The Padres, as No Team Has Been Before

It is a fact undeniable that people don’t often talk about the San Diego Padres. The reasons for this, presumably, are numerous. The Padres haven’t been good for a while. They have a relatively small fan base, and a limited payroll, and they’re overshadowed by bigger deals up north. They play out West, for whatever that might matter. They don’t have any stop-what-you’re-doing superstars, and the good players are frequently talked about in trade rumors. It’s just hard to talk about 30 different teams evenly, and if you’re in the business of ratings or traffic, the Padres aren’t a big draw. But the Padres as a team perform independent of the buzz. And on Sunday, in San Diego, they knocked off the Diamondbacks 4-1.

That capped off a series sweep, that followed another series sweep. This might have escaped your attention, but the Padres are now a game over .500, at 35-34. They’re right in the thick of things in the National League West, and if you forgive the arbitrary cutoff, since April 24 the Padres are tied for the second-best record in baseball. They started 5-15, slipping off whatever radars they might’ve been on in the first place. They’ve made it all the way back, quietly, and they’ve done so because of their position players. Almost entirely.

What we don’t have, here, is game-by-game WAR totals. But here’s something I can do. Since the start of May, the Padres have gone 25-18. That’s a quality record, good for a 94-win pace if you prefer things that way. And here’s the breakdown of how that’s happened:

  • Batters: 7.9 WAR
  • Pitchers: 0.1 WAR

Something the Padres have been doing is hitting, and another thing the Padres have been doing is fielding. For kicks, they’ve also been running the bases, and by all of this I mean they’ve been doing these things well. They have not been pitching particularly well, but that hasn’t slowed them down. Maybe more accurately, it has been slowing them down, but it hasn’t prevented them from catching fire and rising in the standings.

Now that the Padres are where they are, it’s incredible to look at their overall numbers. They’ve achieved, through 69 games, a .507 winning percentage. Here’s the same breakdown of how that’s happened:

  • Batters: 12.0 WAR
  • Pitchers: -1.7 WAR

Ranks:

  • Batters: Second-best in National League
  • Pitchers: Worst in baseball

A year ago, it looked like Chase Headley had broken out to establish himself as one of the game’s premier third basemen. It made him the subject of trade rumors, and it also made him the subject of contract-extension negotiations with San Diego. This year, Headley hasn’t at all been the same player, but the Padres have coasted by anyway, thanks in large part to Everth Cabrera playing like an All-Star shortstop. Jedd Gyorko, also, has been outstanding as a rookie. Chris Denorfia‘s been valuable, and Kyle Blanks is trying to make something of himself again. The Padres are over .500, and by our metrics, the pitching staff has collectively been below replacement-level.

Maybe that isn’t a complete shock — the second part — given the regular starting rotation:

Cashner, of course, is of considerable interest, but his strikeouts haven’t matched his stuff, and his velocity is down. Stults has actually been the star, and you should take a moment to ask yourself what you know about Eric Stults. He’s 33 years old. He had all of 145 major-league innings before turning 30, and over those innings he allowed 83 runs. The Padres grabbed him off waivers from the White Sox last May. He wasn’t supposed to be much, and he’s been the Padres’ ace.

I grabbed all individual team seasons going back to 1900, yielding a sample of 2,370. I calculated team pitching staff WAR per 162 games, and the worst ever posted is -2.4, by the 1964 Athletics. The 1998 Marlins show up at -2.1. Then, at -1.0, we find the 1940 Bees and the 1928 Braves. The 2013 Padres are on pace for a final WAR/162 of -4.0, which would be, by this measure, the worst mark in history. Let’s say that again: by WAR, the Padres are on pace to have the worst pitching staff in baseball history.

And they’re over .500, after 69 games. Below, the worst pitching staffs for teams that won at least half of their games:

Season Team W L Win% WAR/162
1911 Cardinals 75 74 0.503 1.8
1991 Athletics 84 78 0.519 3.6
1969 Senators 86 76 0.531 4.0
1969 Athletics 88 74 0.543 4.3
1938 Bees 77 75 0.507 4.7
1982 Padres 81 81 0.500 4.8
1967 Angels 84 77 0.522 5.1
1966 Tigers 88 74 0.543 5.2
1933 Braves 83 71 0.539 5.4
1970 Angels 86 76 0.531 5.5

Only 11 teams have ever finished with a WAR/162 below zero. The best of those teams was the 1940 Bees, who finished 65-87. The Padres have done things in a way we might consider historically unique.

But we have to look at how the Padres project from this point forward, because it means only so much to discuss what’s already happened. To say that a team is “on pace for” something is to ignore the principle of regression, and regression is a huge factor when discussing something statistically extreme. Let’s check out the FanGraphs projected standings. Sure enough, we find the Padres just barely projected to finish above .500. Overall, they’ve more or less been performing at their true talent. So that idea remains intact.

And then we can look at a projected performance breakdown, based on the team depth charts. Padres pitchers are projected to be above replacement-level the rest of the way. But only barely, and the pitching staff’s projected WAR is second-lowest in baseball, ahead of only the Astros. Of the Padres’ total projected WAR, pitchers account for 20% of it. This is baseball’s lowest rate, with the Astros at 28% and the Indians at 29%. The Padres, to date, have been lopsided, and the Padres, henceforth, project to remain lopsided, if slightly less so.

Let’s say the projections all come true. The Padres, then, would finish with 81 or 82 wins, and the pitchers would collectively have a 1.5 season WAR. That would be the worst ever for a .500+ team, and it’d be the worst for any team since the 2003 Padres, unless this year’s Astros were to continue to suck. I’ve included here a lot of details. Here’s the general message: these Padres are weird. These Padres can’t pitch, but they can still win.

We can’t actually know what’s going to happen, so we’ll have to re-visit this after the year. We don’t know, most generally, how the Padres are going to finish in terms of wins and losses. We don’t know if Cory Luebke is going to get back on a mound, as his rehab from Tommy John surgery is stalled. We don’t know when we’ll see Joe Wieland, and we don’t know who the Padres might call up, and we don’t know for whom the Padres might trade if they stay in the race and target an arm. There’s some starter depth in the organization, but it’s limited. Robbie Erlin has promise. Burch Smith is doing well in Tucson, and that’s also where one will find Anthony Bass. While Tim Stauffer‘s in the bullpen, he could conceivably get stretched out.

It’s not odd that people still aren’t really talking about the Padres. It’s somewhat odd that the Padres have rallied to reach a pretty good record. It’s extraordinarily odd how the Padres have gotten to this point, and this team could end up one of the weirder teams in history. Perhaps Chris Denorfia captures the essence of the Padres in a nutshell. He does pretty well for himself at the plate. He’s more than capable in the field. He’s quick on the basepaths. He doesn’t do crap on the mound.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


61 Responses to “The Padres, as No Team Has Been Before”

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  1. Matt says:

    Nice article to read about a team that gets no press. The NL West, with 4 teams within 2 games atop the standings, is looking like it is totally up for grabs this year.

    For the Padres, it will be interesting to see if they lose Everth Cabrera to the DL with his hamstring injury. Cabrera and Gyorko have really carried these guys, especially with the underperforming Headley. With some better than average health in the season’s 2nd half (read: Luebke comes back strong), they have a shot. Every other team in the division has question marks, that’s for sure.

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    • Baltar says:

      I gave you a well-deserved +1. All of what you say could happen certainly could.
      However, I don’t believe the Padres will succeed. I admit that this feeling is biased by the Padres failure in 2010, when they staked that huge lead early, only to lose the division (and the playoff spot) to the Giants in the last game of the season.
      If they hadn’t flubbed it that season, we would not be subjected to all this nonsense about how great the Giants are.

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      • EricR says:

        I get what you’re saying about SF, but you’re basically saying “If only that team didn’t win a bunch of games, nobody would think they’re any good!”

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    • MattR says:

      Just a heads up, you probably won’t see Luebke at all this year. He has had some setbacks in his rehab

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  2. steex says:

    Sorry to ask an obvious question, but is there any noise in these numbers resulting from moving the fences in this season? Using pre-2013 park factors would provide additional penalty to pitchers and benefit to hitters as though they were playing in the old dimensions, while the actual statistics have been accumulated in the new dimensions.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      Obviously this would be the case, but I didn’t know Petco moved their fences in. Are you sure you’re not thinking of the Mariners?

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    • tylersnotes says:

      without digging too deep, i found that padres pitchers have given up 43 hr at home this season, and their hitters have hit 32. If the fences are a factor in their success, they are more of a factor in their losses and it’s far too small a sample to really know either way.

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    • MattR says:

      Padres fan here and I have watched nearly every game this season. If anything the fences may have boosted confidence, because majority of the home runs that have gone out have not been helped by the fences. I lost count earlier this season, but the opponents were getting more help from the wallscrapers than the Padres were

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  3. Kevin says:

    So the Boston “Braves” changed their name to the “Bees” and then back to the Braves within a five year span. Wow.

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    • Wil says:

      They changed their name quite a bit in the early days. They were also the Red Stockings, the Boston Beaneaters, and Red Caps.

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      • Baltar says:

        And descended from the first fully professional baseball team.

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        • Kevin says:

          I thought the Cincinnati Reds were the first?

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        • Scraps says:

          God, the Boston Beaneaters. Right up there with the Chicago Orphans, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, the Brooklyn Superbas, the Brooklyn Tip-Tops (fighting with the Superbas, I guess), the Allegheny Innocents(!), the St Louis Perfectos (they weren’t, though they were 84-67-4: St Louis PrettyGoodos), and the Buffalo Buffeds (they went 80-71, but they would have been better if they stopped staring at their fingernails).

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        • Lex Logan says:

          To clarify and reply to Kevin (no reply button on his post), the original Cincinnati professional team broke up and essentially moved to Boston. Cincinnati can claim to be the city which founded professional baseball, but the Braves can more reasonably claim to be the oldest team.

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      • Bread n Mustard says:

        I guess baseball teams were treated like fantasy teams back then.

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    • Word says:

      Thumbs up for saving me the trouble of looking up who the “Bees” were.

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  4. Prebot says:

    Could the park changes this year be causing the park adjustments of the WAR calculations to be off? I’m not exactly clear how they are applied in season. It seems like if the park adjustments were off with the stadium changing it could push the pitching WAR even worse. Obviously they staff is bad, just wonder if it’s _that_ bad.

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    • Matt says:

      Off the top of my head, I would think that the Padres’ defense and baserunning are helping to contribute to the batters’ WAR totals quite handsomely. It is not all XBH or anything like that.

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      • steex says:

        Agreed, and it doesn’t really change the idea that the piece explores. If there’s noise in the data, though, it might be enough to change the pitchers from historically bad to just really bad, though.

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    • Yeah, that’s presumably an issue. Don’t know what I can do about it, though. We won’t have a good new park factor for at least a couple of years. We can just kind of eyeball it.

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    • rusty says:

      This is similar to an issue during the pre-season depth charts exercise, when not applying park factors caused the Rockies’ pitchers’ WAR projections to look terrible and their hitters’ WAR to look like the top-to-bottom best roster in baseball.

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      • One hopes that this adjustment would be far less extreme.

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        • rusty says:

          Oh definitely — I don’t mean to cast aspersions about the whole post. As I note below, there’s both the shift in expectations and the decreased importance of a run in a higher-scoring environment at work, so it’s not an easy thing to untangle.

          Although, actually, would it be possible to look at the non-park-adjusted WAR? Right now, the Padres seem to be at around 9.2 runs/win, whereas a more neutral team might be around 9.6…

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        • Calling David Appelman!

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  5. GOB Bluth says:

    Bees?!

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  6. brrr says:

    Chase Headley’s batted ball profile looks very much like last year’s profile except his HR/FB% is much lower. His BABIP is 60 points lower than last year, which would explain his dip in BA. This would suggest he has been unlucky this year right? However, I don’t think his power will be approaching last year’s levels.

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  7. Todd says:

    The move of the RF fence in Petco has created a little bit of offense, but not enough to account for the way they’ve played. Venable seems to be the recipient of most of the benefits so far from the RF fence being corrected. Once the weather heats up during the summer it should get really interesting though.

    People seem to forget that the Padres were one of the best teams during the 2nd half of baseball last year. They started the year without some key players, and as soon as those players returned, they caught fire and haven’t let up. It appears the 2nd half of last year wasn’t an aberration, and this team is simply picking up where they left off. If they can indeed get some pitching they will be a team nobody wants any part of going forward. They are young, exciting, and have some very good players who will soon be names even those on the East Coast know about…

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  8. Petruchio says:

    Strange tides in the NL West.

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  9. RobL says:

    Now maybe someone can help me understand WAR for pitchers. Yes Marquis has terrible peripheral stats, but a good ERA of sub 4. And his WAR is horrible. His WAR seems to reflect what the computer thinks he should do as opposed to what has happened on the field. You can chalk up his success to being lucky, but he has still been successful at preventing runs (I imagine his high GB rate may lead to more double plays).

    However, a hitter gets rewarded for having a high babip. It is good luck that is driving an increase in ops. If Headley’s babip gets boosted 100 points to match Cabrera’s, then he is having an all-star start to the year and his WAR would be much higher.

    Yet pitcher WAR seems to be dependent on K% and BB%, with HR% thrown in too. For the Reds, Bailey and Latos have very similar peripherals except Bailey gets one more K per 9ip. They have both thrown 90 innings and Latos’s ERA is .7 better. Yet Bailey has .7 more WAR already. So despite Latos being more successful this year, Bailey is deemed to be more valuable.

    I am hoping somebody can use small words to help me understand.

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    • This WAR is FIP-based. I elected not to use the ERA-based WAR because I’m already counting defense in position-player WAR. Of course, it’s not going to be a perfect hit, but there aren’t a lot of options.

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      • rccb says:

        But doesn’t that take whatever “ball-in-play” contribution a pitcher might make and attribute them to the batter side? Seems like this would undermine the contribution breakdown? Seems better to just count any ball-in-play contribution for both roles.

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    • rusty says:

      The Fangraphs player page actually dissects components of pitcher WAR in the Value table (http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=105&position=P#value).

      So Jason Marquis has +0.7 RA9-WAR (based on his results), but component-wise has benefited from that .230 BABIP against to the tune of +1.3 wins and that 82% strand rate for another +0.7 wins, so his defense- and sequencing-independent WAR is -1.3. His career numbers don’t suggest that he should expect either the BABIP or strand rate to continue in the future.

      The Petco park factor could also be responsible for skewing his WAR downward (in this case affecting both RA9-WAR and FIP-WAR). Basically, since Petco is being adjusted for using a five-year park factor, but the fences were moved in this off-season, his performance will look worse than expected; moving from a pitchers’ park to a more neutral run environment will also increase the magnitude of his WAR (in either a positive or negative direction) — in a low-scoring environment, fewer runs are equivalent to one win, so the RAR-to-WAR conversion factor is smaller.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • RobL says:

        Thank you for the reply, and reminding me there are other ways of measuring a pitcher’s performance (RA/9). And I agree that Marquis’ positive results are unsustainable. However luck is luck. Cabrera’s babip is 30 points higher than it’s been before. He came into the season with a career UZR of -14.5 in 3 seasons (not counting the -1 war he got for 2 games in one season). Now in less than half a season his UZR is over 3. So with a career high babip and a suspect UZR, Cabrera is mentioned as elite so far. But Marquis with his solid ERA and sequencing is given the label of one of the worst in the league. If RA9 gives a better description of what is happening on the field, maybe there should be a push to use it more in articles such as this, that wants to label the staff as historically bad.

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    • Jason B says:

      “So despite Latos being more successful this year”

      You’re equating ERA (alone) with success? I think it can provide a very rough proxy, but it should be one factor of several considered, perhaps, but never confused with “one true measure” of success.

      (Nor should WAR be mistaken for “one true measure” of success, but that’s been hashed and rehashed before ’round these parts.)

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      • RobL says:

        I probably do put too much emphasis on ERA, as baserunners left for the bullpen to keep from scoring probably should be held entirely against the starter. And your point about WAR is well taken, but it just seems like everyone on here uses it to make statements, such as this article.

        I’m not really disputing the article, but lately, WAR for pitchers just seems like it has less to do with what actually happens on the field.

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  10. PackBob says:

    Really interesting. It makes me wonder what contributions pitching, hitting, fielding, and base running have had to the better teams in history. And have the better teams been historically better at one aspect over others?

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  11. Hurtlockertwo says:

    The Giants pitching has not been good, but they also seem to hit enough to win. In 2010 the planets aligned enough for the Padres to have a good year, maybe this is another outlier?

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  12. SteveW says:

    I’m not too familiar with WAR, but I’m not so sure of it’s usefulness in isolation of other statistics. As a Padres fan, I have heard repeatedly that the pitchers are being instructed to “pitch to contact.” They aren’t going for a lot of K’s by design. I read the explaination of FIP on this site and understand the trade-offs. However, I think the formula places too high a value on strikeouts, while ignoring the value of inducing routine grounders and pop-ups. To ignore the affects of defense takes the pitcher’s performance out of the context of the game. The fact is a pitcher does have a defense behind him and, frankly, a pitcher’s objective is often to get a batter to put the ball in play. Often a ground-ball is much better than a strikeout. I’ll have to read up on the statistics a bit more, but it just doesn’t seem to pass the initial “sniff test” to me.

    All that said, the overall analysis is certainly directionally accurate, at least. As a Pads fan, it has been frustrating to see the number of homeruns given up, walks (especially Volquez) and lack of quality starts and late inning pitching chokes.

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    • rusty says:

      The tricky thing with “pitch to contact” (which I agree has strategic value, for example in promoting efficient pitch counts) is that pitchers who don’t do it, who go for the big K every time, have a defense playing behind them, and batted balls still turn into grounders and pop-ups.

      To say that pitching to contact will reduce the runs a team allows (relative to a team pitching for Ks) presumes, basically, that a combination of strong defense and good situational pitching can make up for the extra balls put in play. So far this year, the Padres defense has allowed a .280 BABIP and strands 73.4% of runners who reach base (per their team page), both of which are in the top third of NL teams.

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      • Bryn says:

        I refreshed to see if someone would say what I was attempting to say, but do it much more elegantly, which you did. K’s are more valuable than ground balls, because the out is recorded then and there. Even the weakest contact on a grounder still requires the defense to do three things to record the out. I don’t want to downplay the importance of pitching to contact, but you’re more likely to see a runner reach base thanks to a Texas Leaguer, or a seeing-eye ground ball, than you are on a dropped strike three.

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    • Drew says:

      You might consider looking at SIERA instead of FIP or xFIP. SIERA says K’s are even more valuable than FIP/xFIP, but it also considers a lot of other aspects about a pitcher that FIP/xFIP don’t consider (a groundball pitcher’s defense will be more efficient at turning groundballs in play into outs, a flyball pitcher will have a lower HR/FB%, etc.) Although all of them have their uses, I prefer SIERA for the above-stated (and more!) nuances as well as the fact that it’s a backwards-looking ERA estimator rather than a forward-looking ERA prediction system like FIP/xFIP. I’d really recommend reading SIERA pt. 2 under the glossary link – it’s extremely well-written and has a host of examples to help explain the statistic.

      Also, someone will certainly be able to explain this better than me, but I despise WAR for pitchers. I don’t know the exact calculations, but FIP (which pitcher WAR is based on) seems to have a high level of variance dependent on how many or how few home runs a pitcher gives up; thus when a pitcher allows a career-low number of home runs his FIP plummets and WAR climbs, and vice versa. I still don’t understand why Fangraphs doesn’t use a backward-looking ERA estimator to evaluate how well a player performed that year instead of a forward-looking ERA predictor.

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  13. Drew says:

    Dog bless this mess.

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  14. Scraps says:

    This is not a criticism.

    It’s kinda weird how a player’s name with strong tags and with possessives (e.g., Chris Denorfia‘s) end up with with the apostrophe turned the other way.

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  15. TKay says:

    Team pitching WAR gets confusing to me.

    Padres 4.20 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 4.17 xFIP, SIERA 4.20 (-1.8 WAR)
    Astros 4.76 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 4.50 xFIP, SIERA 4.41 (0.3 WAR)

    Is it entirely do to park factors?

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  16. Bab says:

    A’s article last week, Padres article today. I like this trend.

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  17. Brandon T says:

    Makes me wonder if the park corrections are a little off.

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    • Drew says:

      Probably.

      That said, offense, defense, and base-running has been stupendous and pitching has been atrocious.

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  18. Dave says:

    The real answer to the questions raised by this article is that the Padres have a wonderful field manager, Bud Black, who can do more with less than any manager I’ve ever seen, and more importantly, uses all his players regularly, building a strong sense of team chemistry.

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    • Tanned Tom says:

      You make a great point. Black routinely gets criticized for playing his bench players too often, yet the Padres always seem to have strong second halves. It’s a long season, guys wear down. But if you rest them early, not so much. Hmm.

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