The San Diego Padres were the winners of the 2014-15 offseason. AJ Preller’s transaction spree added guys like Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and James Shields. The Padres were viewed as a dark horse playoff contender and a team that could win the NL West. They did neither. They won 74 games. Bud Black was fired after 65 of those games with a 32-33 record.
In his quest to add offense, Preller completely punted defense and it showed. The Padres were -28 defensive runs saved and the second-worst team by UZR in all of baseball. It killed the team’s pitchers in a big way and the offense was below average anyway. The Padres really packed it in late in the season. They entered September five games under .500 before it all fell apart with a 10-21 finish that really made things look a lot worse than they actually were. Except for going 5-14 in the 19 meetings with the Dodgers, the Padres were pretty competitive within the division.
No major outliers pop up from last season’s results. The Padres were 22-21 in one-run games, were better at home than they were on the road, and were competitive for five months of the season. By Pythagorean win-loss, the Padres overachieved by two games and by BaseRuns, they were three games better than expected. To be honest, it seems like the oddsmakers didn’t really know what to do with San Diego’s win total.
Justin Upton is gone, but the Padres were a decent team until the later months when it was clear that they couldn’t compete. San Diego is also stuck with the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Arizona Diamondbacks, who are all expected to experience success this season. It will be interesting to see what this season holds for first-time MLB manager Andy Green. Green was plucked from Arizona’s staff and was a manager in the minor league system, including a two-time Manager of the Year in the Southern League.
Nine straight seasons of missing the playoffs and a payroll around $100 million mean that the Padres need to show improvement this season. The playoffs are a long shot in this division and with the top-heavy nature of the National League. But, another 74-win season would be viewed as a major disappointment. Yet, that’s about where this season win total sits. Things could go south in a hurry with some interesting trade candidates and that’s a variable that you have to consider when looking at this team over the long haul in 2016.
Season win total odds:
BetOnline: 73.5 (100/-130)
5Dimes: 73.5 (100/-130)
Bovada: 73.5 (-115/-115)
Key additions: Fernando Rodney, Alexei Ramirez, Carlos Villanueva, Christian Bethancourt, Jon Jay, Drew Pomeranz, Casey Janssen, Matt Thornton
Key losses: Shawn Kelley, Ian Kennedy, Bud Norris, Justin Upton, Joaquin Benoit, Craig Kimbrel, Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, Odrisamer Despaigne
AJ Preller realized the mistakes that he made last season in terms of punting defense. This season, he sets his sights on improving that part of the ballclub with Alexei Ramirez, Christian Bethancourt, and Jon Jay. All three players carry some defensive value. A revamped bullpen with Fernando Rodney and Casey Janssen will replace Joaquin Benoit, Shawn Kelley. and Craig Kimbrel.
The Padres will use in-house options to replace Ian Kennedy’s innings. Justin Upton cashed in with the Detroit Tigers in free agency and Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko were traded away to add depth on the pitching side and in the farm system. It wasn’t a great offseason for the Padres, but they are in a quasi-rebuild right now. That’s something to keep in mind for the rest of the article.
Why bet the over?
This rotation has potential to be pretty good. James Shields is a reliable guy that works about 200 above average innings per season. With last season’s awful defense, every Padres starter tried to pitch to less contact, which sometimes led to long balls. Shields had the best strikeout rate of his career with one fewer hitter in the lineup, but also had one of his worst seasons from a home runs allowed standpoint. I would expect that to be a one-year blip, just like it was back in 2010. Shields had worked over 200 innings in nine straight seasons.
To go off on a tangent here, Shields had a 25.1 percent K% and a 9.4 percent BB%. Both were career highs. He gave up 33 home runs, one fewer than he allowed in one more inning back in 2010. This is what happens when a pitcher tries to do it all himself. He tries to be finer on the corners and falls behind more often, leading to mistakes in the zone. That’s what happened to Shields last season. I would expect the K and BB rates to both regress and the home run rate to go down as well. The K rate should regress a little bit less than the BB rate because this is still the NL and pitchers still hit. I would peg Shields for a little bit of a bounce back season this year.
Tyson Ross did a similar thing to Shields, except he had more success with it because of his extreme ground ball rate. Ross has never had great control, but he put the onus on himself to strike out more hitters and he was a 4.4-win pitcher per Fangraphs. Ross had a 61.5 percent ground ball rate, so he didn’t give up a lot of home runs. He’s got a heavy sinker and an elite slider and he uses both very effectively. Sliders can be tricky to control, hence the walk rate, but he pitches around it with punchouts and ground balls. If he stays healthy, he’ll be very good again.
When Andrew Cashner is healthy, he’s a pretty good pitcher. His strikeout rate bumped up last season and his walk rate did as well, fitting the mold of the other starters in this rotation. He was victimized by a 65.6 percent strand rate and a .330 BABIP against because San Diego’s defense was horrendous. While they aren’t going to have a dramatic turnaround, they should be around league average this season. That means that Cashner’s 3.85 FIP and 3.84 xFIP are better indicators of this season’s performance. He could even go a little bit lower if he trusts his defense and cuts down on the walks.
The supporting cast in the rotation has some interesting pieces and parts. Robbie Erlin was once a pretty good prospect that battled injuries and all sorts of other developmental hardships. He’s made a smattering of starts with a 4.60 ERA, a 3.69 FIP, and a 3.81 xFIP. He’s got good control, so that’s a feather in his cap. Brandon Maurer is expected to get another shot at starting after some decent relief work. Colin Rea battled a barking elbow after his first 31.2 Major League innings with average numbers. Brandon Morrow’s long and winding road lands him back in San Diego, where he’ll hope to stay healthy enough to contribute.
The catching position is in good hands for the Padres. Derek Norris is a solid switch-hitting backstop with some decent pop and better plate discipline than he showed last season. One of the organization’s top prospects is Austin Hedges, who got his feet wet at the MLB level last season, but he should start in Triple-A to develop his bat a little more with the addition of Christian Bethancourt. Bethancourt and Hedges are both excellent defensive catchers, with Hedges having a much higher upside because he shows offensive promise.
Matt Kemp couldn’t replicate 2014, but nobody really expected him to anyway. Kemp was nine percent above league average, but really struggled defensively yet again. He does have a good amount of power potential and is coming off of a down year from a BABIP standpoint. Kemp has a career .346 BABIP with a combination of speed and contact quality. Last season, it was just .311. That lowered his average by about 20 points and cut into his OBP because his walk rate dropped. He should see some offensive gains this season.
Wil Myers moves to first base and his clock is ticking to show something offensively. After being part of the James Shields to Kansas City trade, Myers has had a lot of trouble staying healthy. When he’s out there, he’s been an above average hitter for the most part. He’s a butcher defensively, which is why he’ll play first base for this club. In 253 PA last season, Myers showcased a good walk rate and decent pop for a 116 wRC+. Without the bad defense cutting into his value as much, he could be a solid player.
Alexei Ramirez averaged just over three fWAR per season before everything fell apart last year. He had been a really good defensive shortstop with a wide range of offensive performances. He’s shown a little bit of power over the last two seasons after two down years from a power standpoint, but his value of late has been tied to stealing bases and playing defense. He could return to those strengths this season.
Yangervis Solarte is decent player for the Padres. He puts a ton of balls in play, which is fine, though his lack of speed keeps him from posting a high average because of the sample size. He hit 14 home runs last season, so there’s 15-homer potential here with a .275 type of average. That’ll play at the hot corner in an era where third basemen actually aren’t very good across the board, save for the elite players. He’s serviceable defensively at third.
Jon Jay is a defensive upgrade and Cory Spangenberg should play good defense at second. Melvin Upton can’t hit, but he’s a decent defender for the most part.
The bullpen has a few guys that can work high-leverage spots. Fernando Rodney has been a closer for a long time and Casey Janssen is another guy that has worked in big spots in the past. Carlos Villanueva is more of a swingman type, but he has had success in middle relief. Drew Pomeranz has a decent arsenal, with guys like Kevin Quackenbush and Nick Vincent likely to see increased work.
Why bet the under?
Nothing really stands out about this team. They still won’t be very good offensively or defensively. Matt Kemp’s terrible defense negates the majority of his offensive value. With a lot of these guys, you’d need them to hit their absolute ceilings to provide enough value to be above replacement level. It’s a really terrible group of position players overall, with maybe one or two guys that would start on other teams.
More than that, the starting rotation, which is a strength, has potential to look very, very different by the end of the season. Tyson Ross’s name has been brought up in a lot of trade talks. Ross is a Super Two guy, which means that he qualified for a fourth year of arbitration. The Padres would get a lot more in trade for him this July because teams are buying an extra year of control. Because of that, Ross will probably be the most attractive trade target in the starting pitching market and Preller will have to move him.
Similarly, Andrew Cashner is a free agent after the season. Cashner might have been traded already if not for the endless health concerns. If he works the first four months of the season without an issue, teams will relax a little bit based on the fact that he worked 31 games last season as a starter. As a rental that can either start or relieve, he’ll draw a pretty big market and Preller will once again be forced to move him to stock a farm system that is lacking impact talent.
James Shields, who has two more guaranteed seasons after this and a $2 million buyout, reportedly wanted out of San Diego. Shields handpicked his destination in free agency and wanted to be closer to home. But, things very obviously didn’t work out and Shields seemed to be unhappy. He was talked about in the trade market, but nothing ever materialized. With another bad start, Shields may get more impatient and that could create a pretty bad situation in San Diego that will make everybody uncomfortable.
The Padres aren’t going to be in a position to compete for anything this season, so I would expect Ross and Cashner to be traded and Preller to take a serious look at moving Shields. Is that really a team that you want to back from a season win total standpoint? Not only that, but all of these uncertain times will be captained by a rookie manager. That’s a lot for Andy Green to deal with in his first season, especially when he has been handed the keys to a ship that has a ton of leaks.
Outside of the hypothetical trade situations, this just isn’t a good team. The defense will improve a bit with Myers at first, but he might be bad over there, too. The bullpen isn’t all that exciting with Fernando Rodney, who was awful last season. Drew Pomeranz says he wants to start, but that experiment hasn’t gone all that well. Carlos Villanueva probably will find his way into the rotation at some point and that’s not a good thing. If he doesn’t, it’s because the Padres are trying inexperienced starters and, while that’s good for development, it’s not good for 2016.
Pick: San Diego Padres Under 73.5 (-115 – Bovada)
In my mind, this could be the last-place team in the NL West. Truthfully, if the Padres find a way to be worse than both the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies, it wouldn’t surprise me in any way, shape, or form. I think this win total is way too high because this is the type of team that could win 25 games after the All-Star Break if Ross and Cashner are traded away. That’s what I expect to happen, so I definitely think this team will bottom out in a big way late in the year.
They’ll probably do what they did last year and be competitive for a while before injuries or trades decimate the roster. With three quality teams in this division and only one punching bag in Colorado, the Padres are going to struggle against a lot of teams. I honestly question how they match up against other rebuilding teams like Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
This is a bad team and they’re going to prove it.
-END OF 2016 PREVIEW-
MLB season win totals are always influenced by what a team did over the offseason. Nobody added more to their roster than the San Diego Padres. The Padres got some new leadership in the front office and A.J. Preller wasted no time completely overhauling the league’s worst offense.
Petco Park has always been a ballpark that has suppressed offense, but the Padres scored 535 runs last season. That’s their lowest total in a full season since they scored 468 runs in 1972. It’s rather incredible that the Padres won 77 games last season while scoring just 3.3 runs per game, but it’s a testament to their pitching staff and what Bud Black was able to get out of his team. Those that played their win total early picked up a winner or a push while those late to the party suffered a loss.
Given the team’s pitching prowess and lack of offense, it’s not all that surprising that the Padres finished 48-33 at home and 29-52 on the road. Poor results force change and there has been a lot of change on the roster. The Padres are projected to take quite a big step forward according to PECOTA, the oddsmakers, and also the media that have bought into their transactions over the winter. Is it possible to turn around an offense that dramatically in the span of a couple of months? We’re going to find out.
The San Diego Padres are lined at 84.5 wins across the market at BetOnline, 5Dimes, and Bovada, though all three books are making bettors pay additional juice on the under. Perception has certainly changed, but it appears that the bettors getting into the market early are seeing value on the under.
Key additions: Justin Upton, James Shields, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Brandon Morrow, Will Middlebrooks, Brandon Maurer, Shawn Kelley, Clint Barmes
Key losses: Yasmani Grandal, Zach Eflin, Jesse Hahn, Eric Stults, Everth Cabrera, Seth Smith, Joe Wieland, Rene Rivera, Ryan Hanigan
That’s a lot of player movement in one offseason, but most of it appears to be beneficial to the Padres. An outfield of Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, and Justin Upton is going to be an enormous upgrade offensively over what the Padres had last season. It should be noted that just about anything would have been an upgrade, but Upton, Kemp, and Myers are all guys with some power potential.
The Padres took advantage of some quality starting pitching depth to get some deals done. Jesse Hahn became Derek Norris and Zach Eflin was included in the Matt Kemp deal. Eric Stults left via free agency. Everth Cabrera recently signed with the Baltimore Orioles after having some issues that got him suspended in San Diego.
Brandon Morrow fits the Josh Johnson mold of a low-risk, medium-reward signings for more starting pitching depth. Brandon Maurer is an exciting addition to a Padres pen that traded away Huston Street at last season’s trade deadline.
The Padres sacrificed some young talent for tangible upgrades in the present and that proactive approach should be praised. The second wild card had added a whole new dimension to both leagues and the Padres absolutely needed to do something because their pitching staff from last season was clearly good enough to get them to the playoffs with some more offensive help.
They also added James Shields to the rotation to turn a good rotation into one with the potential to be great. Shields is an excellent fit in this rotation and he had a strong desire to pitch on the west coast, so he should be very happy with his situation. He gives the Padres a 200-inning horse in support of some high-risk injury guys.
Why bet the over?
No team in baseball will take a bigger leap forward offensively than the San Diego Padres. We’ll start with the more traditional statistics before digging deeper. The Padres finished 28th in home runs with 109. They were dead last in batting average at .226. They were dead last in on-base percentage at .292. They were dead last in runs scored by 38 behind the Atlanta Braves. They were dead last in slugging percentage at .342.
Let’s go one step further. Taking pitchers out of the equation, the Padres were dead last in batting average by 10 points, dead last in on-base percentage by two points, and dead last in slugging percentage by 17 points. From a sabermetric standpoint, the Padres were dead last in wRC+ with a value of 82, which means that they were 18 percent below league average offensively. Their .283 wOBA was last by 12 points. In wRC, which is total weighted runs created, the Padres were 73 runs behind the Braves.
Five of the 27 non-pitchers that had plate appearances last season finished above league average offensively. One of those players had 65 plate appearances. Of those above average hitters, one of them contributed positive defensive value (Rene Rivera).
When you start that low, the only place to go is up. That’s what the Padres will do offensively this season. Justin Upton is probably the biggest name that the Padres acquired and he put up a .270/.342/.491 slash line for the Braves with 29 home runs and an above average walk rate. Upton sustained his offensive performance, even downgrading from Chase Field to Turner Field from 2012 to 2013. That should provide hope at Petco Park, because it’s not a great hitter’s park, but neither is Turner Field.
When healthy, Matt Kemp can still rake and he proved that in 2014. Kemp played 150 games and posted a .506 slugging percentage with 25 home runs. He drove the baseball and that was big to see after his power dwindled due to injuries in 2013. His bounce back season was terrific offensively and he stays in the NL West and on the west coast where he is comfortable.
Wil Myers is the wild card for this offense. Myers fell out of favor in Tampa Bay due to a low work ethic and various behind the scenes problems. Production obviously made him expendable as well. A wrist injury decimated any power potential he had last season and he only played 87 games with a well below average offensive profile. He hit at every level in the minors, so there’s still untapped potential left in the 24-year-old.
Yangervis Solarte was one of the few Padres that was above average last season and he will compete with Will Middlebrooks for at bats at third base. Solarte puts the bat on the ball and that’s his main value. He also has good plate discipline for a young player. Middlebrooks has been a busted prospect to date, but there’s some potential for growth left there. High expectations in the pressure situation of Boston really slowed Middlebrooks down and he can focus on making a good impression in his new home.
A bad case of plantar fasciitis zapped the only thing that made Jedd Gyorko valuable – his power. Gyorko went from 23 home runs to 10 and dropped 111 points in slugging percentage. With better health, Gyorko should return to form and get bat that power in his free swinging approach. If the walk rate bump from last season is legit, he could easily have a career year this season.
Yonder Alonso needed surgery on a bum hand and wrist last season that could away his ability to hit line drives and make solid contact. He fell from 2013’s abbreviated slash line of .281/.341/.368 to 2014’s ugly .240/.285/.397 slash. His BABIP fell by 55 points, so there’s some good bounce back potential if he can manage to stay in the lineup.
The starting rotation has the potential to be exceptionally good, especially with the help of Petco Park’s park factor. James Shields was a big splash signing for the Padres and one that they desperately needed. Over the last three seasons, the Padres rank 25th in starting pitcher innings and their 4.09 ERA, 4.04 FIP, and 3.97 xFIP are in the bottom third of the league. Shields will help in all three of those categories.
Andrew Cashner produced just shy of two wins in just 19 starts last season. Cashner’s raw stuff is special and the drop in strikeouts from 2014 can be attributed to fewer breaking balls while dealing with injuries. He’s a fairly extreme ground ball guy with swing-and-miss stuff when healthy. Perhaps the pressure of no longer having to be the ace will help him.
Tyson Ross has been terrific in his two seasons with the Padres after the Athletics gave up on the oft-injured righty. Ross’s strikeout numbers spiked in a big way once he got to the Senior Circuit and his 2.81 ERA and 3.24 FIP last season were very good. His 57 percent ground ball rate ranked among the top pitchers in baseball. Ground balls are going to be the key for this pitching staff (more on that later) and Ross also misses bats. He’s a very solid #3 starter in this rotation and a guy that you can expect good numbers from.
Ian Kennedy continued to be durable, exceeding 30 starts for the fifth straight season in 2014. Kennedy also enjoyed the move to San Diego because the park is much better for his fly ball stylings. The strikeout rate climbed as well, so Kennedy wound up with a 3.21 FIP and a 3.44 xFIP over 201 innings of work. He’s a reliable starter in middle of this rotation and the Padres now have two workhorse guys around Cashner and Ross.
Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson could combine to form a really great fifth starter if they both stay healthy or alternate time on the DL. Morrow has thrown 77.2 innings at the Major League level over the last two seasons and Johnson has thrown 81.1. Johnson is out until May or June following surgery, but these two guys have the ability to miss bats if they can stay healthy.
The Padres have an average bullpen overall. Joaquin Benoit was good in place of Street when he was able to stay healthy. Benoit was limited to 56 appearances. Dale Thayer is a bit of a regression candidate with a low BABIP and a slightly above average strikeout rate. Alex Torres, Nick Vincent, and Kevin Quackenbush can all miss bats and have some upside for this season.
Why bet the under?
So why were the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Tampa Bay Rays willing to supply the Padres with a new outfield? Justin Upton is an impending free agent, so the Braves wanted to get value, but he comes with his fair share of flaws as well. Upton is a very streaky hitter, so the Padres will have to take the good with the bad. Also, he is declining as an outfielder. Petco Park is a few points lower in home run park factor than Atlanta and a few points lower in the doubles department as well. Upton’s value is in driving the ball for extra-base hits. Petco suppresses that value.
Matt Kemp is a major injury risk because he has one season with 500 or more plate appearances since 2011. Dodger Stadium is a better hitter’s park than people give it credit for, so the move to Petco is definitely a step down. That’s a bigger problem for Kemp than Upton because Kemp has been an awful defensive outfielder throughout his career. Kemp posted a 140 wRC+ and a .369 wOBA last season and only accumulated 1.8 wins above replacement player because his defense is so bad.
Which brings us to Wil Myers. Not only has Wil Myers not hit at the big league level, but he’s a bad defensive outfielder as well. All three of the Padres outfielders need to put up great offensive numbers to counteract the lack of defensive value. Fortunately, Cashner and Ross are ground ball guys, but most of the relievers are not and Ian Kennedy definitely isn’t.
Kemp cost the Dodgers 12 runs defensively in just over 300 innings in center field. Upton is not a center fielder. The job will likely default to Myers, who is not a good center fielder by any metrics. Kemp once cost the Dodgers 37 runs defensively in center field in a season. The offense is great, and that’s what oddsmakers are focused on. The problem is that these guys are going to give back a lot of runs with their outfield adventures.
Let’s say that the bounce back does not come for Jedd Gyorko. The Padres are likely to be below average offensively at third, short, second, and could very well be below average at first since Yonder Alonso’s value is tied to batted ball luck.
The pitching staff has two constants with Shields and Kennedy, who have proven that they can withstand 200-inning seasons. Andrew Cashner is a major worry. He’s got great stuff, but his strikeout rates really dropped as a full-time starter and the injury problems are always there. Tyson Ross is heavily-dependent on his slider as a sinker-slider guy and heavy usage of the slider increases injury risk. With no clear cut fifth starter, a former Tommy John guy in Cory Luebke trying to work his way back, and less depth from the trades over the winter, Ross absolutely needs to stay healthy.
Joaquin Benoit will turn 38 during the season and there’s not a ton of depth to the Padres bullpen. Elevating everybody a role will turn this into a below average bullpen that becomes dependent on the starting pitchers’ ability to work deep into games because the middle relief will be subpar. This area of the team isn’t a weakness, but it cannot be considered a strength either.
Pick: Under 84.5
This number is at least three or four wins too high. The Padres will make some major offensive improvements at the expense of defense. While defense is harder to quantify and it takes a bit longer for the hurt to add up compared to the tangible offensive numbers, this is a bad defensive team in the outfield. The hitters that the Padres brought over will experience a decline across the board thanks to Petco Park.
Bud Black has been a guy to get the most out of bad teams, so he’s definitely a wild card in all of this, but the Padres have expectations now. They are expected to contend for the second wild card and, in a perfect world, give the Dodgers a run for the division crown. I’m just not seeing it. The Padres probably did add seven or eight wins worth of implied value in Shields, Upton, and Kemp, but this adjustment is too big. The Padres will do what every MLB team does. They will win 60, lose 60, and what they do with the other 42 will decide their season. Over the long haul, I don’t see consistency as a strength of this team, so I’m forced to go with the under.
There’s another consideration in this as well. A.J. Preller took away some of the organizational depth this past winter. He managed to hold on to the better prospects, but a Justin Upton trade or a trade of Joaquin Benoit seems very plausible. The same can be said about Ian Kennedy. Preller is taking a shot here. If it doesn’t work out, he can replenish the organization with assets at the trade deadline. It would send a mixed message, but that’s irrelevant. Preller’s proactive nature is a step in the right direction. Bailing if the time is right would be a step in the right direction as well, so that has to be a factor in any win total bet with the Padres.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
If it hasn’t been one thing, it’s been another for the San Diego Padres over the last couple of seasons. In 2012, the Padres were 19 games under .500 at the All-Star Break before getting healthy in the second half and posting a strong 42-33 record. In 2013, the Padres were met with injury after injury, illnesses, suspensions, and pretty much everything that could go wrong for a team in a season.
Clayton Richard, the top starter for the Padres in 2012, was awful in six starts before succumbing to an intestinal virus in May. A couple weeks after that, Richard had major shoulder surgery, which was likely the cause of his terrible start. Yasmani Grandal was named in the Biogenesis report in November, so he missed the first 50 games of the season. He appeared in 28 games before tearing his MCL and ACL to put the start of the 2014 season in doubt. Yonder Alonso suffered two different hand injuries that limited him to 97 games. Carlos Quentin missed eight games to suspension and then injured his surgically-repaired right knee in late July to end his season. Cameron Maybin’s injury woes continued as he appeared in just 14 games. Jason Marquis made 20 starts before a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament led to Tommy John surgery. Everth Cabrera missed time for a hamstring injury and then also received a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis PED scandal. Edinson Volquez was atrocious. Ian Kennedy was traded. Chase Headley came flopping back down to earth. Alexi Amarista and Nick Hundley combined for over 800 plate appearances with an OPS somewhere around .640.
Through that horror show, the Padres won 76 games. They outscored the Dodgers 69-62 in the 19 meetings between the two teams. They were a very respectable 40-43 against teams with records of .500 or better. The team’s offensive problems led to a brutal 31-50 road record. A 10-game losing streak from June 29 to July 8 gave the first half a much different look at the Padres went from 40-40 to 40-50 in a hurry.
When all the dust settled, the Padres were 76-86, four games better than their Pythagorean Win-Loss record suggested, and the team and its fans were left to wonder what the Padres would look like if they managed not to collectively walk under a ladder while simultaneously breaking mirrors.
Of course, Cameron Maybin is already out, Josh Johnson will miss all of April and part of May with a flexor strain in his forearm, and promising prospect Cory Luebke is slated to miss the season recovering from Tommy John surgery, so maybe the Padres should have a rabbit’s foot promotion or something.
Oddsmakers see signs of improvement for the Padres and so did the betting market. The Padres opened 77.5 in some places and the number is at 78 or 79 across the market. BetDSI.eu is the lowest right now at 78 with -120 on the over. Bovada.lv is next at 78.5 with -125 on the under. BetOnline.ag and 5Dimes.eu are both at 79, with the over at +110 on BOL and +100 at 5D.
Key additions: Josh Johnson, Joaquin Benoit, Seth Smith, Alex Torres
Key losses: Luke Gregerson, Clayton Richard
The nice part of having a young core group of players is that there’s not as much roster turnover from year to year. The Padres made some interesting acquisitions in the offseason while not upsetting the strength of their team. Josh Johnson was brought in to try and provide some sort of stability in the rotation behind Andrew Cashner. Johnson certainly comes with his share of concerns after a 6.20 ERA in Toronto last season, but the hope is that Petco Park and a return to the NL will be friendly for him. If he's healthy in May, he'll slide into the rotation.
Joaquin Benoit replaces the void left by the trade of Luke Gregerson. The Padres saw Gregerson’s cost going up in arbitration, especially if he took over for closer Huston Street at some point during the season, so they opted to add a complementary bat in Seth Smith and sign Benoit in free agency. Alex Torres also provides some great upside in the bullpen after a strong year in Tampa.
The loss of Clayton Richard is key in name only. Richard had major shoulder surgery and wasn’t much of a contributor in 2013 for the Padres. The rotation will be filled with upgrades like Tyson Ross, Johnson, and some compelling young arms.
The biggest additions for the Padres would simply be if their in-house players like Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Tyson Ross can stay healthy. That’s part of the reason the offseason was so quiet for the Padres, even though it looks like the teams outside of the Dodgers are vulnerable.
Why bet the over?
As mentioned in the introduction, the Padres met about every stumbling block they could find, fell over it, and kept on ticking anyway en route to 76 wins. A lot of talent spent more time off the field than on it. Some of the guys, like Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin, may just be injury prone, so expecting a lot out of them might not be the best way to go. However, in their absence, other players stepped up and showed what their true ability may be.
The biggest one is Will Venable. Venable enjoyed more frequent playing time and parlayed it into a 20/20 season with 22 HR and 22 SB. His second half performance was a big reason why the Padres played better as Venable posted a .315/.357/.549/.906 slash line. Whether that was an outlier or Venable just taking consistent playing time and making the most of his opportunity remains to be seen, but the confidence he picked up could pay dividends.
Chris Denorfia’s emergence could lead to a very interesting situation with Seth Smith. Denorfia had a great year at the plate and in the field, but his production against lefties certainly overshadowed his numbers against righties, which falls in line with his career splits. Even though it will be hard to take Denorfia’s defense out of the equation, Smith, whose career OPS against righties is 240 points higher than against lefties, will be a great offensive platoon partner for Denorfia. Smith isn’t the caliber of outfielder that Denorfia is, but he’s not terrible out there and the Padres can still get Denorfia some time in left field and center field to get Smith’s bat in the lineup against righties. The Padres were second to the Giants in the National League in terms of percentage of plate appearances with a platoon advantage, so this is territory that they are familiar with. It’s interesting to note that the Padres tied with the Cubs for most home runs against left-handed pitching with 52.
Carlos Quentin accumulated 2.1 fWAR in just 82 games last season and all of it was with his bat. The Padres are a much different offensive team with him in the fold. Even though the Padres are 20 games under .500 over the last two seasons, the team is 76-76 when Quentin starts. His health remains a question mark, but if he can manage to stay healthy enough to get 450-500 plate appearances, that will be a tremendous help.
The keystone combo of Jedd Gyorko and Everth Cabrera create an underrated duo for the Padres. Cabrera was worth 3.1 fWAR in just 95 games. He stole 37 bases, hit over .283/.355/.381 and played above average defense. He was on pace for a career year before a PED-related suspension ended his season. Gyorko, meanwhile, hit 23 home runs and posted a wRC+ of 110 from a position that isn’t known for offensive prowess. A higher average and better plate discipline were hallmarks of his minor league seasons, so there’s reason to believe that the 25-year-old can have even more success in his sophomore season.
Chase Headley likely let trade negotiations and contract concerns impact his 2013 season, which was marred by a loss of power. Headley went from 31 bombs in 2012 to just 13 in 2013. His walk rate remained strong and his line drive rate would suggest a higher batting average. While 30 homers seems unlikely, 20 is certainly possible with a batting average increase likely to come.
Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal project to be worth around four wins by Fangraphs’s estimates, but it certainly could be more if they can stay on the field. Alonso was a high average and high on-base percentage player throughout his minor league career and chipped in 10-12 home runs per season. He doesn’t put up the conventional power numbers that corner infielders are expected to do, but he’ll get on base and rack up hits in important situations. Grandal has an excellent eye at the plate and provides a little bit of home run power and quite a bit of gap power. These two players would give the Padres offense an entirely different dynamic and one that could give the Padres a lot of baserunners and a lot of run scoring opportunities.
The Padres finished 22nd in OBP last season, but if their components stay healthy, it’s reasonable that they could make one of the biggest overall jumps in getting on base. As we know, the key to scoring runs is not making outs and the Padres could be quite adept at that if their lineup is at full strength.
The first full season as a starter for Andrew Cashner was a success. He made 26 starts out of 31 appearances to the tune of a 3.04 ERA and a 2.90 K/BB ratio. Cashner’s second half was extremely promising as he posted a 2.14 ERA and a 2.92 FIP over 75.2 innings of work. His strikeout rate increased to above league average at 20.8 percent and home run rate dropped significantly. While Cashner’s true skill set isn’t going to post a 2.14 ERA or a 2.92 FIP, his 3.14 SIERA paints a pretty optimistic picture of what 2014 may hold. He’s unlikely to struggle away from Petco Park’s pitcher-friendly conditions because of a high ground ball rate and his 95 mph fastball with some downward action.
Behind Cashner, there’s a lot to be excited about. Tyson Ross had a 3.06 ERA in his 16 starts with a 2.94 K/BB ratio and a .210 batting average against. Ross was tremendous over his last 13 starts, saw his velocity increase, and his advanced metrics indicate that Ross should be counted on for another strong season, assuming he stays healthy. In Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson, the Padres have two guys with track records of success that are looking to climb back up the mountain. In Kennedy’s case, his fly ball tendencies weren’t going to continue to fare well at Chase Field and that’s exactly what happened. He was traded to San Diego and should perform better now that he and his family were able to get settled in the offseason. The home run ball still hurt him at Petco Park, but time with former Major League pitcher Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley should help. Johnson’s xFIP of 3.58 was much lower than his ERA of 6.20, indicating that improvement is to be expected this season. The home run rate will drop in the National League and in San Diego. What’s important is that Johnson’s velocity was still there last season and he still missed bats at a good clip.
Eric Stults is the frontrunner for the fifth spot, in large part because of his success at Petco Park. The fly ball pitcher had a 3.06 ERA in 100 home innings and a 4.77 ERA in 103.2 road innings. Stults’s numbers balance out enough to make him an average or better fifth starter. Burch Smith and Robbie Erlin will also be under consideration.
The bullpen has the potential to be a great strength for the Padres. There is closer insurance for Huston Street in the form of Joaquin Benoit. Alex Torres posted a 1.71 ERA for the Rays in 39 appearances with a lot of swings and misses due to a magnificent change-up. Nick Vincent showed elite command in his 46.1 innings with a 4.45 K/BB ratio and only one home run allowed to the 180 batters he faced. Dale Thayer remained a reliable reliever with 69 quality appearances.
Why bet the under?
Just because there’s a lot of promise in Grandal, Alonso, and Quentin doesn’t meant that they’ll stay healthy enough to show it. People who study baseball believe that staying healthy is a skill and those three guys might not possess such a skill. Cameron Maybin is already out a couple months with a ruptured biceps issue from diving for a ball in Spring Training and he’s a guy that has never stayed healthy. There’s no guarantee that the others do as well.
Everth Cabrera and Will Venable aren’t locks to produce at the same level that they did in 2013. Venable saw a rare power spike in his age-30 season and Cabrera entered the 2013 season with a .240/.321/.327 slash line in 1,137 plate appearances.
Josh Johnson’s right arm may not be healthy enough to put the ball where he wants in order to limit home runs. Tyson Ross has been a walking injury for most of his career. Ian Kennedy’s 2011 season may have been a flash in the pan and he’s nothing more than a guy who would do well to be league average, something he was not in 2012 or 2013.
The bullpen lacks a matchup lefty which could prove to be a major detriment and Huston Street has seemed to be on borrowed time for a while now. Joaquin Benoit will turn 37 in July and he has made 268 appearances over the last four seasons.
Health remains the biggest factor for the Padres in their push for relevancy in the NL West. The Giants should be improved and the Rockies could be as well. With the Dodgers expected to be one of the league’s 90-win teams, the Padres will have a lot of tough matchups over their 76-game divisional schedule, along with the top-heavy NL Central.
Play: Over 78 (-120, BetDSI)
The Padres are a very compelling team. They won 76 games last season with a myriad of injuries that would threaten to crush both the spirit and production of most teams. That didn’t happen and a lot of players got a chance to be everyday players and showcase what they could do. That breeds confidence in the Padres clubhouse and getting the more talented guys back can only help. There are a lot of walks, hits, and home runs in the bats of Grandal, Alonso, and Quentin. As long as two of the three can stay healthy, the offense might as well be brand new.
The rotation has tremendous potential with guys who can thrive in this environment and a bullpen that will be extremely difficult for right-handed batters to hit. Andrew Cashner should take the next step forward this season at the front of the rotation and Tyson Ross is one of the most promising pitchers in the National League that nobody is talking about.
The Padres are one of my strongest over leans. The number had more value before the betting market pushed it up, but this is a high-quality team with a manager known for getting a lot out of his players that has performed at a high level when at least somewhat healthy. If they can put a run of good luck together to balance out all of the bad luck, this is a team that could contend for a wild card spot.