solid two-seamer and a big slow curve and has been developing a changeup. He locates both fastballs well, but struggles with command of the curveball at times. He had a very impressive showing at AA this year with a 8.83 K/9, 2.31 BB/9, 3.00 ERA and 2.93 FIP. He still needs to work to improve his ability to get left-handed batters out. While he walked 27 batters at AA, 21 of those were left-handed. I wouldn't be surprised to see him start 2014 in AAA as the Padres have been aggressive with promoting him thus far. His ceiling is that of a #2 starter.

Offseason Outlook: While the Padres are probably not looking at contention in 2014, they will still look to shore up the team in the offseason. Having the players already on the roster stay healthy and un-suspended would be a big start. They also could use more pitching to join Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross in the rotation, in order to bridge the gap until the next wave of reinforcements is ready to come up from the minors. Given their budget and distance from contention, they will be again looking to capitalize on 'buy low' candidates. A prime one would be Phil Hughes, who would greatly benefit from the spacious outfield of Petco.

As a Red Sox fan, I'm also compelled to note that the Padres have signed "Human Standing Ovation" Dave Roberts to be their bench coach in 2014. Best of luck to him.

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