2008 Sabermetric Year in Review: San Diego Padres

The tour bus rolls along to Southern California where I promise I will stay free of making references to Ron Burgandy.  The Friars have been very good to StatSpeak this year, with a few our roundtable guests (Paul DePodesta, Geoff Young) having allegiances to the team in some way.  It’s just that things didn’t go so well on the field.  Fear not Padres fans.  There are 30 teams in baseball and the Padres were the 4th worst Pythagorean-wise, which means they weren’t in the bottom 10%.  Here’s to double digits!

Record: 63-99 (5th place, NL West)
Pythagorean Projection:  wins

Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs

MVN Blog:
San Diego Spotlight

Other Padres Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors

Overview: Wait a minute?  Wasn’t this the same team that was one Matt Holliday fingertip away from going to the playoffs last year?   

What went right: All discussions of what is right with baseball in San Diego begin (and sadly, end) with Jake Peavy.  And they’re going to trade him.  Last week in the roundtable, I pointed out that Peavy has several good things going for him.  Despite not being a classic “I throw 95 mph, so ha!” pitcher, he still averages more than a strikeout an inning and keeps his walks under control.  But, he has benefitted from a little bit of luck over the years.  I’ve shown previously that LOB%, which is a rough measure of how many runners that the pitcher allows that don’t score, is not stable from year to year, much in the same way that BABIP is not.  The good pitchers just don’t allow runners in the first place.  So, while Peavy is a good pitcher, don’t forget that he’s not quite as good as he looks.

Actually, the one surprise of the Padres season was Mike Adams, the latest in a long line of Padres relievers who “came from nowhere.”  (cf. Cla Meredith, Heath Bell, Scott Linebrink).  Adams, who looked like he just wasn’t gonna make it in the bigs after a few appearances with the Brewers in 2005 and 2006.  Adams, who posted a 2.48 ERA in 65 innings out of the pen has always had good strikeout stuff (10 K per 9 IP in 2008), and this year, got the walks better under control, but he did have a tiny bit of luck getting there.  Adams had a BABIP of .276, which was a tiny but on the lucky side, but he also had an LOB% of 85.9%.  So, Adams has the same disease that Jake Peavy does.  Maybe it’s contagious!

What went wrong: Khalil Greene was just plain awful.  Over the past five years, the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone at which he has swung has gradually increased from 22 to 25 to 29 to 34%.  After a year in which he hit 27 HR, I suppose more was expected from him in the fantasy crowd.  After all, it’s great to get power production from your shortstop.  The problem is that even in 2007, Greene only had an OBP of .291.  There’s a difference between a good fantasy player and a good real life player, and eventually, the real life people won’t abide lousy production.  Greene’s keystone mate Tadahito Iguchi wasn’t such a great player in 2008 either.  His strikeout rate blossomed, his OBP dropped, and wouldn’t you know it, he had free-swinging disease too.  But wouldn’t you know it, since he was traded to the Phillies mid-season, he probably won a World Series ring by accident!

And will someone please explain to me why it was that at the end of the season, Shawn Estes was getting garbage time starts for the Padres.  There was really no one in the minors at whom you wished to look.  Was it one of those “we don’t want to start their MLB service time clocks ticking” things? 

Yeah, that about sums it up: Of the team “starters”, the guys who played the most amount of time at each of the eight non-pitching positions, four of them had OBP’s under .300.

What exactly was the deal with Jim Edmonds?: So Jim Edmonds starts the year in San Diego and looks like he’s washed up.  He goes to Chicago and looks like a respectable hitter.  What was wrong with him in San Diego?  If you drill down enough, you’ll see that the difference between the San Diego Edmonds and the Chicago version was that in Chicago, Edmonds swung a lot less and he was a better hitter for it.  He walked more (which is more of a function of how often you swing) and struck out less (which means he was swinging too much to begin with). 

Thou Shalt Not Steal: The Padres were last in the NL in both stolen bases and caught stealings and had roughly the same number of attempts as B.J. Upton.  In fact the Padres attempted fewer stolen bases (53) than the next “slowest” team succeeded in swiping (Pittsburgh, 58)   More to the point they attempted fewer SBs than Wily Taveras and Jose Reyes each successfully stole.  Is that a Petco thing too?

Last year, I wrote: 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.

Well, the outfield re-build didn’t go quite according to plan.  The Padres relied on a combination of 37 year old Brian Giles, who still walks more than he strikes out, Jody “that’s what happened to him!” Gerut, and the ever-delightfully named Chase Headley, a man who strikes out 30% of the time, but doesn’t seem to be able to hit enough HR to make it worth the while.  But to be honest, I didn’t expect the Padres to fall this far.  Peavy had a really good year, although Young and Maddux (pre-trade) had downright average seasons. The bullpen came through, but when you have an infield, and three of the members are named Tadahito, Khalil, and… Kevin, combined with the aforementioned outfield, is it a wonder that the Padres were the worst offensive team in baseball?  I suppose there will be a few who want to blame Petco Park, but there are other skills that are involved in the production of runs that aren’t affected by the stadium in which you play. 

Here’s an idea: With all this talk of the swing diagnostics, especially Padres who apparently swing too much, you have to wonder if Wally Joyner was preaching a one-size-fits-all solution to the Padres hitting woes (before he quit). 

There are some players who would benefit from swinging more.  The thing about coaching is that there are two parts.  There’s teaching someone to actually distinguish a “good idea” pitch from a “bad idea” pitch, and then there’s just telling someone to either be more aggressive or more conservative.  Joyner apparently wasn’t sure which was which and (like a lot of people who dispense such advice) confused changing someone’s response bias with teaching them to be more sensitive to the strike zone.  Perhaps the new gentleman who takes the Padres hitting coach job over might be asked a few questions on the matter.

Outlook: Well, the team is already shopping its top pitcher in the hopes of making one of those four-for-one deals that yields two All-Stars and a pretty good regular player.  And they still need to re-build the outfield.  But, thankfully, the weather is still nice.  Stay classy, San Diego.

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