Archive for Padres

Burch Smith and the Problem of Holding Velocity

Right-hander Burch Smith has been traded from San Diego to Tampa Bay. “Will he start or not?” is a question a person might reasonably ask about that. What follows is an attempt to answer the question — in part, if not in whole.

At some point during during April or May of 2013, after the latter had produced some conspicuously excellent numbers with Double-A San Antonio, the present author developed a fascination with then-Padres right-hander Burch Smith — including that pitcher, for example, in multiple editions of the Fringe Five.

When Smith was finally promoted to the Padres, it was not unlike Christmas on May 11th. And even after Smith conceded six runs over a single inning in his debut, I remained curiously enamored of him.

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The Padres, Buzz, and Contention

Neither Matt Kemp nor Wil Myers have yet been officially traded. Yet it feels like those should happen any moment now, if not while I’m in the process of writing this post, and the end result will be that the Padres will have a pair of new corner outfielders. Kemp is older and Myers is younger, but both would be under team control for several years, and one of the ideas here is to generate some actual buzz about a Padres team that wants to win in 2015.

Subjectively, the Padres have long lacked meaningful buzz, even or especially locally. They’ve had nothing since Adrian Gonzalez was dealt away, and even Gonzalez was sort of a reluctant face of the franchise. Kemp is a celebrity, particularly in California. Myers, meanwhile, is a power bat with personality. People are talking about the Padres now, and everyone likes a team trying to win sooner. No one enjoys slogging through an extended period of irrelevance. But as much as the Padres are succeeding in building some hype, at the end of the day it still looks like there’s a lot missing.

You could say the Padres are kind of trying to be the National League’s White Sox. We know that, with the second wild card, teams are incentivized more than ever to try to be at least okay. With an active offseason, the White Sox have improved from also-ran to potential contender. People are excited! It’s exciting. The White Sox saw an opportunity to put pieces around Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Adam Eaton. San Diego? San Diego doesn’t have an Abreu. It doesn’t have a Sale. And the players coming in don’t appear to be superstars, name value be damned.

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The Matt Kemp Trade Feels Like the Vernon Wells Trade

This isn’t one of those deals that came out of nowhere. The Padres have been rumored to be the most aggressive Matt Kemp suitor for a couple of weeks now, and all other interested parties seemingly dropped out as the asking price kept getting higher and higher. Over the last few days, this deal felt somewhat inevitable, so we’ve had plenty of time to process the trade and figure out what to say about it. And yet, I’m still kind of stumped.

The 2015 Padres are going to be bad. We currently project them at around a 75 win level, putting them in the same group as the Astros, Twins, Diamondbacks, and Braves. The only team demonstrably worse is the Phillies; you could reasonably argue that the Padres are something like the second worst team in baseball. And they could very well make themselves worse on purpose before the offseason ends, as they’ve reportedly been shopping their veteran starting pitchers, including walk-year guy Ian Kennedy.

It makes plenty of sense for the Padres to trade Kennedy, and if they’re worried that Tyson Ross‘ elbow will blow up from all the sliders he throws, there’s a good case to be made for trading him too. Non-contenders should generally be incentivized to move their short-term assets, especially ones with a significant chance of losing value, in exchange for players who will stick around longer and might increase in value in the future. Given the state of the Padres talent base, they should probably be focusing more on the future than the present.

Which is why I have a hard time understanding why they prioritized adding Matt Kemp. Yes, it’s clear that the team wanted to add a “big bat” to their line-up this winter, and Kemp is legitimately one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball. He gives them something they didn’t have before. I just don’t see how adding Kemp makes them a significantly better baseball team.

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FG on Fox: The High Fastball and The Big Curve

Late this season, Padres righty Andrew Cashner came back from a shoulder injury with a new twist on his repertoire — again. This time, he featured a few more high fastballs and big curves than he had in the past. You’d think those two pitches are often linked across baseball, but the numbers aren’t as clear.

The last time Cashner came back from injury, he focused on throwing more two-seamers to get quicker outs, altered his changeup grip, and changed his grip on his breaking pitch. These changes were made with his health in mind, but they also served to make him a more complete pitcher.

This year, when he came back from shoulder inflammation that sidelined him for two months, Cashner again came back from a wrinkle. “I started throwing the four-seamer more in order to establish the high strike,” Cashner said before a game against the Giants in late September. Of course the pitcher knows best about his approach, but it’s worth noticing that he only threw an average of three more four-seam fastballs per game when he returned compared to the same time frame before his injury. And that his heat maps before and after his injury aren’t conclusive on the subject of high four-seamers.

He pointed out that he threw more curveballs when he came back, too. He’d thrown nine in his first fourteen starts before he got hurt. He threw 18 curves in the seven starts that came after his stint on the DL. This September was the month in which Cashner showed the best whiff rate on his curve ball in his career.

The second part of the plan was paired with the first, he admitted. That high fastball is “on the same plane” as the curveball. That makes all sorts of intuitive sense, considering the way the the idea of a high 94 mph high fastball coming the same general area as a big, dropping slow curve. It’s the kind of thing that seems to work for other pitchers.

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Fitting Yasmany Tomas in San Diego

Pablo Sandoval has joined the Red Sox. It’s not surprising that the Giants were right there in the race for his services. More surprising is that the Padres apparently were, too. And according to reports, all the teams made similar offers, so it’s not like Sandoval is chasing extra millions to Boston. An interesting thing to think about is whether the winner’s curse applies to a situation in which no one really out-bid the competition. An also interesting thing to think about is what the Padres intend to do. It’s a team under new management, and they seem to want to be active.

This is taken right from Dave’s chat earlier Wednesday:

Comment From AJ Preller
I made a run at Pablo Sandoval but it didn’t work out. What should I do now?

The Padres, to date, have been heavily connected to Yasmany Tomas. One isn’t accustomed to seeing the Padres hot in pursuit of any expensive available player, but he’d appear to be exactly the right kind of fit. In theory, at least, if not in reality, and while Tomas is by no means guaranteed to end up in San Diego, that’s the sort of area where the Padres should probably be putting their money. It’s important that one understands where the Padres are today.

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Stock Report: November Prospect Updates

I’ve said it before but could stand to say it again: prospect rankings don’t have a long shelf life.  Usually, players ranked in the offseason don’t change much over that offseason, or at least we don’t have a chance to see any changes since they normally aren’t playing organized ball.  Every now and then a player with limited information (like a Cuban defector that signed late in the season) will go to a winter league and we’ll learn more, but most times, players look mostly the same in the fall/winter leagues, or more often a tired version of themselves.

This means that updating prospect rankings before we have a nice sample of regular season games to judge by (say, late April), seems pretty foolish.  The two mitigating factors in the case of my rankings is that I started ranking players before instructional league and the Arizona Fall League started and I also did draft rankings, which are constantly in flux.

I was on the road 17 of the last 18 days, seeing July 2nd prospects (recap here), draft prospects and minor league prospects.  I’ll take this chance to provide some updates to my draft rankings from September and below that, some players that looked to have improved at the AFL, particularly those from clubs whose prospects I’ve already ranked.

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The Unexpected Leader in Trying to Bunt for a Hit

It’s never easy to try to figure out intent after the fact. Consider questionable hit-by-pitches. Some of them are more obviously intentional than others, but there’s nothing we can do in a database to separate the intentionals from the accidentals. It gets a little tricky with bunting for a hit, too, because bunting can also serve a very different purpose, but there’s one thing we can look at as a proxy. Let’s focus only on bunt attempts with nobody on base. Sometimes, a hitter might be trying to bunt for a hit with somebody on, but that’s relatively uncommon, and when the bases are empty, at least we know with absolute certainty the idea. A bunt with no one on is a bunt attempt for a hit. Or it’s a bunt attempt by a guy inexplicably playing through a strained oblique, but, generally, it’s a bunt attempt for a hit.

So, 2014. Let’s use some data from Baseball Savant, combining bunts in play with foul and missed bunts, to come up with total attempts. Here’s something that won’t surprise you: Billy Hamilton led baseball with 77 bunt attempts with the bases empty. We can think of those as 77 bunt attempts for a hit. In second place, again unsurprisingly, we find Dee Gordon, with 70 attempts. Then there’s Leonys Martin, with 52, and Adeiny Hechavarria, with 40. All makes perfect sense. This only gets weird when you consider rate stats.

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The Yankees Found Another Way To Outspend Every Other Team

The Yankees have found new ways to exploit their financial advantage in recent years.  For a long time, they were the team spending the most money on big league payroll by a good margin, then other teams caught up after the addition of the luxury tax along with an Hal Steinbrenner being more focused on the bottom line than his father.  The Yankees never really blew things out in the draft when they had the opportunity, but now there are essentially hard caps on draft spending and extra picks are tougher to come by with recent changes to the CBA.

The Yankees saw these two market opportunities dry up while their revenues stayed high and they pinpointed the international market as a target.  As a result of spending nearly $30 million dollars on teenagers last summer, the Yankees now cannot sign a player for over $300,000 for the next two summers.  If they get lucky with some timing, they may still be able to make this one-year international blowout even more advantageous, but their competitive advantage has mostly passed in these three markets for the time being.

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The Eyes Have It: Seth Smith’s Laser Show

Seth Smith is having the best year of his career at the plate. He has slowed down during the second half of the season after a monster first half, but his overall line is still quite good. These days, .266/.370/.444 with half of the games happening in one of the league’s tougher parks for hitters is good for a 134 wRC+.

Even though Smith is having his best year as a hitter at 31, an age at which most players are expected to decline, in itself the story is not terribly interesting. During the off-season and the trade deadline, one could take about the Padres trading Luke Gregerson for him, giving Smith an extension, and electing not to trade him at the deadline (when his numbers was much more impressive) to generaet a bit of heat, but this is not exactly Trout-versus-Cabrera 2012-2013 territory. The Padres are a mediocre team (to put it kindly) in another transitional year, and Smith is only really good by their 2014 standard. He has hardly reshaped himself into a superstar. Smith is a platoon hitter whose greater level of success this year might very well be random variation.

What makes Smith’s performance this season more intriguing than it might appear at first is the possible connection to laser eye surgery Smith had late last season.

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New Padre Elliot Morris Flashes Power Stuff

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades. There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. -Kiley

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Rafael De Paula Shows Big League Potential

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades.   -Kiley

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The Dark Side Of Booming Local TV Deals

Bud Selig has been giddy watching baseball teams attract bigger and bigger local television deals. More local TV revenue to a team means more money for the league to spread via revenue sharing and greater competitive balance. And Bug Selig sure loves competitive balance. On a recent visit to PNC Park, Major League Baseball’s commissioner told Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasters that he got “goosebumps” watching the Reds and Pirates square off in last year’s postseason.

But big local TV contracts aren’t all Skittles and puppies. Certainly not for fans who are forced to pay higher and higher cable and satellite TV bills to watch their home team. Nor for cable and satellite TV customers who don’t care about baseball but have to pay the higher prices as part of their bundled programming.

It turns out that big local TV contracts aren’t always good news for teams either. That has turned Selig’s mood quite sour.

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Padres Finally Trade Chase Headley Two Years Too Late

In 2012, 28-year-old Chase Headley put up one of the five best seasons in the history of the Padres franchise, a 7.2 WAR year that made him one of the six most valuable hitters in baseball that year. He had two years of team control remaining, he was on the right side of 30 and he was playing a position that is always difficult to fill ably. His value was through the roof; the Padres could have had almost anything they wanted for him. Preferring to try to win, they made a few extension offers that didn’t pan out, and kept him around to go 119-141 since the end of 2012.

Less than two years later, he’s been traded to the Yankees for a 27-year-old infielder who was a minor league free agent last winter (Yangervis Solarte), an inconsistent (though talented) 23-year-old A-ball pitcher who wasn’t on anyone’s top-100 list (Rafael De Paula), the loss of the option to give Headley a qualifying offer if they wanted, and they even had to kick in a million dollars to the Yankees to make it happen. When you talk about holding on to an asset too long, well, this is the prime example right here. Headley is no longer part of the Padres’ future, and he didn’t turn into anything that is very likely to be a big part of that future.

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Whom The All-Stars Are Looking Forward to Seeing

Because of  interleague play, many of this season’s All-Stars have already seen who’s on the other side. But there’s a unique opportunity to see the best of the other league on one field in Minnesota. So I asked some All-Stars if they were looking forward to a particular matchup today.

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The Emergence of Tyson Ross

This is me writing a positive post about the San Diego Padres in 2014. That’s notable, because there haven’t been too many good things to say about the Padres this year. Sorry, Padres.

To be fair, it’s mostly because of their lineup, which had a wRC+ of 40 in the month of June. The offensive unit, as a whole, has produced exactly the same WAR for the entire season as Yangervis Solarte, who was just optioned to Triple-A. Some guy named Kevin Kiermaier has nearly twice the WAR of the entire Padres lineup. But that’s for a different post. The position players have been historically bad in San Diego, but the pitching hasn’t been much better.

The Padres pitching staff is 21st in WAR. After a breakout season last year, Eric Stults has a matching ERA and FIP of 5.00. Free agent addition Josh Johnson got hurt and never pitched a game. 16 starts have been given to a lousy combination of Donn Roach, Billy Buckner, Robbie Erlin, Tim Stauffer and Odrisamer Despaigne. Ian Kennedy has been good, but not great. Andrew Cashner has been good, but he’s also been hurt.

Then there’s Tyson Ross.
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Padres Continue To Be Weird, Extend Seth Smith

Over the last couple of years, the Padres have done some weird things. Despite being a lower revenue club, they spent a decent amount of money to have Huston Street close games, and then spent a decent amount more money to have Joaquin Benoit pitch in front of Huston Street. Instead of either extending or trading Chase Headley, they’ve done neither, and are now primed to either sell when his value is lowest or just let him leave as a free agent. They acquired and then extended Carlos Quentin, despite his health problems and their inability to offer him a designated hitter role.

All the way through, it has appeared as if the team couldn’t decide whether they were building for the future or trying to win now. They planted one foot firmly in both camps and ended up going nowhere, which is why they just fired Josh Byrnes and are looking for a new GM to provide direction to a franchise that has been swimming upstream for a while now.

Generally, firing your GM mid-season is a pretty good sign that you’re not a contender. And the Padres certainly are not. Despite having acting-GMs in place, they have a large for sale sign in the yard, and will likely be one of the more active sellers in July. But despite all this, the Padres are apparently not done being weird.

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The Padres and Unrealistic Expectations

Last week, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Padres could be getting ready to clean house. On Sunday, the Padres fired General Manager Josh Byrnes.

Ron Fowler, executive chairman of the Padres, bristled a bit Sunday when he was asked if the dismissal of Josh Byrnes as general manager was a step back for the organization.

“This is a reset,” Fowler said. “This is not a step back. We’re doing this so that we could move forward. We expect continuous improvement from the organization. We’re getting it in other areas. We are not getting it on the baseball field.”

There’s nothing controversial about this statement. At 32-44, the Padres have the third-worst record in baseball, and they’ll have to play better than .500 baseball the rest of the way just to finish with the same 76-86 record that they’ve recorded the last two years. While there are some individual success stories, this team is not any better than the mediocrity that they’ve been for several years now. But this isn’t necessarily just about not seeing improvement.

There had been rumblings and rumors locally that the team was considering changes, either up top with Byrnes or possibly manager Bud Black. Mike Dee, team president and CEO of the Padres, said the Padres will keep Black at least through the end of the season.

“This was a decision that was not made in a day or two or a week or two. The last couple months, we’ve seen a team we had high expectations for. Those expectations have not been reached,” said Dee.

It’s understandable to say that the Padres have not been good this year, and even that they’ve played worse than expected. But I guess my question would be this: if the management team had “high expectations” for this roster, isn’t that their fault? Because I can’t find anyone else who thought this team was any good.

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Tony Gwynn Was Always in Control

It’s rare that a player becomes synonymous with his team. Tony Gwynn was one such player. He is literally known as Mr. Padre. The address of Petco Park is 19 Tony Gwynn Drive. When John Moores owned the team, he even paid for a new stadium at Gwynn’s alma mater, and it was named Tony Gwynn Stadium. Today however, we lose the opportunity to speak of Gwynn in the present tense, as he has unfortunately passed away at the age of 54.

The records that Gwynn holds in Padres history are essentially all of them. He holds the top nine single-season batting averages in team history. Cumulatively, his .338 career average is 24 points higher than the next man on that list, Mark Loretta. That is made all the more remarkable when you consider how long Gwynn wore the San Diego uniform — he played nearly twice as many games as the next player on the list, Garry Templeton. And he did rack up more than double the at-bats and plate appearances than did Templeton. Gwynn retired with an even 65.0 WAR. No other Padres player has even 30. Among active players, Chase Headley is the leader, but at 19.6 WAR and very close to free agency, he’s not going to sniff Gwynn any time soon. In fact, it’s probably not hyperbole to say that the player most equipped to surpass Gwynn isn’t on the Padres right now.

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San Diego’s Historically Tenuous Trio

The San Diego Padres currently own the worst offense in baseball. Maybe that’s not surprising given that they play half of their games in Petco Park, one of the league’s most pitcher-friendly confines. Still, an average of three runs per game is paltry, and the fact that they’ve scored three runs or less – when teams win just 22 percent of the time this season – in 26 of their 40 games is rather astounding, especially since they’ve managed to go 19-21.

It’s so bad, in fact, that even when the park is controlled for using weighted runs created plus (wRC+), the Padres still grade out as the worst offense in baseball, and by a significant margin. Their wRC+ of 75 is indicative of an offense 25 percent worse than the league average, and they’ve produced quite a cushion between themselves and the next worst offense (the Cubs, with a wRC+ of 81).

Where does the blame fall for this kind of offensive ineptitude? You’d think it would be a team-wide epidemic but most of the blame can fall squarely on the league’s most tenuous trio.
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Corey Kluber and Kluberization: Ditching the Four-Seam

If Corey Kluber‘s road to the big leagues was long and winding, the reason for his recent success might be short and simple. One day, some time in 2011, the pitcher finally gave up on his four-seam fastball and started throwing a two-seamer. And now you have the current Corey Kluber. A contrite pitcher talking about a simple change doesn’t make for a long interview, but the Corey Kluber Process might be applicable to some other young pitchers around the league.

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