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Are the Padres’ Hitters Getting More for Less?

When the “rebuilding” San Diego Padres started 2010 well, most thought they wouldn’t stick. However, with with less than fifty games to go, the Padres are still in first place in the National League West. Predictably, various explanations have been given for this, and talk of how they are “staying within themselves” and being “consistent” is cropping up, as in this recent entry by Buster Olney (Insider) quoting a scout to the effect that the Padres don’t have a very good offense outside of Adrian Gonzalez, but are winning more due to their willingness to move guys over and play their “roles” in an intelligent way to maximize their plate appearances.

It is probably true that the Padres are outplaying their “true talent” to an extent, but teams and individuals overperform and underperform their true talent all the time. What is more interesting is the implication that the Padres are getting “more bang for their buck” offensively by doing the “little things” that just help a team win. My interest is not in taking Olney or the scout he quoted to task. Rather, I want to see if the numbers bear out the idea that the Padres are getting more wins out of their offense than they “should” because of their execution, because of the “little things.”

The “little things” are often brought up in reference to teams who outperform their run differential, e.g., some recent Angels teams. The first thing to note about the Padres, however, is that they are not outplaying their Pythagorean expectation: they are actually two wins under what their run differential suggests. So one could argue on that basis alone that the Padres are being “inefficent” in their wins.

But that does not specifically address whether their offense has generated more wins than they “should.” This implies that the Padres have a poor offense. At first glance, one would say “yes,” as the Padres’ team wOBA of .311 (43 linear weights runs [a.k.a. wRAA] below average) is the among the worst in baseball. However, that needs to be understood in context. The Padres have one of the most hitter-unfriendly home parks in the major leagues. In addition, runs above/below average is baselined against all of the MLB, and includes pitchers hitting. To get a better picture, let’s use the park-adjusted linear weights runs from the team value pages and compare to the rest of the NL. In this light, we see that the Padres’ offense is actually four runs above average, and the only team in the NL West above average. So the Padres’ offense has been one of the better in the NL, and the picture of a team miraculously scraping out runs with inferior hitters is already a bit distorting.

Still, even if the Padres offense has been good, is it doing things to deliver more wins than than traditional linear weights measures?

One way of trying to quantify this is to measure their traditional “context-free” linear weights (wRAA, Batting Runs, etc.) against the difference in run expectancy based on base-out state, as I discuss for individuals here. In short, we can subtract a team’s traditional linear weights (“Batting”) from their RE24 to see how much run value is added by hitting “to the context.” Doing this for the Padres (35.84 RE24 – 4.2 Batting) gives a “situational” added value of about 36 runs, which is obviously good.

However, if we’re going to emphasize “context” when discussing a situational hitting, shouldn’t we go all the way, and include not just base/out state, but inning and overall game situation? This is what WPA/LI does. For more detailed explanation of the following, click here, but a brief example can illuminate the difference. Take the following situation: tie game, bottom of the ninth inning, bases loaded, two outs. In this situation, wRAA and RE24 consider a walk and a home run to have very different linear weights values, whereas for WPA/LI it has the same, since it adjusts linear weights to game-state contexts. So if we subtract traditional linear weights (converted to a wins scale) from that, we see how many contextual wins they’ve added beyond the average value of events. And when we do this for the 2010 Padres, we get -0.79 wins. In other words, their offense has actually helped their team win fewer games than one would expect by just looking at the events out of context.

The 2010 Padres are a good team. Their pitching (particularly in relief) has been very good, although that praise should be tempered for the same reasons that we should realize that their offense has actually been better than one might think: the park. They also have been excellent in the field. Those are the reasons that should be given for their success this season. I don’t know whether or not the “little things” stat used above represents a repeatable skill, but whatever the case may be, it is not true that the Padres are getting more wins for less offense.