2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: San Diego Padres

I was looking forward to reviewing a playoff team.  According to Pythagoras, the Padres were the second-best team in the National League last year.  Unfortunately, Pythagoras has been dead for a few millennia.  For what it’s worth, Friar fans, I consider the Padres to be a playoff team for 2007.
Record: 89-74, 3rd in NL West. 
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 89.55 wins (741 runs scored, 666 runs allowed, but it was the last three that hurt the most). 
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
San Diego Spotlight
Other Padres Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview: It’s really not fair to reduce the Padres season down to the playoff against the Rockies.  One game isn’t a big enough sample size to tell you much of anything.  I’ll leave the analysis of that game to the poets and philosophers. 
A lot of other things happened in 2007 for the Padres.  Trevor Hoffman recorded his 500th career save.  Chris Young got into a fight with the Cubs’ Derrick Lee, and both were suspended.  However, Young was able to pitch in the All-Star game, while on suspension!  (His first baseman while he was pitching?  Lee.)  Now that’s setting a good example for the kids!
What went right: Jake Peavy won the Cy Young Award, unanimously.  It wasn’t even that close.  Peavy finished the year with a VORP of 77.0 (best in baseball among pitchers), a WPA of 4.79 (best in baseball), and a strikeout rate in excess of more than 1 per inning (third only to Erik Bedard and Scott Kazmir among starters).  Peavy was something of a worry for Padres fans coming into the season.  After showing signs of brilliance in 2005 (and being the ace of the staff of the 2006 World Baseball Classic U.S. team), Peavy dipped to an 11-14 performance in 2006, with a 4.09 ERA, a jump of 1.2 runs.  What’s odd is that his walk and strikeout rates were about the same from 2006 to 2007.  But, in 2006, his BABIP was 30 points higher.  In 2006, Peavy got a little un-lucky.  The other thing that Peavy did better in 2007 was to induce more ground balls, which cut down on his HR allowed totals (that and pitching in Petco Park).  Maybe Greg Maddux showed him a few tricks.  Probably one of them will be how to win multiple Cy Young Awards.
In addition to the strong pitching of Peavy, the Padres also had the benefit of having the best relief pitcher in the National League on their team.  And I’m not talking about Trevor Hoffman.  Heath Bell pitched in 81 games, threw 93.2 innings, and was obtained from the Mets for two players who appeared in a combined total of 10 games.  I’d say the Padres did OK in that deal.  Methinks that someone in the Padres front office saw this chart in the off-season last year.  Bell, since he came up, has always been a near-strikeout per inning guy.  His walk rate was decent enough.  But, his BABIPs in 2005 and 2006 were .374 and .394, respectively.  Bell was clearly getting burned by Lady Luck, and burned bad.  But, even from 2005 to 2006, he started turning some of his flyballs into ground balls.  This is how a smart team finds themselves a player and steals him from a team that just doesn’t get it.  In 2007, his BABIP fell to .260, which is below the league average (read: Bell is due for a downward correction, but not a horrible one), and he induced even more ground balls, this time turning a lot of line drives into ground balls.  He’s a two-pitch pitcher (fastball and curve), but if there’s one area for improvement, it’s that Bell’s release points for the two pitches are rather distinct, and I suppose that a good hitter might be able to pick up on that.
And at least for this year, the Barfield-Kouzmanoff (my Russian-speaking wife threatened never to speak with me again after hearing me attempt to pronounce that name) turned out OK.  The trade was a good old youngun-for-youngun bet that makes baseball fun.  The failures of Marcus Giles at second base, failures such as being a below-replacement-level hitter, obscured the fact that Barfield was also well below replacement level this year in Cleveland (where he was eventually benched) and that Kouzmanoff had a decent year.  Bill James projects him to have a 100 point jump in OPS next year, which seems a little overly optimistic to me.  He will be a mere 26 years old when he takes the field on Opening Day next April, so there’s some room for growth.
What went wrong:  Here’s a list of everyone who played left field for the Padres in 2007. 

  • Terrmel Sledge: recently signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters. Functioned below replacement level.
  • Jose Cruz, Jr.: Below replacement level.  Maybe it’s time to let go, Jose.
  • Milton Bradley: Injured Mike Cameron, then injured himself while arguing with an umpire in the same game.  Then again, I once sprained my ankle while conducting psychological research.  Don’t ask how.
  • Scott Hairston: Yawn.  A VORP of 9.2. 
  • Russell Branyan: the poster boy for the “swing real hard in case you hit it” school of thought.  He’s had a ten year MLB career!  Barely above replacement level.
  • Geoff Blum: What the heck was he doing in left field?  Barely above replacement level, and that’s second baseman replacement level.
  • Rob Mackowiak: Below replacement level.  And I can never figure out how to pronounce his name.
  • Paul McAnulty, Brady Clark, Hiram Boccachica: below replacement, barely above replacement, below replacement.

Yeah, that about sums it up: ROCKIES 13TH: T.HOFFMAN REPLACED C.HEADLEY (PITCHING); K.Matsui doubled to center field; T.Tulowitzki doubled to center field [K.Matsui scored]; M.Holliday tripled to right field [T.Tulowitzki scored]; T.Helton was walked intentionally; J.Carroll out on a sacrifice fly to B.Giles [M.Holliday scored… sorta]  (from here, with one minor edit… I’ll let you figure out where.)
I don’t think his hand hit the plate either.  Then again, Holliday’s triple was really a home run.  Sadly for Padres fans, that’s a game that will be shown on ESPN Classic for years and years to come.   But, since we’re playing the “then again” game, had the Padres just held on against the Brewers in the second-to-last game of the regular season, none of that would have happened and Jake Peavy would have started Game 1 of the Divisional Series against Cole Hamels.  And it would have been the Padres who got swept by the Red Sox.
Revisiting Scott Linebrink: I’m sure there was a bit of head-scratching that went on when the Padres dealt Scott Linebrink to the Brewers.  Linebrink had an outstanding 2005, regressed a bit to the mean in 2006 (but was still rather good), and wasn’t having a bad year in 2007.  Why trade a valuable piece of a bullpen?  Linebrink’s walks were up slightly and his strikeouts were down a bit, although the rest of his component numbers were pretty similar from 2005-2007.  I have to wonder whether the Padres were tipped off to a mechanical issue or an injury and decided to sell high (if they were, they got it wrong as his numbers in Milwaukee were better than his San Diego numbers), or maybe it was the fact that Linebrink was on the edge of free agency.  Maybe it was the best reason of all to make any trade: they had Hoffman, Bell, Cla Meredith, Justin Hampson, Kevin Cameron, and a rejuvenated Doug Brocail, all who had season ERAs under 4.00, in their pen and traded away something surplus to parts.
This has nothing to do with Sabermetrics, but it has to be said: The San Diego Padres have the worst fashion sense in all of baseball.  I feel better now.
Is Greg Maddux looking good because of Petco?:  Well, who doesn’t look better pitching in Petco?  But, for what it’s worth, see for yourself.  Maddux is started 16 games at home and 18 on the road.  Double his road stats and he’s still a 12-12 pitcher, and he still never walks anyone.  He had a 4.65 ERA on the road.  Not bad for a 3rd starter.  The thing that’s probably making Maddux look better is the fact that his manager is using him properly.  None of Maddux’s starts went into a triple-digit pitch count.  It left him as mostly a 6 inning starter, but the Padres had the bullpen to absorb that sort of workload.  Bud Black, a former pitcher himself, apparently understands that while Maddux still has Greg Maddux’s mind, he is no longer his mid-90s physical self.  He’ll be 42 next year, but he’s still a pretty good, although no longer great, major league pitcher.
Outlook: Let’s see here.  Three good starters?  Check.  Good bullpen?  Check.  Offense?  Well, the Padres have that “one big bat away from contending” feel, except that they need more than one bat.  First, they’ll have to rebuild their outfield.  Brian Giles is 37, Mike Cameron is suspended (and a free agent anyway), and Milton Bradley is out for the year already.  But, this is a team that almost almost almost made it to the playoffs last year.  The Diamondbacks and Rockies hit a rather large vein of luck.  Games are played on grass, not on paper, but even with all its little imperfections, this Padres team was a playoff-caliber team… on paper.  It’s probably too much to ask them to rebuild an outfield that quickly, but maybe karma will come back and give a couple good breaks to the Friars next year.

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2 Responses to 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: San Diego Padres

  1. RollingWave says:

    Adjusting their park a little miiiiiight also help, consider these Home / away OPS splits during 07
    Khalil Green: .670 / .840
    Josh Bard: .685 / .842
    Adrian Gonzalez .720 / .928
    Brian Giles: .665/ .870
    Kevin Kouzmanoff: .743 /.823
    HOLY SHIT that’s some crazy drop off. and it’s not like the Padres lineup is well built for the stadium (which would probably do better if they had a lot of high average / OBP / basestealing type. ) most of their primary hitters while not nearly as extreme, is certainly closer to Russell Bryan than Joey Gathright.

  2. […] 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: San Diego Padres (Stastically Speaking, via Friar Forecast). Mostly review material, but well done. […]

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