After both Phil Nevin and Trevor Hoffman went down in spring training,
only the most optimistic Padre fans felt they had a chance of competing this
year. But no one expected them to be challenging the Tigers for the
worst record in baseball. The general consensus was that this was a
60-65 win team after the losses of their stars. At their current rate,
the Padres will finish with 48 wins. Even their Pythagorean projection
has them finishing with 54 wins. So what has gone wrong? In addition
to losing 5 of 6 this season to the Brewers and nearly being swept at home
by the Tigers... a lot!
The biggest culprit has been their pitching. Their starters have struggled
far more than expected and none of their off-season bullpen acquisitions
has panned out. In fact, their bullpen, according to the Baseball Prospectus,
has been the worst in recent memory and may rank among the worst in history.
Pitching coach Greg Booker was scapegoated and fired at the end of
May, which was probably the right move. To whit, the team's ERA, walk
rate and home run rate have all improved since Booker departed.
Judging from Booker's comments after the firing, it sounded as though he
was expecting the Padres young starting staff to coach themselves. He
reserved his biggest gripe for the pitchers GM Kevin Towers brought in to
fill out the bullpen: "You can prepare a donkey to run in the Preakness,
but he probably won't run very well." Although that may sound like
sour grapes, his comments do have some validity. Luther Hackman, Jaret
Wright and Charles Nagy had spotty records (at best) coming in and Brandon
Villfuerte and Clay Condrey were wild cards due to their inexperience. Although
Jesse Orosco had a sterling record entering this season, he is 46 and was
bound for a let down sooner or later. It just came sooner than later.
Injuries other than Hoffman's also played a role. Had the Padres not
also lost Jay Witasick and Kevin Walker at the beginning of the season, the
bullpen might have weathered the storm. Both are back with the team
and should be healthy from here on out.
For the final two thirds of this season, the Padres will be somewhat of a
surprise to those who have pigeonholed them as the worst team in the NL.
Oliver Perez has straightened himself out in AAA - 3-3, 3.02 ERA, 1.175
WHIP, 48 Ks in 47.2 innings with just 12 walks - and will be recalled shortly.
Brian Lawrence, Adam Eaton and Jake Peavy have shown flashes of brilliance
lately and the bullpen will be much stronger. In addition to the returns
of Witasick and Walker, the Padres also made a couple of nice waiver pick-ups
recently. Scott Linebrink is a young-ish, hard-throwing right hander
with promise, and Rod Beck is, well, everyone knows Rod Beck. While
he isn't the Shooter of old, he still pitches with fearlessness. His
pitching line from AAA this year was quite impressive: 1-1, 0.59 ERA, 30.2
innings pitched, 32 baserunners allowed, 26 Ks against 7 walks.
The Padres are 4th in the NL in drawing walks so it might be surprising to
learn that they are also second to last in runs scored. Their 13th
rank in slugging is the answer why. While no one will mistake their
line-up as the Murderers Row, they do have some guys who can hit the ball
out of the park. So what happened?
Again, injuries. When Rondell White (nicknamed "RonDL" by industry
wags) is the healthiest player on your team, you know you have injury problems.
Actually, that isn't 100% true: rookie Xavier Nady has played in more
games this season than White. But he is the only Padre who has.
Ryan Klesko and Mark Kotsay have both missed at least a quarter of the season.
Even the players the Padres bring up to replace the injured players
get injured. Jason Bay, who was having a terrific year in AAA - .950-ish
OPS, good pitch recognition, 10 homers, 10 steals in 150 ABs - was promoted
and 3 games into his major league career, was sidelined with a broken wrist
from an errant pitch.
Still, there is room for optimism. Phil Nevin may return as soon as
August. Klesko and Kotsay are already working their way back to form.
Both Xavier Nady and Sean Burroughs have been better than expected.
Returning to the NL, Gary Matthews Jr. has been another solid
addition from the waiver wire. The Padres won't have the most intimidating
offense in the second half, but they should be much better than what they've
shown and may finish with a respectable number of runs scored.
So can the Padres compete next year?
Injuries (or rather, whether they can avoid them) will be the biggest factor.
The Padres have set or tied National and Major League records for injuries
in 4 of the last 5 years. Simply put, their training staff needs to
Money is another major factor, but not the way you might think. No
one in baseball consistently gets more talent out of trades than Kevin Towers
(although it looks like that Ben Davis for Bret Tomko/Ramon Vazquez deal
may end up biting him). He also does a better than average job finding
solid reclamation projects, too. His downfall is handing out generous
contracts to replaceable players, a la Chris Gomez, Wiki Gonzales, Carlos
Hernandez, etc. This needless wasting of funds, not the Padres' "small
market" status, is what prevents them from signing marquee players.
And lastly, Bruce Bochy is a major factor. Over the last 5 years, he
has not been overly careful with
his young starters. Jake Peavy (22) and Oliver Perez (21) have
been subjected to heavy workloads last year and this. Eaton is close
to being 100% back from the Tommy John injury (that Bochy likely contributed
to) yet he's once again laboring under relatively heavy workloads, averaging
almost 105 pitches per start.
That said, I don't think that injury is necessarily imminent. Eaton
is 25, which puts him a couple years beyond the critical age. Peavy
is more of a concern, but his high average is largely due to two outings
this season. He's at 101 per outing without those two. So as
long as their average outings don't go up any, he may be able to survive
without serious injury.
Of equal concern with Bochy is that his teams don't play good fundamental
baseball. They have consistently been among the worst teams in baseball
in both fielding and baserunning the last several years. Part of the
blame can be ascribed to the youth of the team, but soon, age will no longer
be a viable excuse. There has to be improvement in these areas if the
Padres hope to compete when they open their new ballpark next year.
The Padres have expressed an keen interest in acquiring one of this coming
offseasons' prized free agent shortstops - either Kazuo Matsui, Miguel Tejada
or Rich Aurilia. Should Khalil Greene continue to develop quickly,
that may not be necessary. Regardless, changes at the top, either in
method/style or in personnel may be required for this franchise to break
free of it's "potential" label to become a contender.